Bowling Green Volleyball Preview

Updated 8/25/2010

Story Courtesy of BGSU Media Relations

Bowling Green, Ohio - Bowling Green State University volleyball coach Denise Van De Walle wants nothing more than to make the final season in Anderson Arena a special one. With the Stroh Center becoming the new home for BGSU volleyball beginning in 2011, the Falcons will play a 35th and final season in The House That Roars this year.

"I love this place," Van De Walle said. "I have 27 years on this gym floor. It's like home to me and it will be very emotional when the last ball goes down this season."

Van De Walle, who won her 500th career match in the Mid-American Conference Tournament a year ago, is focused on reloading a program that struggled a year ago. From 2006-08, the team racked up a 72-25 record, including 37-11 in league play. But 2009 was a rebuilding season as the Falcons went 13-20 overall and 5-11 in the MAC.

"We changed the gym culture," Van De Walle said about what the coaching staff and players did during the offseason to erase the memories of a year ago. "We raised the expectations, got new uniforms, changed our lounge and locker room, and changed our preseason fitness test. We did things to make sure we were looking forward and not back."

The team charged with returning BGSU to prominence is a young team with seven freshmen and four sophomores. But there is experience in key places. Seniors Sam Fish and Noelle Spitler will lead the team, along with juniors Emily Kauth, Susie Isphording and Madison Nitta. And the sophomore class of Cassie Berning, Ashley Herzberg, Kari Galen, and Lauren Mizgalski all saw enough playing time in 2009 to become key cogs this year. As well, freshmen Ashley Dunn and Lindsey Butterfield started at BGSU during the past spring semester and have time in the system.

That's not say the new class won't make an impact. Along with Dunn and Butterfield, the group that includes Libby Dachenhaus, Danielle Tonyan, Paige Penrod, Kaitlyn Skinner and Laura Avila will provide an immediate change and should become more important as the year wears on.

"These young players are very talented and have fit in beautifully with the returners," Van De Walle said. "They are strong and there is an opportunity for all of them to play this season. We see great leadership potential in the young players but we will be relying on the returning players to set examples."

Senior Sam Fish and freshman Laura Avila are the two setters on this squad. Fish recorded over 1,000 assists both as a freshman and sophomore and has 93 career matches under her belt and over 300 career sets. She is also a strong server, posting 45 aces as a freshman, and needs just 11 more digs for 500 in her career. With that kind of experience, Van De Walle has the opportunity to bring Avila along slowly but she has the potential to play immediately as well. She guided her Yorktown High School (Yorktown, Ind.) team to a 37-2 record as a senior and a state runner-up finish. She was named first team all-state and the Indiana Class 3A Mental Attitude Award winner.

First team All-MAC middle Shari Luther graduated, leaving an opportunity for playing time but this position is still loaded. Junior Emily Kauth started all 33 matches a year ago and was second on the team with a .247 attack percentage, while also ranking second on the team with 77 blocks. Senior Noelle Spitler was one of six players on last year's team with at least 100 kills and she produced more as the season wore on. Sophomore Kari Galen had a chance to develop in her first season with the Falcons, playing in 12 matches and posting a respectable .250 attack percentage in limited time. Those three returners will likely see the majority of the time in the early-going but freshman Kaitlyn Skinner will look to work her way into the rotation. Skinner led her high school team to a 56-8 record in four years and a pair of league championships.

On the right side, sophomore Lauren Mizgalski and freshman Danielle Tonyan will compete for playing time. Mizgalski has shown tremendous potential, starting eight matches a year ago, but injuries have limited her to a redshirt season in 2008 and just 20 matches a year ago. Tonyan is a three-time team MVP from McHenry High School (McHenry, Ill.) who posted 820 career kills and 334 as a senior in 2009.

The left side is stacked with junior Susie Isphording, sophomore Cassie Berning, and freshmen Lindsey Butterfield and Paige Penrod. Berning played in 30 matches and started 13 times last year but she was hampered by an injury that kept her from playing at full strength for a portion of the season. Still, she was one of only three players with 100 kills and 100 digs a year ago. Isphording has 62 career matches under her belt and had 245 digs and 25 aces as a freshman. She started seven times a year ago and brings a lot of experience to the table. Freshmen Butterfield and Penrod are highly talented and having a winning pedigree. Butterfield's team went 23-2 during her senior season when she was named team MVP and GWOC Player of the Year. Penrod is a record-breaking performer who led her team to a 27-1 record and a state runner-up finish a year ago. She broke the Ohio state record with 636 kills as a junior and added 600 last year, the third-most all-time. She also holds the state record with 45 kills in a match and was named first team all-state, while being included on the honorable mention list of JJHuddle's 50 Most Memorable Athletes of the Decade in the state of Ohio.

The defensive specialist and libero positions should have great competition for playing time. There is a young, but very talented, group of players in the mix. Junior Madison Nitta joins sophomore Ashley Herzberg and freshmen Ashley Dunn and Libby Dachenhaus in vying for time on the floor. Herzberg held the starting libero role for a portion of 2009 and was second on the team in serve receive percentage. Nitta has seen limited time in her first two seasons with the Falcons but does have 22 matches of experience to lean on. Dunn, who hails from Bowling Green, had over 1,000 career kills and 1,000 career digs in high school, guiding her team to a perfect 14-0 league record a year ago. She was the District 7 Division I Player of the Year and started at BGSU a semester early, giving her time to adjust to college life. Dachenhaus was a Toledo All-City League player at St. Ursula Academy, helping the team to a 23-3 record in 2009.

1 - I will always cherish our first MAC Championship win in 1989. It was such an exciting match against Western Michigan. Western was 98-0 in the conference. We were both undefeated that year in the conference and we had never beaten them or even gotten a game off of them, and there were over 1,000 people in the stands for the match. They televised it on a regional station. It was so much fun to beat them at home for our first MAC Championship!
2 - Another great memory was our 2006 match against Ohio. It was a similar situation as 1989. We were both undefeated in the conference and we had a 17-match winning streak going. It was electric in the gym. We lost in five in one of the best volleyball matches we've played.
3 - One of the best coaches in the game of volleyball is Arie Selinger. In 1999, we played his professional "Dream Team" which was made up of National Team players and Pro League players. That team was loaded with talent! They were bigger, faster, and stronger than we were. It was such a thrill for me personally to coach against one of the coaches I have always admired from my earlier days as a player and coach. We didn't win the match, but we caused him to call a timeout and that was our goal in each game!