Story Courtsey of CMU Media Relations
For the first time in school history, the Central Michigan volleyball team finds itself the favorite to claim the Mid-American Conference title, according to the league's coaches.
Below is an in-depth look at a squad that returns all but two starters from a year ago and a senior class that owns a 58-34 mark in its first three seasons in the Maroon and Gold.
If defense is the backbone of championships, then the Central Michigan volleyball team has an impressively strong back, ready to carry it into contention for the 2010 Mid-American Conference title.
Six defensive specialists dot the roster, all vying to replace libero Alexis Lonneman who graduated after last season.
Senior Lisa Johnson and junior Kelsey Detweiler are the frontrunners for the role, after teaming with Lonneman, the program's all-time digs leader, to help the Chippewas post the fourth-best opponent's hitting percentage in the MAC (.188) in 2009. CMU also allowed the second-fewest kills per set (11.6).
"Lisa has three years of playing experience and is one of our captains this season," head coach Erik Olson said. "When she's focused, there aren't many who are better.
Johnson set a career-high with 1.93 digs per set last season and Detweiler, seeing her first significant action of her career, posted an impressive 2.01 digs per set in 2009.
"Kelsey has made a quick recovery from an offseason injury, and the athletic ability she's shown early in camp is far better than any point last season," Olson said. "She's really a brand-new player."
Three freshmen and a sophomore will compete for the other starting role, as well as provide depth.
Returners Samantha Brawley (sophomore) and Kendra Elsesser (redshirt freshman) are joined by true freshmen Jenna Coates and Jordan Hinkle in one of the deepest backcourts Olson has seen during his tenure.
"We have a great group of athletes on our back line," Olson said. "The depth we have gives us a chance to push all of them and get the maximum out of a skilled unit."
Most squads who lose a four-year starting libero would not feel as strongly about their defensive unit as this one does, but it's a luxury Olson does not take lightly.
"Alexis was extremely important to what we've done here the last four years," Olson said. "No one person is going to replace her, but we have a lot of talented individuals who will get experience this year. We could have as many as four different players serve as the libero."
Two All-Mid-American Conference selections dot the frontcourt of the 2010 Central Michigan volleyball team, which boasts six returners from last year's squad.
First-team all-conference pick Lauren Krupsky and second-team selection Kaitlyn Schultz headline a very talented group expected to take major strides this season.
"We return two All-MAC talents that have put together multiple strong seasons," head coach Erik Olson said. "Both are fierce competitors, play with a lot of emotion and are fun to watch."
Krupsky piled up a career-best 413 kills in 2009 and enters her senior season with 872, on the cusp of becoming the 13th player in program history to eclipse 1,000 career kills.
"Lauren took that next step into the elite last season," Olson said. "She is among the best attackers and servers in the country, and now it's just a matter of us polishing her all-around game."
Schultz, the 2008 MAC Freshman of the Year and two-time All-MAC pick, enters her junior campaign with 565 career kills and a .347 career hitting percentage.
"Kaitlyn increases her dynamic abilities each season," Olson said. "She really worked on improving her block in the offseason, and if she gains some consistency in that area it will be huge for us."
But the talent doesn't stop there for CMU. The Chippewas' depth is impressive and versatile, two important attributes for a team looking to take the next step.
"It's a lot easier when you don't have to teach roles as well as skill," Olson said. "We will have our challenges, but with everyone entering with a great understanding of their role on this team, we're in great shape."
Sophomores Lindsey Dulude, Danielle Gotham and Val DeWeerd are three players expected to expand their roles as they enter their second collegiate season. All saw significant playing time as freshmen and started to thrive near the end of the 2009 regular season and into the MAC Tournament.
"Lindsey has made huge improvements," Olson said. "She focused a lot on her technique and has started to put it together. Danielle gets better every day and if she can take that next step, she could be special.
"Val might have made the biggest strides of the offseason. She gives us a lot of options and she's showing a lot more confidence this time around."
Also in the mix up front are a pair of versatile sophomores in Katie Schuette and transfer Jocelyn VerVelde. Both can play the outside or in the middle, and both could make a significant impact in 2010.
While the offense returns several pieces this season, one major difference in 2010 will be the setter. Stephanie Budde graduated, creating a competition between junior Catherine Ludwig and freshman Kelly Maxwell. Both feature their own strengths, and Olson is hoping one can step forward and take the keys to a very powerful car.
"Catherine has the collegiate experience, including several matches against some powerful teams, and has already guided us to several big wins," Olson said. "Her location and leadership has shown to be her real strengths so far.
"Kelly has a lot of talent and her athleticism and footwork is outstanding," Olson said. "She needs some understanding of our offense, but her choices have been pretty good since we've started camp and that's a really nice surprise."
Whichever setter takes the reigns, Olson has confidence the other will be ready if needed.
"Each of the two has their challenges," Olson said. "But whichever one ends up as a reserve after camp, I have no doubt they will be ready, if needed, to help this team succeed."
The Chippewas host their only exhibition match of 2010 at Finch Fieldhouse on Saturday, against the CMU Alumnae squad. The match is slated to begin at 3 p.m., and CMUChippewas.com will feature live stats and a live webstream on CMU Sports Zone.