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2018 Wesleyan Volleyball Season Preview

Photo by Steve McLaughlin
Photo by Steve McLaughlin

SEASON OUTLOOK

The reigning NESCAC Champions look poised for another impressive season as the 2018 Cardinals return 13 players from last year's squad and welcome four first-years. Head Coach Ben Somera enters his fourth season at the helm of the program and looks to continue the tremendous success he's had thus far, as he has revitalized Wesleyan volleyball.

The Cardinals, who finished the 2017 season with a 22-6 record and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament, will open the 2018 campaign on Friday, Sept. 6 against Ithaca. The season-opener will test Wesleyan early as the Bombers reached the Final Four a year ago and currently rank No. 7 in the country with a 2-1 record. Following a tri-match on Saturday, Wesleyan will host it's home- and NESCAC-opener on Friday, Sept. 14 against Williams.

In Somera's first three seasons, the Cardinals have risen from a 5-15 record in 2015 to a 22-6 mark and a NESCAC Championship in 2017. His teams have improved their overall and conference records each year and will look to continue that streak this fall.

MEET THE TEAM

  • Headlining the 2018 squad is the reigning NESCAC Player of the Year and a Second Team All-American, Nicole Hilton '20. Hilton, an outside hitter/middle blocker from Wantagh, N.Y., has excelled in her first two seasons with the program and has amassed 455 kills with a .324 hitting percentage. Additionally, she has averaged 0.84 blocks per set with 152 total in 51 career matches.
  • Stasie Litinsky '20 returns for a third season after a breakout sophomore campaign in which she earned All-America Honorable Mention and First Team All-NESCAC. In 2017, Litinsky averaged 2.82 kills per set with a .246 hitting percentage. She totaled double-digit kills in 11 of the 25 matches she competed in last year, despite Wesleyan boasting a well-balanced offense.
  • The Cardinals also welcome back libero Phia Bellizzi '21 who earned Second Team All-NESCAC as a freshman. Bellizzi shined in her first season with the program as she finished the year ranked second in the conference in digs (557) and digs per set (5.86), eleventh in service aces (31), and 21st in assists (82).
  • Wesleyan's sophomore class also features outside hitter Harper Graves. Graves ranked second on the team in kills as a freshman with 248 total and 2.67 per set, and finished fourth on the squad in digs with an average of 2.02.
  • Joining Hilton and Litinsky in the junior class is setter Kaira Muraoka-Robertson and middle blocker Gabby Bennett. Muraoka-Robertson helped lead an offense that had six players total 100 or more kills last year as she ranked fourth in the NESCAC in assists with 822. Bennett was a force a net with a team-high 81 blocks, which also ranked fourth-best in the league.
  • Providing veteran leadership will be senior co-captains Madeleine Lundberg and Emma Robin. Lundberg, a two-time captain, totaled 118 kills and 168 digs a year ago and Robin is a two-sport athlete who also competes on the women's squash team.
  • Joining the team in 2018 will be first-years Maddie Kurke, Mia Jago, Gabby Roberts, and Jenna Otaola.

COACHES' THOUGHTS

"This will be the most talented team I have had since coming to Wesleyan in 2015. We return all our starters from last season and have competitive depth in every position. We have experienced senior leaders in Madeleine Lundberg and Emma Robin, and they will be supported by a balanced roster of upper and underclassmen. Most of our goals are process orientated but I believe we have a unit that can continue to climb the regional and national rankings. Our practice environment is extremely competitive and the level of play in our gym is significantly higher than last season."