BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- For 29 years, Denise Van De Walle ran the Bowling Green volleyball program. In 2012, a new era begins as Danijela Tomic takes over after Van De Walle, the winningest coach in Mid-American Conference history, retired.
Tomic, a three-time Sun Belt Conference Coach of the Year, steps into a situation that could be ripe for quick success. Bowling Green returns 12 players from a year ago and 11 of the 13 student-athletes on the roster are juniors or seniors. In fact, there is not a single freshman on the team.
Danielle Tonyan is the most decorated returner after being named first-team all-conference a year ago as a right side hitter. The junior ranked third in the MAC in kills (3.79 per set) and was named MAC East Division Offensive Player of the Week twice in 2011. Fifth-year senior Lauren Mizgalski is slated to back up Tonyan on the right side.
Senior Kari Galen leads a group of four middles. Galen was among the MAC leaders in attack percentage a year ago. Senior Leah Shaw and junior Kaitlyn Skinner are two of the most-improved players on the team and both should have every opportunity to contribute. Sophomore transfer Kelsey Bates is the only newcomer on the team after spending a year at Syracuse. She will figure into the rotation in the middle, as well as helping on the right side.
Juniors Paige Penrod and Lindsey Butterfield, along with senior Cassie Berning, will take care of things on the outside. Penrod has 740 kills through her first two years and contributes in all facets of the game. Butterfield and Berning have both battled injuries during their careers but are healthy now and in position to have break-out seasons.
At setter, junior Laura Avila and sophomore Erica Fullenkamp make this a position of strength. Avila has the experience edge as a two-year starter, but Fullenkamp played a variety of positions a year ago. She has spent the offseason focused on the setter role and the duo could have a big year setting up a talented group of hitters.
Ashley Dunn and Libby Dachenhaus will contribute in the libero/defensive specialist roles. Dunn, a junior, has played almost every match at libero over the past two years, but Dachenhaus has continued to develop and found ways to contribute a year ago by playing in 27 of the team’s 31 matches.
Bowling Green went 19-12 a year ago and won a school-record 12 consecutive matches to start the year. With a new coaching staff and almost every piece back from that squad, the Falcons could move past 20 wins for the first time since 2008.