SEASON PREVIEW: Creativity A Focal Point For Volleyball Women

Senior Meredith Stinnette had 92 or more kills in each of her previous seasons. (photo by Scott Eyre)
Senior Meredith Stinnette had 92 or more kills in each of her previous seasons. (photo by Scott Eyre)

In 2018, the EMU women's volleyball team had a few key injuries and tough stretch of matches keep them from returning to the ODAC Tournament. Despite graduating a trio of front row starters, the Royals will look to experienced players to fill in attacking roles with a talented back row controlling the pace under fifth-year coach Carrie Bert.

The volleyball women look to return to the postseason as they enter the program's 50th season of competition. Still one of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference's more historical programs after dominating the early years of the league, Eastern Mennonite owns eight ODAC Championships, second most in ODAC history.

Record in 2018: 8-20 (2-10 ODAC)
Coach: Carrie Bert (38-72 overall, 9-36 ODAC in four seasons) – Bert has reached double digit win totals in two of her first four seasons, a feat occurring only two other times over the past 15 seasons.

Season opener in 2019:
- host Delaware Valley on Friday, Aug. 30 at 3:30pm then Meredith at 7:30pm, as part of the two-day Route 42 Classic. The Royals also play Bryn Mawr and Salem on Saturday, Aug. 31.
Other season highlights:
- host Hood and Lancaster Bible in the EMU Tri-Match on Saturday, Sept. 7
- Rowdy Royals Match and celebrate Senior Recognition against Shenandoah on Saturday, Oct. 5
- on Homecoming Weekend, welcome back alumni for an EMU Volleyball Alumni Match on Saturday, Oct. 12
- travel to Lynchburg for a key ODAC Quad, Oct. 18-19, playing Randolph on Friday and Guilford on Saturday
- close the regular season against Marymount on Saturday, Nov. 2.

Career stats to watch this season:
Carly Gingerich enters with 813 career assists in just two years and needs 151 to take over No. 10 in EMU Career Assists. (Sara Hoffman - 964)

Interview

SID: How would you recap 2018 in a couple of sentences, and how does that play into your team for this fall? 

CB: In 2018 we brought in a large, talented class of first years. This group was a nice addition to upperclassmen with match experience and varied leadership skills. Unfortunately, key players suffered season-ending injuries which impacted our on-court chemistry.  As the coach, I was never able to correct that and we never fully recovered to perform at expected levels.  The season was frustrating and disappointing from a win/loss perspective.

The players participating in our spring, non-traditional season worked tirelessly and positively as we changed technique, demanded fundamental specifics, and moved them through several positions.  This team knows its ability and used the 2018 lows to drive them in the spring.  We will be a smaller team overall, both in numbers and size, but the women are competitive, athletic, and driven for a better experience than was had last year. 

SID: Tell me about replacing your three seniors from last year, who each played significant roles on the team.

CB: Given our 2019 personnel, we won't be able to replace Maria Yoder, Erin Brubaker, and Beck Hoskins.  We will need to be creative in how we create line-ups without their height and game experience.  Maria's tough serve will be missed as well as her athleticism in the front row.  Erin brought an unexpected competitiveness with her light, but big heart for her teammates.  Beck did anything and everything we asked of her, including changing her physique to be more of a presence in the middle. 

SID: Any other key personnel losses beside the seniors?

CB: Anytime we lose players to anything other than graduation I feel a sense of loss while I process the decision or situation forcing the change.  Yes, we have more players not returning than I expected and it will impact us this season and down the road.  My depth chart for recruiting took a blow and my roster size is down.  We have been working like crazy on 2020's, but the 2019 team is committed to making this work and their successful spring season proved they are committed to whatever we ask of them. 

SID:  Tell me a bit about your incoming recruiting class.  First an over-arching comment on the group as a whole, and then mention a few individuals and what roles they might play in their first year.

CB: Our incoming class, though small in number, is big on personality, talent, and drive. 

