WU volleyball ready to repeat

This way to victory Coach Chris Herron will direct a young team in 2008, but the Lady Blues are still ranked in the top two and poised for another MIAA title.

Eric Smith

There aren’t many teams that can lose all of their seniors after placing in the national tournament and come back the next year ranked higher than ever before in school history. That is, unless you’re the Washburn Lady Blues volleyball team.

The Washburn volleyball team, who finished last season ranked No. 3 in the nation, is going into this season ranked No. 2 in the CBS College Sports Network/AVCA national preseason poll. The only team ranked higher is the defending Division II National Champions Concordia-St. Paul.

However high the Lady Blues team may be ranked, they are still a young team, with six freshman and five sophomores. Head coach Chris Herron is still optimistic.

“We’re excited about our new kids. We feel like they’re going to add a lot to our team in terms of their abilities,” Herron said. “They’re a talented bunch of kids. You just got to see how quickly they mesh with what we’re trying to accomplish.”

Senior leader Monica Miesner is also excited about all the new players and is ready to prove critics wrong.

“People are going to think that, oh, we lost these people. We have people that are just as talented as the people we lost or even could be better,” the All-American said. “It’s just getting them confidence and letting them know that they’ll be able to help us right away.”

And though there are a lot of underclassmen, the core of the team is returning.

“When you have your setter [Kate Hampson] back, that’s really critical. That’s a key position. And then you have a player of Monica [Miesner’s] ability that can only help you. So we’ll build around those two,” Herron said. “Stephanie Nitz has started for two years, so that helps us also. Molly Smith played in every game last year so there’s a lot of experience there. Caitlin Conley got in a lot of playing time and Ashley Sheppard’s back. She played a lot as a freshman.”

The libero is also a very important on the court serving as a defensive specialist for the team, digging the ball out a lot of time. The person who fills the position has to follow in the shoes of the all-time digs leader, Erica Cowhick.

“[The libero] is either going to be Smith or Stephanie [Holub]. But you don’t rule out anything. You say that on paper that, going in, that’s the two that will probably fight for the position, but I’m not opposed to whoever can get that position,” Herron said. “For us, we just have to worry about ball control. Because to be honest with you, we’re not going to have the most physical talent in the conference. We’re just not going to. That’s all on Pitt. We’re just going to have to do it with being efficient with our ball control.”

Since last season, the American Volleyball Coach’s Association made several rule changes which, according to their Web site, “emphasize continuation of play and fewer stoppages.” Coach Herron didn’t exactly like the change.

“It’s ridiculous. I have no use for it what so ever,” said the Washburn coach of seven years. “Here’s what I feel like it does more than anything. It eliminates opportunities for kids. With less points and less subs, that means I can’t get kids in the game where I used to be able to get them in the game, and I think that cheats the college athlete. You’re limiting the number of opportunities kids have to play by reducing the number of substitutions.”

Fans can start watching for these changes starting at noon on Friday when the Lady Blues take on Dixie State College of Utah in Pueblo, Colo. as part of the Colorado State-Pueblo Volleyball Tournament. The Washburn women then are scheduled to play at 4 p.m. the same day against the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Saturday’s slate includes two more western schools, 11 a.m. versus Colorado State University-Pueblo and 3 p.m. against Angelo State University.

“For the first week, in terms of preparation, there’s very little film watching. It’s the weeks after that when the film watching begins,” said Herron. “The first week is really about preparation of your own team and making adjustments on the fly.”

The Lady Blues first home game will be Sept. 17 when Northwest Missouri comes to Lee Arena to get the conference schedule started.

“Our conference this year is going to be really tough,” Miesner said. “We’re ranked second [in the conference], and I would say the top five or six teams are really good. Anyone could win on any given day. Truman’s always a top team to play but Emporia, Central [Missouri] is always pretty good.”