GVSU volleyball looks to build off Final Four run
Wolters, Ronda lead an unexperienced crew in 2015
With every new season comes new challenges. For the Grand Valley State volleyball team, the first obstacle will be replacing the talent it lost from last year’s exceptional senior class that lead the program to its sixth Final Four appearance.
The Lakers finished 2014 as GLIAC regular season champions with a 27-6 overall record (17-1 GLIAC) and captured their ninth Midwest Region title by being the only team in the country to sweep all three of its regional opponents.
It was an unforgettable final season for the graduating seniors that included a pair GLIAC Players of the Year in Kaitlyn Wolters (2014) and Abby Aiken (2013), and the 2014 GLIAC Libero of the Year Christina Canepa.
Entrusted to fill those vacancies is head coach Deanne Scanlon. In her 21st season, Scanlon is on the verge of become the all-time winningest coach in GVSU volleyball history. In order to do so, Scanlon will need 20 more victories from a relatively inexperienced group where 10 of 19 players have never played for GVSU before.
“I don’t see a solid lineup coming together right now,” Scanlon said. “But, I’d also say that doesn’t concern me either. I guess it’s a nice problem to have that I think there are a lot of people fighting for positions.”
While there is an increased opportunity for playing time, Scanlon will be relying on the seniors to “steady the ship” while the new players continue to develop and find their bearings.
It wasn’t long ago senior outside hitter Betsy Ronda was named the 2012 GLIAC Freshman of the Year. A role reversal now puts her in a position to be a mentor to the younger players so they can get up to speed as fast as she did.
“They don’t have any expectations when they are out on that floor as freshmen,” Ronda said. “So, it’s on us to just lead them through it.”
Ronda, two-time All-GLIAC selection, led the Lakers in kills, solo blocks and points in 2014, while ranking second in digs and aces. She is also excited to be joining the exclusive 1,000 career kill/dig club in program history when she smash her first kill of the new season.
Often found in front of Ronda blocking shots, Kaleigh Lound returns after earning an All-GLIAC Honorable Mention last season. Over the last two seasons, Lound has bolstered the Lakers’ frontline by leading the team in blocks with a total of 227 in 68 games played.
A technicality brings back Kourtney Wolters, twin sister of Kaitlyn, for what is going to feel like a second senior season. Wolters was granted another year when the NCAA deemed a previous year of eligibility had not been used up when she played in an unorganized tournament for Western Michigan before she transferred over to GVSU.
“The whole year last season I thought I wasn’t going to come back,” Wolters said. “I’m so appreciative for everything that went on and the whole process. It was a long process.”
A couple others fighting for starting roles are former GVSU club volleyball standout Taylor Shomin and GRCC transfer student Amanda Glaza at the libero position. Freshman middle blocker Staci Brower earned first team all-state honors with Byron Center High School, and could see some early playing time with sophomore Sydney Doby nursing a preseason injury that might keep her sidelined for the first week of the season.
Regardless, having a bunch of position battles has not deterred the Lakers from what Scanlon believes makes this GVSU team different from those that have come before.
“Right now what I’d say is unique about this group is, I feel like, early on they have a really good bond,” Scanlon said. “It really feels like a close-knit group already.”
Even with strong team chemistry, it’s the nine fresh faces that make expectations for this season mysterious and unknown. The preseason coach’s poll ranked GVSU No. 2 in the conference, so perhaps another GLIAC championship or NCAA tournament run isn’t out of the question.
Looking ahead, key games to circle on the calendar are the two meetings against Ferris State on Sept. 29 (Away) and Nov. 3 (Home). The rivalry reached a new peak in 2014 after the two teams’ last contest when GVSU swept FSU in the Midwest Regional.
GVSU’s season begins Sept. 4 at the Fieldhouse Arena as it hosts Concordia-Portland, 2 p.m., and Carson-Newman, 7 p.m., as part of the GVSU Laker Riverfront Classic.