Randy Speer, The Circuit
Coach Erin Cooper would like to remind everyone that Rome wasn’t built in a day. Neither will this year’s Lady Raven volleyball team.
“I feel that if we continue to work hard we will have as good or better season than last year,” Cooper said. “It’s just not going to happen in the first week.”
The transition from last season’s senior heavy team to the upcoming season with only three seniors and three returning starters has caused a shift in mentality and in preseason practices.
“We’ve broken it down to where we are doing a lot of individual work to communicate and show the expectations and how things are done,” Cooper said. “We are still getting the playing time and the reps, but they are able to ask questions and get answers quicker.”
The team was picked to finish eighth in the Heart of America, a placing that Cooper believes reflects their starting point, not their midseason form. However, the Lady Ravens have a lot of work to do in order to live up to the coach’s expectations.
The transition begins with the major returning pieces from last season. Sophomores Taylor Garner and Elise Fulcher, in addition to junior Camila Araujo and senior Alli Dalton are the only returners with heavy varsity experience.
Garner was the back-up setter last season, playing in 30 matches and amassing 383 assists.
Fulcher and Dalton played a big role in the middle offensively, racking up a combined 268 kills.
Araujo is the top returning outside hitter. She scored 123 kills last season but was hampered with a low hitting-percentage of .064, which limited her effectiveness. Cooper described her transformation during the spring season as becoming “not as careless” with her attempts.
“[Araujo] is understanding that there is a time and a place for everything and it’s not about how hard the ball hits the ground, but about the ball hitting the ground,” Cooper said.
Also back are senior defensive specialists Sabra Boes and Erin Daly who both saw a smattering of play last season.
With few returners having varsity experience, Cooper is turning to junior college transfers, freshman and a returning missionary to bolster her squad.
Competing with Garner for the starting setter role is junior college transfer Joli Hopping. The junior last played for North Platte Community College.
The coaching staff is still undecided on if they are going to run a 6-2 or a 5-1 offensive system this year. The head setter role continues to be up in the air as the preseason practices wind down.
“We are still working on a lot of fundamental things and we haven’t put our setters in absolute competitive positions to see who is going to run the squad,” Cooper said.
Who ever the setter is, they will have a lot of offensive weapons at their disposal. In addition to the returners, the Lady Ravens added Melissa Vernon and Christy Fast from the junior college ranks.
“Offensively, (Vernon) comes with a whip of an arm swing,” Cooper said. “The pace of the game is something that she still struggles with.”
Cooper is confident the California-product will adjust quickly and be a prominent feature in the offense.
Junior Meagan Ruzicka is also returning after taking last season off to become a year-long missionary with Regnum Christi. In her freshman campaign, Ruzicka played in 29 matches and accounted for 88 kills.
Cooper is excited to have Ruzicka back for both her presence on an off the court.
“Positive attitude, [Ruzicka] sees the brighter side of things and she is a workhorse, put that all in one person and following her is very easy,” she said.
Other players to watch include sophomores Maria Lanciotti and Sarah Sanchez who could split time between junior varsity and varsity.
Cooper also had high praise for incoming freshman Sara Rahmanzai, who could also see varsity time this season.
The Lady Raven’s season opens at 9 a.m. on Saturday August 22 at home against Stephens College, followed by Morningside College at 1 p.m.