Aug. 3, 2009
BELLINGHAM, Wash. -
While Western Washington University volleyball coach Diane Flick enters the season with high expectations, her focus also is another year down the line.
"We have a very new group," said Flick. "That's why we go into the season with a focus on what we look like in November of 2010, not August of 2009."
The Vikings reached the NCAA Division II national championship match in 2007, then followed it up by going 21-3 overall and placing second in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference at 13-3, only to have the season end abruptly when Western, at one point ranked No.3 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll, did not receive an NCAA II tournament bid.
"This is a time of learning," said Flick, who enters her 10th season with a 196-50 record and ranking 10th nationally in winning percentage among active NCAA II coaches at .797. "It takes away the pressure of HAVING to win. But don't get me wrong, we're very competitive, we still want to win."
Such are the standards of the Viking program that even in a time of learning, they can be very good. Flick said in the summer of 2006 that year's group would peak in 2007. They still finished second in the GNAC and reached the NCAA National Tournament in 2006, then followed it up by reaching the national title match in 2007.
"Our focus has to be on getting better each match," said Flick. "The wins will come if we do that. But I want to focus on learning, knowing we're not complete yet, rather than on our record for the year."
It's hardly like the cupboard is bare. Leading the Vikings are two juniors who earned significant post-season honors as sophomores. Allison Gotz (Bothell/Archbishop Murphy) continued Western's tradition of great liberos, being named an honorable mention AVCA All-American last season. A second-team all-GNAC pick, she ranked third nationally in digs at 6.10 a set, and was fourth in the GNAC in service aces (0.31 avg.). Outside hitter Megan Amundson (Stanwood) was a second-team all-GNAC selection last year, averaging 3.61 kills and 2.89 digs.
Setter Kari Rice (Toppenish/Eisenhower) is the lone senior on the team. A three-year letter winner, she was on the court nearly every serve last season, earning honorable mention all-GNAC status and leading the conference in assists and ranking eighth nationally at 11.62.
Sophomores Emily Jepsen (Kennewick/Kamiakin) and Haleigh Adkins (Puyallup/Rogers) both saw extensive duty last year. Jepsen, who will move into a middle blocker spot after playing primarily on the right side last year, averaged 1.28 kills and 0.46 blocks. Adkins averaged 2.09 digs.
Junior outside hitter Jordyn Bailey (Wenatchee) saw limited action last season, as did junior Kathryn Mertens (Olympia), who can play either middle or right side.
"The returning players were part of a team that was ranked third nationally at one point last year," said Flick. "They know how to set a culture that the other players can follow."
Setter Laurie Yearout (Spokane/Lewis & Clark) and outside hitter Alison Fairchild (Kent/Kentwood) both redshirted last season. A third freshman, Breanne Graham (Vancouver/Hockinson), joined the squad last spring.
They will be joined in the 2012 class by four true freshmen - middle blocker Bailey Jones (Mukilteo/Kamiak), outside hitter Marlayna Geary (Tacoma/Bellarmine Prep), middle blocker Emily Boerger (Marysville/Marysville-Pilchuck) and outside hitter Kinsey Davis (Burlington/Burlington-Edson).
Boerger and Davis are expected to redshirt, but the rest of the freshman class could contribute almost immediately.
The Viking schedule is challenging, as Western opens the season playing five teams that reached the NCAA II national tournament in its first eight matches over the first two weekends of the season, including West Regional champion and national runner-up Cal State San Bernardino. Western then hosts the eight-team WWU Invitational on Sept. 10-12.
"It's always good to host a tournament and be able to play more on our home court," said Flick. "It should be a strong tournament with the teams we have coming in."