A young, yet talented roster is in place as the 2016 edition of the Case Western Reserve University volleyball team has unfinished business on its hands, aiming for a return trip to the NCAA Championship tournament.
Guided by 15th-year Head Coach Karen Farrell, the Spartans have posted 20 victories in six of the last eight seasons. Last season, the team went 25-8 (5-2 UAA) which was the most wins by a team since the 2000 campaign and the second-most ever by a Spartan volleyball squad.
After the finishing the regular season with a 24-7 record, the Spartans qualified for the NCAA Championships for just the second time in program history, and claimed its first-ever NCAA tournament victory after defeating Mary Washington in the first round of the tournament.
With a 5-2 record in the University Athletic Association, the Spartans finished in third place, the volleyball program's best finish since a third place finish in the UAA Championships in 1997. Also a program first, the volleyball team was ranked by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, checking in at No. 24 the week of October 7.
This fall, a total of eight players return, including three from the starting rotation. The roster also receives an infusion of talent with the addition of nine newcomers.
"We lost five starting seniors with great leadership, intensity and confidence in their own talent and their comfort with their teammates," said Farrell. "We will have nine new players on this year's squad and it will be one of the most talented classes we have yielded in our program's history. How quickly they connect with each other and the returning players and get comfortable to be able to play at a high level and handle pressure early in their careers will be critical to our team's success."
At the net last season, Barton and Pfaff averaged 2.79 and 1.79 kills per set, respectively. Pfaff finished second on the team with 76 total blocks and Barton finished third with 313 kills.
"Pfaff and Barton both have great playing experience and have been consistent attackers for us but somewhat in the shadow of the graduated seniors," said Farrell. "They will need to bust into the limelight and become go-to players in their final season and show great patience as leaders with a young team."
Carroll led the team last season with 6.86 assists per set, good for fifth in the all-time rankings, and 734 assists total. She played in all 33 matches.
Bondelid led the UAA with 0.48 service aces per set and ranks second in program history for service aces per set in a single season.
In addition to the four players back from last year's rotation, the team features an additional junior and three sophomores that will look for increased court time in 2016. Middle hitter Emma Briggs is back for her third season, while defensive specialist Emily Wolfenbarger, setter Gabby Sodini and defensive specialist Noel Jeansonne return for their second year in the program.
Adding additional height to the Spartans attack will be freshmen outside hitter Karley King, middle hitter Haley Sims, outside hitter Brianna Lemon, middle hitter Samantha Rodriquez and right-side hitters Julia Eggert and Rayna Styles. Freshman defensive specialists Christine Tamura and Jen Manning, along with freshman setter Faith Ellis will bring depth to the backline.
"Our team has always been a very scrappy, defensive oriented, ball control team and undersized in our attack," said Farrell. "This year will be the first time we will match up better physically with most of our opponents, but we will be very inexperienced in most of our positions in the rotation. When our size and athleticism intersects with court experience at some point during the season, we will be a very competitive squad."
As usual, the Spartans will play a challenging schedule that features the always tough UAA and several traditional powers from throughout the region.
"I think there will be many pivotal matches for us this season both in the UAA and in regional competition," said Farrell. "Every victory we can earn early in the season will be important and will give our rotation the confidence to compete through close sets."
The Spartans open with three matches in two days at the Capital Tournament in Bexley on September 2-3 then serve as co-hosts of the Marcia French Memorial Tournament on September 9-10 at Horsburgh Gymnasium. Three dual matches and one more weekend tournament follow before the first of two UAA Round Robins is played at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pa. on October 1-2. UAA Round Robin #2 is two weeks later on October 15-16 in Waltham, Mass. at Brandeis University, while the UAA Championship Tournament is set for November 4-5 in St. Louis at Washington University.