Courtesy of Western Michigan Athletic Communications
The Western Michigan volleyball team enters the 2013 season as a team in transition but not directionless; coming off a program-record eighth consecutive 20-win season, excellence continues to be the standard in Kalamazoo. Tasked with returning the team to the NCAA Tournament, the 2013 Bronco squad is a study in contrasting styles and situations: youth and experience, offensive- and defensive-minded tendencies, and complementary styles of communication and leadership, sometimes all within the same player. Here’s a positional breakdown of the 2013 Bronco Voleyball team.
The Broncos’ outside hitting corps will be an intriguing mix of both familiar and fresh faces; while the Broncos return all but one of their significant contributors from a year ago, a pair of newcomers will be seeing the court early and often in 2013.
“We’ll see lots of competition at those spots over the course of the year,” said Munson. “Each of our players on the outside brings a unique skillset to our program, and we can mix and match them to get different things. It’s our job to help them understand that they each have a role, and they’ll be asked to play those roles at various times throughout the year.”
Ali Gossen returns for her senior season nearing the cusp of a major milestone; with 951 career kills, she needs just 49 more to become the 20th player in the history of the program to break the 1,000-kill mark in her career. Her senior classmate Gillian Asque is also entering her final campaign, and the duo will provide both on-court production and all-around leadership to the experienced Bronco squad.
Another upperclassman performer poised to make an impact is Claire Gerwig; after seeing time in 25 matches as a freshman in 2011, she was hampered by injuries throughout the 2012 season that limited her to just four appearances. Gerwig showed flashes of the player she could be in that freshman season, including a 15-kill performance against #11 Washington in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Two Bronco newcomers will also be clamoring for time on the outside, though, each bringing a unique perspective and circumstance to the team. Watervliet native Rachel Sheffer comes to the program as a fifth-year senior after a stellar four-year basketball career at Michigan where she was a two-time All-B1G Honorable mention, while freshman Alysia Baznik comes to the program hot on the heels of a club national championship victory earlier in the year. Munson believes both will be key contributors this year.
The corps in the will look much different to longtime fans of the program, as four-time All-MAC performer Jessica Brown and her 1,500 career kills have graduated. That said, the cupboard is far from bare. Reigning MAC Freshman of the Year Stephenee Yancy is back and looking to improve on her rookie campaign with an even better year as a sophomore. Yancy averaged 2.18 kills per set in 29 matches last year and hit at a .261 clip, second-best on the team. She was a stalwart defensively as well, leading the team with an average of 0.74 blocks per set.
Also returning to the middle is Richelle Ranney, whose versatility - she can play both outside and in the middle - and offensive upside give the coaching staff the flexibility to deploy her in numerous ways. Ave Stout rounds out the field in the middle as she gets set to hit the court for the first time in her career after redshirting in 2012; her length and defensive abilities will give the Broncos’ backcourt a boost on defense.
“We have three very good middles that play very different games,” said Munson. “Steph is a very good offensive player that is working to get better on offense, Ave is a good blocker that has been working with Kyle Stahl on becoming a better attacker, and then you have Richelle who gets up into the air quickly to make up a potent part of the offense as well. By bringing each of them into the mix, we can play different systems inside our own.”
WMU returns all three of its major contributors on the defensive specialist side of things in 2013, with senior libero Lena Oliver flanked by Caroline Rose and Kaycee Acree. The competition for playing time at libero has been fierce, as Munson says this group represents one of the best overall defensive units she’s had in her tenure.
“We have probably one of the best true defenses we’ve ever had here,” said Munson. “All three of them are capable of competing for time at that spot. They’re such an anchor for our program back there. We feel like that group keeps us pretty airtight because they really understand the concepts of the defense well and work well with one another.”
Oliver already ranks among the best defensive players in the history of the program, and this year the senior has some of the biggest numbers in program history in her sights. With 1,928 career digs, Oliver can become just the second player in program history to crack 2,000 career digs; with 656 digs, she can break Caitlin Strimel’s program and conference record of 2,583 career digs.
Acree’s sophomore season was fantastic improvement on her strong freshman season, as the Muncie, Ind. native notched career highs in digs (349) and digs per set (2.99) and helped the Broncos lead the MAC in digs per set. Rose looks to make a similar leap in her sophomore season after averaging 2.57 digs per set in 2012 and nearly notching 300 digs herself.
The Broncos hand the keys to the offense to Lexie Pawlik in 2013, with the junior setter carrying her own set of unique circumstances to the table; the Granger, Ind. native played the first two years of her college career at South Carolina, but transferred to WMU at the beginning of the Spring 2013 semester. Munson believes that having nearly a full offseason of work with her new teammates has contributed to Pawlik’s quick integration to the team, as well as her innate understanding of the game.
“Lexie understands the game on another level,” said Munson. “She’s the conduit between the staff and our players and is able to explain the gameplan to them in a way they understand. She gets tactics, she gets strategy, and she understands how to direct the offense to get the most out of it. It will be tremendous to have her over the next two seasons to develop in and around our program.”
In addition to Pawlik, the Broncos welcome freshman setter Erienne Barry to the fold in 2013. Barry will redshirt in the 2013 season as she recovers from a knee injury, but Munson believes that the year will be well spent giving Barry a first-hand look at the program, as well as “an extra perspective” for Pawlik to take into account.