2010 WWU Volleyball Preview
Aug. 18, 2010
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The first practice of the 2010 season for the Western Washington University volleyball team will have a lot of familiar faces.
Virtually everyone returns from a year ago, when the Vikings, playing a number of underclassmen, were 17-10 overall, tied for third place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference at 10-6 and narrowly missed out on a berth to the West Regional.
That experience will help the Vikings in their quest to return to the NCAA Division II National Tournament for the first time since reaching the national championship match in 2007, but Western coach Diane Flick (11th year, 213-60) said the large number of returnees provided an additional bonus.
"When you have 14 people in the off-season, there's a lot of competition within the team," said Flick, whose .780 winning percentage is the best in school history and ranks 10th among active NCAA II coaches. "That competition was a driving factor during the off season."
Leading that long list of returnees are sophomore outside hitter Marlayna Geary (Tacoma/Bellarmine Prep) and junior middle blocker Emily Jepsen (Kennewick/Kamiakin). Geary was a first-team all-GNAC selection and GNAC Freshman of the Year, as well as being the American Volleyball Coaches Association West Region Freshman of the Year. Jepsen was a second-team all-GNAC pick.
Geary led Western in kills at 3.87 a set, and was second in digs at 2.96.
"The challenge for her is that she's not new to people," Flick said of Geary. "She has to bring something new to the table. She needs to not only improve the heat, but her placement as well."
Jepsen averaged 2.82 kills and a team-high 1.12 blocks last season while posting a team best .255 attack efficiency. She also shared the team lead in service aces with 26.
"Emily has crossed that threshold between the sophomore and junior year from being one of the younger players to one of the older," Flick said. "She just wants to be good, and will do whatever it takes. But beyond that, she's working with the younger players at that position and creating a good competitive culture."
Playing opposite Geary at the other outside hitter spot is senior Megan Amundson (Stanwood), who averaged 2.41 kills and received honorable mention all-GNAC recognition after being a first-team choice in 2008.
Another senior outside hitter is Jordyn Bailey (Wenatchee), who also sees time as a back-row specialist.
Returning with Jepsen at middle hitter is sophomore Bailey Jones (Mukilteo/Kamiak). Jones was second on the team in blocks, averaging 0.78 a set.
On the right side, senior Kathryn Mertens (Olympia) returns. She averaged 1.59 kills and 0.73 blocks last season.
Senior libero Allison Gotz (Bothell/Archbishop Murphy) was an honorable mention all-GNAC pick last season after being a second-team selection as a sophomore when she also earned AVCA honorable mention All-America recognition. Gotz averaged a team-high 5.24 digs a set, which ranked fourth in the GNAC, and also added 25 service aces. She already ranks sixth in school history in career digs.
"Allison has continued the legacy of great liberos at Western," said Flick. "She's kind of crossed a threshold from a thinking libero to a natural one - she makes the right choices without thinking about them."
Junior Haleigh Atkins (Puyallup/Rogers) also saw regular time in the back row.
Western is especially deep at setter, with two experienced players battling for time. Senior Kari Rice (Toppenish/Eisenhower) started in 2008 prior to redshirting last season. Rice was an honorable mention all-GNAC pick that year, leading the conference in assists (11.67). Sophomore Laurie Yearout (Spokane/Lewis & Clark) handled the duties last year, averaging 10.57 assists a set and sharing the team lead in aces with 26.
"It will be a very tight race," said Flick. "Whoever we put on the court, we'll feel good about them. They've made each other better."
And even with 14 players back from a team that earned an AVCA team Academic award by posting a 3.31 (4.0 scale) grade point average, there is also an influx of new talent that will come from four freshmen.
There's a recent precedent at Western for an experienced team making the most of its opportunities. The Vikings were 18-7 in 2006, returned almost everyone, and in 2007 went 26-5 in making their run to the national championship match.
"Getting to the post-season is a consistent goal, but I think the team is learning that those are results we don't have control over, that if we focus on things we can control, the other things will come," Flick said. "The things we can control are our daily effort, making the right choices at the right times, and a lot of it is just that when you have an opportunity to touch a ball, control it."
Last fall, the Vikings were denied one of eight berths in the West Regional after being ranked among the top eight in the last regular-season regional poll and sweeping their final match. In 2008, they were sixth in the final regular-season rating and won their last two matches, finishing 21-3.
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