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- August 22, 2017 at 9:28 am #19975
After doubling their previous season win total in 2016, the West Virginia University volleyball team looks to make even greater strides when they embark on the 2017 season on Aug. 25 against Delaware at the WVU Coliseum.
After two weeks of workouts, the Mountaineers unofficially start things off on Saturday, when they host their annual Gold/Blue Scrimmage. First serve is set for 4 p.m. inside the Coliseum. Admission to the event is free.
After a season of improvement last year, West Virginia was tabbed to finish sixth in the Big 12 preseason poll released earlier this month, ahead of Oklahoma, Texas Tech and TCU. Perennial national contender Texas was picked to win the league, while Kansas finished a close second in the rankings.
“We’re getting better and it’s great that other people see that and think highly of us,” third-year coach Reed Sunahara said. “But, we still have a lot to prove and we still have a lot of volleyball to play. We need to prove that we’re getting better and gain respect from other coaches and other teams. It’s great, but at the end of the day it’s just preseason rankings. It’s how you finish.”
Freshman phenom Payton Caffrey returns for her sophomore campaign after ranking near the top of the Big 12 in points, kills and aces. The 2016 AVCA Midwest Region Freshman of the Year, Caffrey set a freshman program record for kills and went on to earn All-Big 12 First Team, Big 12 All-Freshman Team and AVCA All-Midwest Region Team accolades last year. Most recently, she was named to the All-Big 12 Preseason Team. Senior Morgan Montgomery, the team’s top hitter in 2015, provides a steady veteran presence while sophomore Katelyn Evans returns after finishing third on the team with just under two kills per set.
“Mo is very versatile,” Sunahara said. “She can play left or right at any point when we need her in there, she’ll be in there.”
Newcomer Katie DeMeo out of Troy High in Troy, Ohio, will bolster the veteran core along with Briana Lunch, who comes from Johns Creek, Georgia, and Chattahoochee High.
“The newcomers add more depth,” Sunahara added. “Briana is a true middle, and Chloe and Katie are versatile players that can hit from the middle and right. Katie can hit from the left as well. We’re looking forward to being a lot more versatile from an offensive standpoint.”
Senior Mia Swanegan led the league in blocking with 1.34 blocks per set in 2016, ending the season with a total of 149 to lead the Mountaineers. Sophomore Natania Levak also contributed to the blocking effort as a freshman, finishing second on the team with 0.91 blocks per set.
DeMeo and Lynch, along with fellow newcomer Chloe Klusman, will add depth this season.
“We’re expecting a big year from Mia,” Sunahara said. “She has the most experience and gained a lot of experience because of where we were as a team in the first few years. Now, I see her being a big part of our success as a hitter and blocker. She’ll be the captain of the front row defense and will take the other kids under her wing and help them gain the experience and knowledge that she knows.”
Senior Gianna Gotterba enters her fourth season as WVU’s primary libero after surpassing 1,000 digs as a junior in 2016. Gotterba led the team and ranked seventh in the league with 3.90 digs per set as a junior, earning several all-tournament team honors in the preseason. Fellow senior Taylor Cross finished third on the team in digs with 193, while Gabrielle Cuckovich also saw action as a freshman last season.
Freshmen Alexa Hasting, Lindsay Proctor and Ava Richards will join the trio of upperclassmen this season.
“Gianna is the anchor of our serve receive and defense,” Sunahara said. “She’s proven that she can play with the best of them. She’s made great improvements since the first time I saw her and started working with her. She’s done a nice job. She has a good work ethic and a good touch on the ball. We expect her to have a big year.
“The three freshmen – Lindsay, Ava and Alexa – will add to what we already have. I think our ball control was the biggest thing we needed from previous years, and I think we solidified that with adding to what we have.”
Sophomore Erin Slinde took over as the team’s starting setter midway through the 2016 season, making great strides at the end of her rookie campaign. Slinde led WVU and ranked ninth in the Big 12 with 5.94 assists per set.
Newcomer Emma Anderson may be a new face, but adds veteran talent. She comes to Morgantown after playing three seasons at South Alabama.
“Erin had a good year last year,” Sunahara said. “She got better over the spring and throughout the international competition. She’s setting with more confidence and she’s worked hard at it.
“Emma brings collegiate experience. She’s already played three years at the Division I level. That definitely adds to what we’re trying to do. They’re both competing for a spot. There’s not frontrunner right now, but whoever can set the best offense and be consistent will be in there. Erin is a little more physical from the front row, but that doesn’t mean Emma can’t do it. It will be a good battle, and that’s what we want.”0
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