Volleyball 2017 Season Preview

Photo by Steve McLaughlin
Photo by Steve McLaughlin

2017 SEASON OUTLOOK

The 2017 Wesleyan Cardinals look poised to make another run at a NESCAC Tournament appearance, as they return 13 athletes from a team that finished 15-8 overall and 6-4 in league play a year ago.

< COACHES CORNER WITH BEN SOMERA >

In just his second year at the helm of the program, Head Coach Ben Somera guided Wesleyan to its most overall wins and conference wins since 2008, while returning the team to the postseason for the first time since the 2010 campaign.

Every starter from last year's team returns to the lineup this year, as the 2017 squad consists of one senior, three juniors, 10 sophomores and six freshmen. The team's lone senior, captain Sarah Swenson, has a been a consistent force throughout her collegiate career, and will be looked at to provide veteran leadership for a young unit.

Last year, Wesleyan played competitive five-set matches against the NESCAC's top-three teams; Amherst, Middlebury and Tufts. The Cardinals defeated the Panthers – the eventual conference champions – in September, but fell short to the Mammoths and Jumbos.

The 2017 season begins Friday, Sept. 8 with the two-day, four-match Johnson & Wales Invitational. The Cardinals will open the year against Wheaton at 6 p.m. Friday night. Conference play begins Friday, Sept. 15 at Williams (8 p.m.), and Wesleyan will host its home-opener Thursday, Sept. 21 against Conn. College (7 p.m.). The 2017 slate features seven home matches, eight away matches, and three tournaments.

MEET THE TEAM

  • Swenson is the most experienced member of the team, as she returns for her fourth season donning the Wesleyan uniform. She has consistently been one of the top outside hitters in the NESCAC throughout her career, as she finished fifth overall in kills per set in 2014 (3.21), eighth in 2015 (2.76 k/s), and 27th in 2016 (1.97 k/s). She'll be joined on the outside by junior Madeleine Lundberg. Last year, Lundberg and Swenson finished second and third on the team with 156 and 150 kills, respectively.
  • At defensive specialist, sophomore Olivia Guidotti figures to have an even bigger role following the graduation of Rachel Savage '17. As a freshman, Guidotti was one of only three Cardinals to play in every match in 2016. She led the team and ranked seventh in the NESCAC in total digs (345) and digs per set (3.97). Additionally, she led the team with 38 service aces, and her 34 assists were most among non-setters.
  • At the setter position, sophomores Kaira Muraoka-Robertson and Audrey Konow look to improve on impressive freshman campaigns. Muraoka-Robertson saw action in 63 sets, and finished the season with a team-high 422 assists and 6.70 assists per set, which ranked seventh-best in the NESCAC. She also totaled 99 digs, averaging 1.46 per set. Konow played in 46 sets a year ago, and finished with 268 assists and 67 digs. Her 5.83 assists per set ranked 10th in the league.
  • The Cardinals return a dynamic duo of middle blockers in Second Team All-NESCAC selection Nicole Hilton '20 and classmate Gabby Bennett. As freshman, Hilton and Bennett were two of the most efficient middle blockers in the conference. Hilton led all players with a .316 hitting percentage, while Bennett ranked ninth with a mark of .278. Hilton also led the Cardinals with 190 kills (2.24 k/s).
  • Somera welcomes freshmen Annasophia Bellizzi, Robilee Frederick, Harper Graves, Clara Nachmanoff, Grace Rose and Shantel Sosa to the roster as well.
  • Rose is expected to compete for playing time after a successful high school career, in which she led The Crossroads School to a CIF D6 Championship and an appearance in the California State 3A Finals. She earned MaxPreps.com Second Team All-America honors, MaxPreps.com D3 All-State, All-CIF SS First Team, and was the CIF-SS D6 Player of the Year.
  • Bellizzi – a First Team All-League selection and AVCA All-American Honorable Mention at San Juan Hills High School – should compete for playing time as well. She played club volleyball at the T Street Volleyball Club as well, and was the starting libero for her team that won the bronze medal in the 18 Open Division at USA Volleyball Jr. national championships.
  • Graves and Frederick will increase the overall athleticism and depth of the Cardinals' roster. Graves, a teammate of Rose at The Crossroads School, earned All-League and All-CIF Honors as she helped guide the team to the CA Southern Section Championship. Frederick attended high school in Puerto Rico and won the High School Sand Volleyball Championship with her partner.

HEAD COACH BEN SOMERA

"Our gym will be more competitive in three of our top four positions this year, which will improve our training environment and create a more productive team. I don't see any reason why we can't compete for Little Three, NESCAC and Regional Championships this season. I expect our serve and pass game to be much improved, which will directly affect our offensive and defensive efficiency. Our competitive schedule is stronger this season with the addition of three out-of-region opponents that are nationally-ranked. The key to our success this year will be directly connected to maximizing our limited practice opportunities, and continuing to improve on a daily and weekly basis."

On Aly Torline, the team's new assistant coach who joins the program after a stellar career at perennial Division 2 powerhouse Cal State University San Bernardino:

"Aly brings great competitive experience as a player to our gym, and will surely be a great mentor to our outside hitters. She has coached club in the most competitive volleyball region in the country, and brings a strong network of recruiting contacts that should continue to help our national efforts."