Volleyball looks to spring exhibition and recruits for fall season
Recognizing their dominant start to this past year, the women’s volleyball team hopes to come out with the same strength, but with a fire to remain with them through the season.
Coach Craig Choate enters his fifth season as head coach, and with five seniors from his original 2008 recruiting class, has high expectations for the upcoming season.
“You know we were a really good volleyball team last year, but we let something get in our way,” said Choate. “We’re physically a better volleyball team next year. So, hopefully the lesson learned is, if there is an outside distraction, you have to leave it outside. You can get better and not have a better record. Are we going to be a better team? I fully expect us to be that.”
The players complement this feeling as well. Senior outside hitter Lexi Sullivan anticipates a competitive season.
“We have five seniors, so that alone is a big deal, because that’s a lot of people on a volleyball team that can contribute, because every senior wants to win,” Sullivan said. “It’s just in them, there’s something about it, to come out and kill it. So I think that alone, having that fire in this group with our young kids and the sophomores, just as a whole is going to be a really intense and fun season.”
A strong recruiting class adds depth and creates position battles. This years’ recruiting class features middle blocker Payton Bock, Tempe, outside hitters Trianna Henry, Phoenix and Janae Vander Ploeg, Colorado Springs, Colo. Additionally, junior transfer setter Erin Truett, originally from Goodyear, joins the team.
Henry, a four-year varsity starter and two-year captain, led her team to four consecutive Arizona state titles, with only one loss in league play. Bock’s team went 101-27 during her four years, finishing 33-9 her senior year, in which they were No. 3 in Arizona. Vander Ploeg, a member of a four-time Colorado state champion team was awarded the state champion MVP her junior and senior seasons, as well as the Denver Post 4A Player of the Year and two conference player of the year honors.
Truett was named a National Junior College Athletic Association All–Region selection and garnered Arizona Community College Athletic Conference All–Conference Division II second-team honors this past season with the South Mountain Cougars. She was a member of the Wildcats squad at Kansas State her freshman season, but injury brought her back to Arizona.
Coach Choate expects her to bring competition to the team as a whole, and to the setting position specifically.
“We only have one setter in the program right now, so having another setter is going to help us out immensely. You can do that by bringing in anybody; we got lucky we brought in a good one. We talked to her out of high school and she opted for Kansas State, and Kansas State is a big time program so [we] didn’t mind losing out to them, really,” Choate said. “She makes competition. We already had competition at the outside hitting and middle block and we didn’t have that at the setter position and now we do. Competition doesn’t always make players comfortable, but it’s good for us. It’s good for the team. So that’s the immediate thing she brings.”
Sullivan noted the excitement among the squad when facing a Pac-12 school like ASU on April 14, a team they had beaten when they hosted exhibition games earlier this month.
“You’re always excited. It was definitely different, like feeling-wise, because they have a huge dome so the ceiling goes on forever, so your depth perception’s off. It was just cool,” Sullivan said. “I think they were a little unhappy we beat them last time, so they definitely came out to play the second time and it made for a much better match last weekend.”
This past weekend, the Lumberjack’s went 2–3 against the Sundevils, but finished the spring season overall with a 4–3 record against ASU.
“There was a time where we would go play ASU in the spring and they would just crush us and we would go home,” Choate said. “In fact, I think my first year they came up here and beat us six straight games and went home, and they can’t do that anymore. So, I see the improvement, and I know the girls want to win more. We’ve played seven games against ASU and we’ve won four of them, so that’s not bad.”
Changes to the team dynamics, with people finding themselves in new positions, will carry into the upcoming year and adapting to these changes this spring have allowed a fresh perspective for the squad.
Sophomore middle blocker Sydney Kemper acknowledged the challenge of transitioning to a new setter, a position the whole team revolves around, but looks forward to next season.
“I really think we’re going to do really well. Last year, we started off 12–0 and I thought we were going to be great and then I don’t know what happened. But, I think since we sort of got that shock that like, ‘Wow, we just did terrible,’” Kemper said. “Our team, our girls, our five seniors right now are all so dedicated and all want to win too and it’s their senior year, so I think good things will happen.”