The Grace College volleyball team may have big visions for the 2014 season, but the Lady Lancers are focused on one day at a time this fall.
The Andria Harshman-coached spikers clinched their third consecutive 20-win season in 2013, finishing 20-17 and 9-9 in the Crossroads League. While Harshman is hoping for a long 2014 season with a national tournament at the end, she ultimately wants the team to concentrate on winning each day.
“We definitely want to be in contention for the league title and are practicing from day one to be in that mix,” Harshman said. “But this season we are planning to go 1-0 every day. We want to win each game, each practice and play our very best every day. If we aim to go 1-0 every practice and every game, we’ll end up winning a lot more than we lose.”
At the team’s nucleus is a trio of seasoned seniors who have stepped up to lead the squad. Outside hitter Calah Kruse (396 kills) and setter Ellie Harp (1,072 assists) were All-League performers last year, and Hannah Clemmons (552 digs) has worked hard this offseason to grab the team’s libero position.
Harshman expects the seniors’ leadership and voice to be a major advantage for Grace. “We will have a lot of senior leadership on the court this year – more so than we’ve ever really had. All three ladies will play crucial positions for us and provide a ton of valuable experience to the court.”
Offensively, the Lady Lancers’ fast, dynamic attack will be spearheaded by Harp and Kruse. They will be joined by returning outside hitters Alix Underwood, Kaitlin Kerrigan and Megan Johnson and several new faces in the middle.
Sophomore middle hitter Grace Woolsey has made major strides this offseason, according to Harshman, and provides a dominant attacking and blocking presence in the middle. Three freshmen (Savannah Hart, Tori Bontrager, Kari Feddema) add depth and versatility to Grace’s middle hitters.
Freshman Sierra Smith was a pivotal piece of Harshman’s 2014 recruiting class. The 6-foot-2 opposite hitter will be a major presence on both sides of the net right away, according to Harshman. “Sierra [Smith] is going to be absolutely dominant for us. She’s the piece we can build an offense around because of her presence. It’ll be hard for teams to contain her at the net, and she’ll allow our middles to get open as a result.”
Grace’s blocking efforts should be revamped in 2014, due in part from new personnel and part to a new system. The new swing-blocking system promotes a “powerful, explosive style of blocking,” according to Harshman.
Clemmons likely returns to her starting libero role in 2014, teaming up with juniors Annie Salazar and Jessica Scherb and freshman Sara Miller to form a fast, hardworking back row. The group has displayed a high level of intensity and determination in the preseason.
Adding valuable depth to the team are backup setters Taylor Baird and Laken Chaney, opposite hitter Cassaundra Worthen and outside hitter Angie Mack.
Harshman will be assisted by Mike Alejado and first-year assistant Gillian Gabryluk. The coaches hope to weave the team’s motto of “Soli Deo Gloria” (Glory to God Alone) into the legacy of the 2014 squad. “This year the team is studying what it means to work for the Lord and not for men,” Harshman said. “What we do off the court is emphasized by how we play on the court. The court is a place we want to redirect people to God. Soli Deo Gloria.”
The Lady Lancers open their season at home with the Wyndham Classic on Aug. 22-23. Grace will play four teams over the weekend tournament held at Grace’s Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.