2012 Spartan Volleyball Preview
CLEVELAND, Ohio – With one of the largest senior classes in program history and a highly-touted recruiting class, the 2012 Case Western Reserve University volleyball team will shoot for a fifth-straight season of 20-plus victories in addition to another top-tier finish in the University Athletic Association.
With seventh-year Head Coach Karen Farrell at the helm, the Spartans have totaled 90 victories over the past four seasons and posted back-to-back fourth-place finishes in the nation's premier NCAA Division III volleyball conference (UAA). The team finished at 22-10 overall (5-5 UAA) in 2011 and produced three All-UAA honorees as well as the conference's Rookie of the Year.
This season, Farrell returns six seniors and 7-of-11 players from last year's starting rotation. The squad will have to replace two of the most accomplished players in program history due to the graduation of Tricia McCutchan and Rachael Suchy, but Farrell is confident that the Spartans have what it takes to reach a lofty set of goals.
"Our team will showcase a nice blend of experience and new talent," said Farrell. "We have the most depth and versatility of any team we have fielded. Our ability to match up well in all six rotations will give us a well-balanced attack."
Leading the Spartans' roster is senior libero Rachel Gulasey (Cleveland, Ohio/Magnificat), who earned second-team All-UAA honors last season. Gulasey led the team and ranked fifth in the conference with 494 digs. Also the team leader with 30 service aces last fall, Gulasey ranks fifth all-time in CWRU history with 1,544 career digs. She is a three-year starter and a two-time All-UAA selection.
"Rachel (Gulasey) has elevated her game even more since last season, and she will anchor our defensive effort," noted Farrell. "She is a competitive force and keeps her teammates focused on the task at hand. Our defense has always been outstanding and this season we will have our most experienced core with Olivia (Stanton-Ameisen), Kara (Monnin) and Alexandria (Drake), who all have the ability to play any of the defensive positions."
Also back is the reigning UAA Rookie of the Year in sophomore middle hitter Natalie Southard (Buffalo, N.Y./City Honors School). In her first season with the program, Southard totaled 239 kills on a .320 hitting percentage with 106 total blocks. She ranked third in the UAA in blocks and sixth in hitting percentage on her way to becoming the first Rookie of the Year in program history.
"Natalie (Southard) played at a very high level as a rookie and formed a great tandem in the middle opposite Tricia McCutchan," said Farrell. "Now, Natalie will need to step into a new role and challenge and support the new players in the middle."
Joining Gulasey in the senior class are setter Breana Freeman (Geneva, Ohio/Geneva), the UAA All-Academic defensive specialist trio of Kara Monnin (Minster, Ohio/Minster), Olivia Stanton-Ameisen (Bryn Mawr, Pa./The Baldwin School) and Alexandria Drake (Phoenix, Ariz./Shadow Mountain), as well as right side Hanna Collins (Londonderry, N.H./Londonderry).
Freeman ranks second all-time in school history with 2,729 assists after leading the team and ranking fourth in the UAA with 1,145 last season. A UAA Player of the Week last September, Freeman also totaled 130 kills, 291 digs, 18 service aces and 60 blocks during her junior campaign.
Monnin missed significant time due to injury last fall but still totaled 154 digs after recording 447 as a sophomore. Stanton-Ameisen saw her most significant playing time last season and finished second on the squad with 326 digs and 25 service aces. Drake was fifth on the squad with 173 digs, while Collins saw extended court time as a junior and posted 80 kills with 34 blocks.
"Our senior class has experienced the development of our program over the past three years and will push the younger players to compete consistently and effectively against all teams on our schedule," said Farrell. "This group knows what it will take to achieve our goals and will set a great example for our team with hard work and intensity in practice."
In addition to a large senior class, Farrell also returns three sophomores in addition to Southard. Two return as defensive specialists in Sara Gulasey (Cleveland, Ohio/Magnificat) and Jordan Genovese (Streetsboro, Ohio/Streetsboro), while outside hitter Rachel Miller (Davis, Ill./Keith County Day) will compete for extended playing time.
Farrell also welcomes her most highly-touted recruiting class in eight years with 10 incoming players. Sophomore transfer Ella Mravec (Lakewood, Ohio/Lakewood), who spent last season at Northern Kentucky University, joins the outside hitter group along with freshmen Carolyn Bogart (New Berlin, Wisc./New Berlin Eisenhower), Samantha Buddemeyer (Naples, Fla./Seacrest Country Day) and Kayla Petro (Columbia Station, Ohio/Olmsted Falls).
Freshman Katie Best (Sewickley, Pa./North Allegheny) joins the defensive specialists, while freshmen Devin Herlihy (Towson, Md./Loch Raven) and Robyn Marks (Waterford, Mich./Waterford Mott) will be added to the setter group.
"Our newcomers will be counted on to make an immediate impact in competition," said Farrell. "Having a group of first-year players that brings this much size, athleticism and versatility will allow us to maintain a high level of play in each rotation."
Much like the past several seasons, the 2012 schedule figures to be incredibly challenging with some of the top opponents and tournaments in the nation. The Spartans will open with four matches in two days at the Green Hornet Invitational in Kalamazoo, Michigan on August 31-September 1 before beginning the home portion of the schedule the following weekend (Sept. 7-8) as co-hosts of the Annual Marcia French Memorial Tournament. Overall, the Spartans play in five non-conference tournaments this fall.
The first of two UAA Round Robins is slated for Sept. 29-30 in Chicago, while the second will be held in Pittsburgh on October 13-14. Those two weekends will determine the seeding for the prestigious UAA Championship Tournament on November 2-3 in Atlanta.
"Three teams from the UAA ranked in the top-15 nationally, while six ranked regionally at the end of last season," noted Farrell. "Most of the teams return their top athletes, and that is going to make every conference match a challenge. Each squad will enter UAA play with great results and then it will be a battle to the bitter end in each match. We will see plenty of strong competition in our non-conference schedule also, and we will need to focus on each opponent one match at a time."