Volleyball’s latest signings fill holes on young squad

Randy Speer, The Circuit

Benedictine volleyball’s second recruiting class under head coach Erin Cooper fills the immediate needs of the young squad.

The team will be joined by two junior college transfers, three freshmen and a former starter who took a year off.

Christy Fast will transfer from Northeasten Junior College in Colorado.

Benedictine lost three middle hitters to graduation, leaving freshman Elise Fulcher as the only returning middle hitter.

“(Fast) is going to be able to bring some experience and some competitive edge,” Cooper said.

The other transfer is Joli Hopping, a setter from North Platte Community College.

“She is going to push Taylor (Gardner),” Cooper said.

Gardner is the lone returning varsity setter for the Lady Ravens as they lose another four-year starter in Emilee Clark to graduation.

Fast and Hopping will bring elements of experience that will aid both Fulcher and Gardner as they head into their sophomore campaigns.

“We continue to talk about this team as a whole, not about individual players,” Cooper said. “Yet pushing and collaborating and completing one another on the court versus actually competing for those positions, I think that is going to make us better in the long run.”

Last year, Cooper made the switch from a 5-1 system to a 6-2.

“I’m very open-minded about this,” Cooper said about determining what offensive system the team will be running next season. “I like running six rotational players. I like running a 5-1, but I also know at this level that is not what always happens.”

In a 5-1 system, there is a lone setter on the court, and she can set to any of the other five attackers. This also means at some point in the rotation, the setter is forced to block on the defensive end. With a 6-2 system, the setter is always in the back row, which keeps her from having to block on the defensive end.

“(Hopping) is only 5’5”, so I don’t know how much 6-rotation (a 5-1 system) she is going to be in, but she is definitely going to run the other side of the net during practice.”

Both Hopping and Gardner (5-foot-7) are generally considered undersized for putting up the block, but Cooper said chemistry on the court, not blocking, was most influential in the change last season.

“We will see what works best for us,” Cooper said.

The other recruits look to add attacking strength around the setters.

“Right now, offensively, Mila (Araujo) is carrying us on her back,” Cooper said.

Sara Rahmanza, an outside hitter from Gretna High School, will help remedy that, as will Fast.

“The part we are looking forward to (Rahmanza) is that she is a work horse,” Cooper said. “She is competitive. She is going to come in and push everybody else.”

In addition, Megan Ruzicka will be returning from a yearlong mission with Regnum Christi to play volleyball again for Benedictine. In her 2013 season, she played in 29 matches and scored 88 kills.