GOSHEN, Ind. – With a preseason tournament against several of the top teams in the nation under its belt, the Goshen College volleyball team opens the home portion of its schedule this afternoon in a tri-match with Purdue University North Central and Concordia University Ann Arbor.
Coming off a 17-15 (8-10 MCC) season in 2011, head coach Jim Routhier is confident that the experience his young team gained last year will transition into more consistency, getting them into the top half of the conference standings.
"One of our big goals is to finish in the top half of the conference," he explained. "Last year we started four freshmen and they all have a year in which they played basically every match. We are coming into the season very well prepared. Our goal is to be in that championship game of the conference tournament and to be in the top half so we can host as we go into the tournament."
The Maple Leafs lost just one player from 2011 who played in at least 100 sets (Kate Yoder, 248 kills). They also bring back five players who registered more than 100 kills in addition to returning team leaders in blocks, service aces, digs, and assists.
Any struggles Goshen had in 2011 were with consistency. They rattled off three-straight wins early in the year, but then dropped six of their next seven matches. They put together a nice five-match winning streak late (also won seven of eight), but were never able to get on enough of a roll to get more than three games over .500.
"Last year we had big streaks," the head coach reiterated. "This year you can go back to the experience and playing at a solid level all year long. As you know volleyball is a game of streaks. We are working very hard on keeping those point streaks down and only letting our opponents get one or two points at a time. You can not have any mental breaks."
After hosting a pair of tri-matches this week, the early season schedule is tough on the Maple Leafs. Already having played three nationally-recognized teams, they will host perenial power Saint Xavier before starting Crossroads League play at #11 Taylor and against #9 Indiana Wesleyan.
In order to reach their goal of finishing near the top of the conference, they will have to consistently gut out wins in tight matches against a very balanced group of teams in the Crossroads League. That is something they excelled in last season, winning all but one of their matches that went to a decisive fifth set, including three in conference play.
Two-time All Mid-Central College Conference Honorable Mention selection Stacy Wyse (Archbold, Ohio) returns for her third season in a Maple Leaf uniform. She has already amassed 2,203 career assists, putting her fifth on the Maple Leafs career list just 56 behind her aunt, Rita Wyse (2,259). Routhier has also brought in a pair of freshman setters, Kelsey Smith (Lima, Ohio) and Angela Dedering (Neenah, Wisc.), who are more than capable of stepping in and running the offense, while also developing for full-time duties in the future.
"Stacy is a big strength for us," Routhier explained. "She has a lot of experience, she does a great job managing the team and she has run our offense for a couple years now so she can read and does a great job of moving the ball around."
The outside is dominated by underclassmen for the Maple Leafs. Leading the way are super sophomores Jaime Stack (Goshen, Ind.) and Sam Heberling (Mishawaka, Ind.). The duo tallied more than 200 kills each (211 Stack, 219 Heberling) during their freshman campaigns.
They are joined by classmate Megan Strock (Butler, Ind.), who has had a breakout preseason after spending the majority of 2011 on the junior varsity team, as well as sophomore Mandy Schlabach, who missed 2011 with an injury, and freshman Lorissa Miller (Mishawaka, Ind.) and Kara Hostetter (Harrisonburg, Va.).
Three experienced and versatile athletes will roam the middle for the Maple Leafs in 2012. Sophomore Melanie Meyer (Elkhart, Ind.) was one of four Goshen players to rack up at least 200 kills (200) last season, while senior Hannah Grieser (Goshen, Ind.) has had 150 or more in each of the last two seasons. The pair also combined for 116 blocks last season. Add to the mix junior Emily Waits (Goshen, Ind.) and Routhier could't be more excited about the options available to him.
The area with the least experience for the 2012 Maple Leafs is along the right side. Three freshman could see time in the slot, including Katy Anspach (Winamac, Ind.), Abby Short (Archbold, Ohio) and Natalie Hubby (Wauseon, Ohio).
"Katy is a left-handed right-side, about 5-foot-11," Routhier said. "She is getting her feet wet at the college level, but she has tremendous potential. Both Abby and Natalie can play on the right side or in the middle and will add a lot to our team."
Another sophomore leads the way on the defensive end, in libero Missy Mackowiak (North Liberty, Ind.). Mackowiak was named to the All MCC Freshman Team as well as Second Team All MCC after racking up a team0high 574 digs. Her 4.9 digs per set was the second highest single-season rate in program history. She is joined a talented trio of defensive specialist: senior Karina Rohrer-Meck (Archbold, Ohio), junior Lexi Kantz (Goshen, Ind.) and freshman Kayla Riportella (Des Plaines, Ill.).