Story Courtesy of EMU Media Relations
It was not a customary season for the Eastern Michigan University volleyball team last year. A program that averaged nearly 19 wins over eight seasons prior to the 2009 campaign, managed just five wins last season. It also marked the first time in more than a decade that the Green and White had posted back-to-back sub.-500 years.
The Eagles were the second youngest team in the Mid-American Conference with 12 of the 15 players on the roster having one year or less of collegiate experience. Besides dealing with the inexperience, EMU was also heavily hampered with injuries, as the projected preseason rotation totalled just six starts together.
Add those two factors together and also was gone from the Green and White's repertoire was the ability to pick up a kill in clutch situations. The Eagles had 41 sets that were decided by only two points and were competitive, but had trouble finishing sets and matches.
Back to lead the program for her 15th season in Ypsilanti will be head coach Kim Berrington who guided the Eagles to their first MAC West Division title in 2005. Berrington is the school's all-time winningest coach with a 206-223 record and only four times in the past 11 years has the team failed to post a winning record.
The Green and White return 11 letterwinners from last year's squad, including four starters and the libero, along with welcoming two newcomers. Senior Jenn Swartz will lead the squad this year with the help of juniors Ashley Mason and Haley Stein and sophomores Kristen Baker and Rachel Iaquaniello.
Gone from last year are Kim Jarzynka and Victoria Randolph who each missed significant amounts of time due to injuries. A major factor in the back court all four years, Jarzynka finished third all-time in EMU history with 1,494 digs and fifth in sets played. A force on the outside, Randolph ranked fourth in the EMU record book with 3,335 total attacks and 11th all-time in digs at 1,063.
With that in mind, here are the breakdowns by position heading into the 2010 campaign.
In two seasons, Ashley Mason has already secured a spot in the EMU record book, ranking sixth best for career assists. Mason tallied the 14th most assists in a season and finished ranked 180th in the nation with 8.77 per set.
"I think Ashley is one of the best setters in the MAC," said Berrington. "She is able to do so much, besides delivering a great ball, she is a great blocker, she plays good defense and her range for setting the offense is big. With the hitters and depth we have this year she will have more options running the offense."
Redshirt freshman Kim Hildreth will also see time on the court as a spot setter and a defensive specialist after adjusting to the collegiate game last year from the sidelines.
At outside hitter in 2010 the Eagles return super sophomore Rachel Iaquaniello who was a 2010 All-MAC Freshman team selection in 2009. Iaquaniello became just the second freshman in EMU history to lead the squad in kills during a season with 412. The Plymouth, Mich. native played in every set last season, ranking 214th nationally in kills per set. She notched a career-best 23-kill performance in the finale of the Mississippi State Invitational, Sept. 12, 2009. The 23 put-a-ways were the most kills by an EMU student-athlete since the 2007 campaign and the most by an EMU freshman since the 2004 season.
"We really relied on her offensively out of necessity," mentioned Berrington. "We set her a ton last year and they weren't all quality swings. This spring she did a better job of preparing to attack. She has the fastest arm on the team so the additional year of experience will only help with her ball placement and decision making.
Redshirt junior Emily Good could see playing time either on the right or slide into the middle. A native of Grand Rapids, Mich., Good missed the team's first 13 matches before returning to start eight contests and record 43 blocks and 26 kills.
"She has matured a lot on and off the court, taking a leadership role and figuring out what it means to be a Division I athlete," Berrington said. "This spring she was a pivotal offensive and defensive threat for us - I couldn't take her off the floor. It was really the first time she had stepped up and took over."
Also competing for playing time will be freshmen Erin Short and Paige Roback along with redshirt sophomore Kaitlyn Vincek.
"Paige is a true outside hitter that can play all the way around," told Berrington. "In the front row she can hit any type of set and she has every shot in the book from the left side."
The tandem of Short and Roback came heavily touted out of high school, with Short earning 2009-10 Under Armour Honorable Mention All-America Team accolades from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).
"Erin can play any of the three front row positions, added Berrington. "She is a big block, has good hands and attacks any type of set, so we have to figure out how to best fit her into our offense. She touches 10-foot so we have to use that size."
"Kaitlyn jumps very well and has the ability to get the ball past the block very quickly," said Berrington. "We finally have some depth at the outside hitter positions. This will make everyone better."
With Berrington's defensive philosophy, the middle blockers need to play a bigger role. Senior Jenn Swartz and sophomore Kristen Baker will anchor the heart of the net with senior Joi McKenzie and Good worked into the mix as well.
Swartz will continue to play a stabilizing role for the Eagles, leading the squad in blocks, while ranking second in kills, total attacks and service aces. Meanwhile, Baker excelled in her first year with six matches with 10-or-more kills for the third most kills on the team.
"Jen wants to be the go to person and that isn't something she may have wanted to in past years," mentioned Berrington. "When its game five with the score tied it is nice to know you have that type of person out there. I think she'll be prepared for that which is something we needed and will be different from last year."
"Kristen is swinging better and is much stronger," Berrington said. "She is going to just continue to get better offensivly and help us become more balance."
McKenzie has proved to be mostly a role player throughout her career, but will be called upon to provide leadership and a spark off the bench.
"Injuries have been a problem with Joi but she always has a positive attitude and is ready to go," told Berrington. "The players always root for her so she is definitely our "Rudy". She can really come in and provide a spark for us."
Haley Stein has secured herself not only in the EMU record book but as one of the top defenders in the conference. The Carleton, Mich. native started every match in 2009, leading the Eagles with 582 digs, the third most in a single season in school history.
"Statistically, Haley showed last year she is one of the best in the conference," said Berrington. "The two most important players on your team are your setter and your libero - and I have two good ones that are juniors -so I'm excited about that.
Junior Cassie Sowers and sophomore Colleen Lasecki will also see a considerable amount of time on the court providing support on defense in the back row as well. Sowers is also a serving specialist for the Eagles.
"Both Sowers and Lasecki play great defense," Berrington added. "They will help make us one of the best defensive teams in the MAC."
The 2010 schedule is once again packed with many challenges prior to the start of a grueling 16-match Mid-American Conference slate. The Eagles will open the season at the 35th Annual Comfort Suites/SHSU Invitational, Aug. 27-28, before playing at the Bucknell Tournament, Sept. 3-4. From there, Eastern returns to the Wolverine State for a non-conference affair versus Oakland, Sept. 7, before participating in the Michigan State Tournament, Sept. 10-11. Rounding out the tournament circuit, EMU plays a trio of matches at the Davidson Invitational, Sept. 17-18. The Green and White entertain Youngstown State, Sept. 21, to open up the home portion of the schedule before the MAC season tips off Sept. 23, when EMU hosts West Division rival Central Michigan. The season wraps with the MAC Championship at the SeaGate Centre in Toledo, Ohio, Nov. 16-21.
EMU will host eight conference matches and looks to continue to be a dominant team in the Convocation Center, where the Eagles have posted a 63-34 record over the past nine seasons.
"We feel we have put together a schedule that will help us prepare for the MAC season. We'll have to be at our best night in and night out as we take on teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East Conference, the Big Ten Conference, the Horizon League and the Western Athletic Conference," said Berrington. "We're looking forward to the challenges ahead and believe that playing this high level competition will prepare us in the quest for another MAC West Championship."