Beavers ready to face challenging slate in 2011
By: Meghan Mohr, sports information assistant
August 10, 2011
The Bluffton Volleyball Team opens its 2011 season Friday, September 3 in Haverford, PA against the tournament host Fords. Coach Yarnell, who will be entering his seventh season as Bluffton's head coach, hopes to start hot again. In 2010 the Beavers went 9 and 0 before falling to NCAA tournament qualifier Otterbein. The 2010 season had two lengthy winning streaks, the 9 and 0 mark to start and a strong finish at 7 and 1. In 2010 the Beavers ended with 23 wins and just 7 losses, with a 7 and 2 record and third place finish in the HCAC.
This year's schedule will be very challenging as Bluffton is facing off against four of the NCAA Division III top 25 volleyball teams from the previous season. Coach Yarnell stated, "The conference has seen an influx of talent and become more competitive. It is as good as it has ever been and the parity will make for an exciting race to the finish."
In 2011 the Beavers welcome back seven players who saw action in 28 or more matches last season, led by All-HCAC middle Courtney Zimmerman (Leesburg/Fairfield) and honorable mention recipients Heather Schierer (Crescent Springs, KY/St. Henry) and Nicole Wood (Tiffin/Hopewell-Loudon) who combined for 672 kills between them. The Beavers bid farewell to four seniors last season in Mandi Leemaster, Shauna Rowland, Heather Rodman and Allison Streicher. With the graduation of those four athletes, multiple positions are open for the playing time. Yarnell has added a deep recruiting class of 10 players who will compete for playing time and provide depth at their respective positions. "We have a quality incoming freshman class that will provide depth for us in many positions. They are a raw athletic group that we can see training at various positions based on where the team needs their talents."
With the loss of senior setter Shauna Rowland (4 year starter and three time all-HCAC), Bluffton will look to three newcomers. The setter position will be up for grabs in the 2011 season. Sophomore transfer Kyleigh Whitsel (Sheffield Lake/Brookside), freshmen Morgan Fullenkamp (Botkins) and Andrea Banghart (Syracuse, IN/Wawasee) as well as senior Lauren Morrow (Marion/River Valley) will battle it out for a chance to direct the offense.
First Team All-Heartland Conference senior Courtney Zimmerman, who led the HCAC in hitting at .318 while pounding 281 kills, will anchor a middle hitter position. Competing for the second middle position will be sophomore Bethany Behnfeldt (Napoleon) who saw action in 18 matches last year, posting a .250 hitting percentage. Junior Brooke Distel (Carey) played in 15 matches with a .190 hitting percentage and eight blocks for the Beavers. Freshmen Ashley Litwiller (Hopedale, IL/Olympia) and Amber Saddler (Elida) will add depth as they adjust to the speed of the collegiate game.
The outside hitter position will be anchored by seniors Nicole Wood and Jenna Eshleman (Landisville, PA/Hempfield). Eshleman is coming off a year where she saw little front row time due to an injury, but still garnered 142 kills with a .209 hitting percentage. After her injury she became a defensive specialist for the Beavers, earning 240 digs. Wood was named All-HCAC honorable mention in 2010 for her efforts, playing in all 30 matches and tallying 251 kills with a .203 hitting percentage. Sophomore Hailey Phillips (Hamler/Patrick Henry) racked up 28 service aces for the Beavers and saw some time as a backup outside last season. Freshmen Kristyn Hovest (Gilboa/Pandora-Gilboa) and Emily Broughton (Lewisburg/Tri-County North) will be two strong competitors at the position as well.
The defense will be led by junior Heather Schierer who was a 2010 HCAC Honorable Mention selection with 366 digs and 140 kills. Other defensive specialists expecting to contribute are senior Meghan Dodson (Tiffin/Calvert) who picked up 40 digs and served nine aces last year, and sophomores Lindsay Krohn (Marysville, IN/New Washington) who saw action in 19 matches last season and Rachel Duncan (Millbury/Lake) who earned the team's Most Improved Player award in 2010. Freshman newcomers Melissa Wichie (Brunswick), Kimberly Perry (West Alexandria/Twin Valley South) and Calista Dowdy (Van Wert/Lincolnview) will provide additional depth at DS for the 2011 season.
RIGHT SIDE HITTERS
Senior Lauren Morrow, along with sophomores Alicia Wood (Cleveland Heights) and Bethany Behnfeldt will be competing for time on the right side this year. Morrow saw action in 11 matches in 2010, hitting .276. Behnfeldt played in 18 matches during the 2010 season, hitting at a .250 clip, while Wood was plagued by injuries last year.
Bluffton's home opener is Wednesday, September 7 at 7 p.m. versus local rival Ohio Northern University in Founders Hall. Coach Yarnell is looking forward to a competitive season and has high hopes for another 20-plus win performance on the way to bringing the HCAC volleyball championship back to Bluffton.