Sarah East, a hitter, comes from Rappahannock High School where she won a state championship and several individual honors for her contribution to the team's success. While quiet, she is extremely coachable, and brings a strong frame and volleyball IQ.

Delanie Miller, a decorated DS/Libero from Turner Ashby, is a big personality with athletic ability to back it up.  She loves to play the game and we anticipate her becoming a leader early in her career. 

SID:  Last year Hannah Johnson (Staunton, Va./Wilson Memorial) looked like a potential difference maker at the collegiate level before injuries ended her year.  How has she progressed coming into her sophomore season?

CB: Hannah was indeed a difference-maker.  Even after not being able to finish the season, she was the offensive leader for our team when looking at stats.  She has worked hard in the off-season at a careful and thorough recovery plan. We know how frustrating it was for her, but it also provided her the valuable opportunity to see the game from a different perspective.  Hannah had an excellent spring season.

SID:  After Hannah, your next three hitting leaders last year were your three graduated seniors.  Who are you expecting to consistently fill that void?

CB: Yes, we need some players to step-up, find some consistency to their offensive performance and remain durable.  Amy Goodman (Midlothian, Va./Midlothian) has the ability and volleyball IQ to surprise some people.  Kara (Smith) Durren (Hayes, Va./Gloucester) and Meredith Stinnette (Lynch Station, Va./Altavista) are seniors who we need to be at their best.  Andrea Troyer (Harrisonburg, Va./Broadway) has more ability than she knows and is expected to be a major contributor from the middle and opposite.  Abby Sherman (Bremo Bluff, Va./Fluvanna County) , if we can get her healthy, has untapped athleticism.  We haven't fully seen what she can do.  Incoming first-year Sarah East will also have the opportunity to make an offensive impact.

SID: Both setters from last year's 6-2 offense return. What does it mean to have both Tori Wigley (Elkton, Va./East Rockingham) and Carly Gingerich (Goshen, Ind./Goshen) back with a year of experience?

CB: It's always easier to start with setters who know the hitters and the team's offensive system.  We only have one hitter coming in, but it's likely the setters will be seeing hitters in new positions.  They have very different on-court personalities and setting styles, but the experience gained last season is invaluable.  That being said, Carly missed the spring season as she was doing her cross-cultural experience.  Another setter, Abbi Hawkins (Middlebury, Ind./Bethany Christian) was nearly 100% recovered from her hip surgery and performed above our expectations for her in the spring.  She has fantastic hands and probably connects the best with our middles.  Our coaching staff could have some tough decisions. 

SID: You have some roles to replace defensively, both in the middle of the net and in the back row.  How will you do that?

CB: I'm not worried about the back row.  Tarynn Clark (Goshen, Ind./Bethany Christian) stepped into the libero position with ease, Ginny Sorrell (Spotsylvania, Va./Spotsylvania) as a senior and captain is a steady presence in middle back.  Bethany Shultz (Harrisonburg, Va./Eastern Mennonite) has worked as a setter and DS for us, another player who had a great spring.  First year Delanie Miller could earn playing time with her vocal play, something we've lacked recently. 

Figuring out our front row will be the biggest challenge.  We are looking at some creative line-ups like utilizing three middles.  Our success could depend on how hard the team worked over the summer on their strength, athleticism, and getting volleyball reps. 

 SID: What is something you will be specifically watching or working on this preseason?

CB: First, noting who worked at their game over the summer. Reviewing expected technique. Tough serving. Team building. Identifying those who can play middle.

SID: What will the strengths of your team be?

CB: We will continue to attack with our tough serving. Experienced setters, serve receive and back-row defense, and hopefully a hitter or two. These young women love the game and desire to be good teammates.

SID: Overall general feeling of what 2019 will be for your team?

CB: Individual commitment to hard work for the benefit of the team.  We have a tough schedule, and it could be challenging, but I believe this team can surprise some people with what I always ask of them - clean, fundamentally sound volleyball.