Entering his second season at the helm of the Wesleyan University volleyball program, Head Coach Ben Somera leads a unit that features a bevy of young, talented athletes that look poised to succeed this coming season. The 2016 Cardinals consist of three seniors, one junior, three sophomores and a staggering 10 freshmen. "All 10 freshmen significantly raise the level in our game," said Somera, who will look to seniors Rachel Savage, Heidi Westerman and Naja Lewis to provide veteran leadership.
"I don't see any reason why, with the talent level we have this year, we can't be more competitive than we were last year," said Somera. "We need to stay focus on getting better every day."
The 2016 slate begins Friday, Sept. 9 when the Cardinals host Worcester State at 7 p.m. The following day, they return to the court for two difficult non-conference matches against Western Connecticut State and Mitchell, respectively, before beginning NESCAC play Friday, Sept. 16 against Hamilton. Wesleyan hosts its first five games of the season, and will then head on the road Tuesday, Sept. 20 to begin a four-day road trip.
After back-to-back home games against Tufts (9/30) and Bowdoin (10/1), the Cardinals will play six straight on the road. The final two regular season home matches will be played against Connecticut College (10/21) and Wheaton (10/22) before taking on Little Three rivals Williams (10/28) and Amherst (10/29) on the road.
The Cardinals boast a talented and experienced group of setters headlined by senior co-captain Heidi Westerman. After an impressive junior campaign, in which she led the team in assists with 410, Westerman looks to be a true leader in 2016. "She brings a lot of intangibles on and off the court that can really impact our chemistry and attitude over the course of the year," said Somera. "We are going to put a lot of weight on her to manage those things for our team."
Kesley Tam '19 returns to the lineup after playing a valuable role as a freshman a year ago. With a year of experience, Tam looks comfortable entering the new season and has all the tools required to become a great setter. She'll play a significant role in the team's success this year and will continue to develop as a leader.
Additionally, Wesleyan welcomes newcomers Kaira Muroka-Robertson and Audrey Konow. Muroka-Robertson will compete for valuable playing time, and as one of the team's best defenders, will also see action as a defensive specialist, while Konow has shown signs that she can be a great setter in years to come.
Wesleyan returns one of the NESCAC's top attackers from the past two seasons, junior Sarah Swenson. Swenson led the team, and ranked within the top-10 in kills, as both a freshman (3.21 per set) and sophomore (2.76 per set), and will be relied upon once again this season.
She will lead a young unit that features sophomore Madeleine Lundberg, and freshmen Kailee Chimento, Nicole Hilton, Mia Hogan and Stasie Litinsky. Lundberg played a big role as a freshman – ranking third on the team in kills/set (2.00) – and looks to build on that during her sophomore campaign. Chimento brings athleticism to the Cardinals lineup and Litinsky is a dynamic attacker. Hilton has enjoyed an impressive preseason and can play as either an outside hitter or middle blocker, and will play a vital role in the team's success this year. Hogan may be the team's best all-around outside hitter in terms of attacking, ball control, serving and blocking, and will take on a big role as a freshman.
The middle blockers will be led by senior Naja Lewis, who ranked second on the team in blocks a year ago with 36 total (0.63 per set), and sophomore Emma Robin, the team's leader in blocks in 2015 (42 total; 0.95 per set).
In addition to the talent and experience in Lewis and Robin, Somera and the Cardinals also welcome Gabby Bennett and Fallon Konow. Bennett is one of the team's most athletic players, while Konow has a good nose for the ball and gives the middle blocker position some quality depth.
Headlining the unit will be senior co-captain Rachel Savage, who has been the leader of the team that past two seasons and fully understands the new system that Somera has implemented. A great role model in the gym, she has the drive and intensity needed to succeed. The team's MPV a year ago – in which she led the Cardinals in digs with 4.41 per set – has looked excellent in preseason and looks to play a significant role in 2016.
Joining Savage will be three talented freshman in Muroka-Robertson, Olivia Guidotti and Sophie Karolczak. Guidotti has done a great job of passing and defending in preseason and figures to see a lot of game action early on. Karolczak will also see plenty of action on the court and looks to make a significant impact with her serves.