GVSU volleyball team poised to make leap
Lakers bring back 5 of 6 starters, trio of All-Americans
The high-flying Grand Valley State University volleyball team is loaded with returning talent and more than ready to take the next step in 2014.
GVSU, which posted a 31-4 record last season en route to its first conference championship since 2008, garnered top honors last week in the 2014 GLIAC Volleyball Preseason Coaches' Poll after receiving seven of the eight possible first-place North Division votes.
Last year’s first-place finish could certainly be duplicated this time around, as the Lakers return most of their starters and a dozen letter winners from the 2013 squad. GVSU coach Deanne Scanlon, the 2013 GLIAC Coach of the Year, said expectations are high entering her 20th season with the team.
“We’ve got a lot of pieces in place to have another great season, so we’re just really going to focus on two things,” Scanlon said. “One is being a great teammate. The team is this big entity, but it’s made up of separate people so we’re going to focus on everyone’s role and their dynamic on the team. Two is the most important part, and that’s having a good time.”
The good times were plentiful for the happy-go-lucky Lakers in 2013.
Prior to its five-set loss to Ferris State University in the regional championship in Allendale, GVSU compiled a 21-game win streak which included a stretch of 21 straight sets without a loss.
The Lakers swept their opponent 16 times, were 15-1 away from home and had a 17-1 GLIAC record.
“Yes, we did all of that good stuff last year but it’s not how we wanted to finish, so we’ll have a little chip on our shoulders,” senior outside hitter Abby Aiken said. “We’re pretty confident in what we can do this year, but we’re not overlooking anyone.”
Aiken, the 2013 GLIAC Player of the Year and Daktronics Midwest Region Player of the Year, will be looking to build on an impressive season in which she racked up 427 kills, 413 digs and 67 total blocks.
She is one of three returning All-Americans – which GVSU has never had – along with senior setter Kaitlyn Wolters and junior middle blocker Kaleigh Lound.
Lound and reliable senior starter Ally Simmons will have to play well inside when teams key on Aiken and junior outside hitter Betsy Ronda, a former GLIAC Freshman of the Year who battled injuries in 2013.
“Kaleigh really came into her own (in 2013), you can’t leave her alone in the middle, and Betsy bounced back and had a great spring for us,” Scanlon said. “Having those two dynamic hitters on the outside is going to be a tough thing to stop.”
Aiken and Ronda have the potential to lead a lethal Laker attack offensively, but the group’s productivity all starts with the offensive catalyst at setter.
Wolters was an assist-producing machine after being inserted into the starting lineup early last season, and her ability to keep opponents guessing was a big advantage for GVSU.
“Kaitlyn is someone who can take over a game and keep a defense honest,” Scanlon said.
Wolters could also be looking to set up a familiar face at right-side hitter.
Her twin sister, senior transfer Kourtney Wolters, is one of the players expected to compete for the final starting spot. Junior Jessica Majerle, sophomore Carley Gross and redshirt freshman Carley Serowoky are also in the mix.
Defensively, the team will rely heavily on senior libero Christina Canepa. The Daktronics All-Midwest Region First Team honoree ranks sixth all-time in school history with 1,198 career digs.
Canepa said the Lakers won’t be getting ahead of themselves in 2014.
“We’re all really excited and obviously we have big goals, but we’re making sure we get the little things down first before we look ahead to tournament play,” she said.
The team begins its 2014 campaign on Sept. 5 at the Oredigger Classic in Golden, Colo. The Lakers will take on four non-conference opponents in the two-day event, starting with Minnesota State University Moorhead.