GOSHEN, Ind. – Goshen College head volleyball coach Jim Routhier and his Maple Leafs are confident they have the experience needed to turn the corner as a team and as a program. After starting largely underclassmen the last two seasons, Routhier will put a veteran lineup on the court when the Leafs begin their season at the Concordia University Tournament this weekend.
"At the college level, experience is so necessary," Routhier explained. "A couple of years ago we had to start with five freshman, they have been playing together this is their third year now. They will all be starters and I really think it help us tremendously this season in the conference. We ended the season on a really positive note in the tournament upsetting Taylor and we are just building on that."
Junior outside hitter Sam Heberling echoed those comments, "I think it is better to have that many upperclassmen because we have been playing together so much so we know exactly what we need to do to pick somebody up, we know how to keep their confidence up… we know what each other can do."
That experience, Routhier and his team believe, will help them overcome some inconsistency they experienced last season. The Maple Leafs started the year 7-13 overall and won just one of their first 10 matches away from Gunden Gymnasium. They got hot in mid-October, though, winning five of six, including four in five sets and a historic upset of then 24th-ranked Taylor University - the program's first over the Trojans since 1991.
After dropping four of its last five regular season contests, they bounced back for another big victory, defeating second-seeded Taylor in the Crossroads League quarterfinals, earning their second trip to the league semifinals in four years. In short, they proved they could compete at a high level, but struggled to sustain it at certain points throughout the year.
"We had some really nice wins towards the end of the season, but our inconsistency was the tough part for us," Routhier said. "As the season went on, we became more confident and a lot more consistent. I think that will really help us this year. We are excited to get things started and I think we have the experience to get us over that inconsistency hump."
Junior libero Missy Mackowiak believes communication will be a big key to getting over that hump. "We need to be more vocal and bring each other up. If we are down, we need to not stay down. We need to keep positive. It took us a while to overcome that (coming back from deficits) and I feel like this year we will be better at that."
During his four year tenure, Routhier's teams have an impressive 35-15 mark (.700 winning percentage) at home. As they look to get off to a strong start, ten of their first 11 matches of the year will come on the road. Despite what some may call as an unfavorable schedule, Routhier believes it will prepare his team for success later in the year.
"It is tough because we don't play at home early, but I actually like playing on the road," he said. "If you can play and develop your team's strengths on the road early, playing at home is just so much easier. We do like the schedule late in the season because we have a lot of home matches towards the end of the season. I think that will help us as we wear down and help us finish the regular season strong going into the tournament."
The Maple Leafs open Crossroads League play on August 29 at Bethel College, a key game according to Routhier because of the tournament semifinal loss in Mishawaka last year. They end league play with five of their last eight at home as they look to improve on their 8-10 conference mark from 2012.
"Some of our team goals are to finish in the top four in our conference and then make the conference tournament championship game to have a chance to go to nationals," senior setter Stacy Wyse said without hesitation.
Confident, experienced, and talented, the Maple Leafs are ready to hit the court. Keep reading for a positional breakdown of this year's squad.
Without a doubt, the setting position is one of the strengths of the Maple Leafs in 2013. And it all starts with senior Stacy Wyse. Now a four-year starter, the Archbold, Ohio native enters the season ranked second in program history with 3,357 assists. She was also in the top 15 in the league last year with 394 digs and 34 service aces, showing an all-around game that has led her to three all conference nods, including a second team honor last season.
Depth is equally as important as a standout starter, though, and Routhier's club also has that. Sophomore Kelsey Smith is the number two with a nice jump set and great touch on the ball that will give her a number of chances to fill in. Freshman Riley Shultz will also get her feet wet and will be a nice addition as a left-handed setter.
Attackers (Outside and Right Side)
Last year, four Maple Leafs tallied more than 250 kills and three of the four are part of the spectacular junior class. Goshen's depth on the outside has taken a bit of a hit with the loss of all conference performer Jaime Stack to injury, but classmates Sam Heberling and Melanie Meyer are poised for another solid season.
Heberling showed a new level of versatility in 2012, finishing the year with 294 kills, 230 digs, 32 blocks, 22 assists and 14 service aces. Meyer, meanwhile, used her athleticism both in the middle and on the outside to slug a career high 303 kills to go with 127 digs, and 65 blocks, also both career highs.
A pair of sophomores will see time along the right side, Abby Short and Katy Anspach. Both gained experience last year with Anspach featuring a big lefty swing and Short with an excellent slide. Also in the mix on the outside are juniors Megan Strock and Mandy Schlabach and sophomore Kara Hostettler. Freshman Cierra Carpenter will also look to see action as a versatile attacker, who adds a lot of athleticism on the defensive end.
One of the weaknesses of the 2012 squad was its overall lack of height. At 5-foot-10, senior Emily Waits relies on experience to lead the front court for the Leafs. She had a breakout junior campaign, leading the team with 85 blocks to go with 132 kills, both career highs. She is joined by 6-foot-2 freshman Lexa Magnuson whose height and track record will add instant credibility to the Leafs. Part of four section championships and a state-runner up team at Elkhart Memorial, Magnuson ended her high school career with 432 kills at an impressive .333 hitting clip. Look for both Meyer and sophomore Natalie Hubby to also see time in what has turned into a deep pool of talent at the spot for Routhier.
Maple Leaf fans are witnessing a historic run on defense each night with First Team All-Crossroads League libero Missy Mackowiak. In just two seasons, Mackowiak already ranks third all-time at Goshen with 1,330 digs. She had 10 or more digs in 36 of 38 matches last season and finished the regular season ranked #8 in the country with 756 digs. She also led the Leafs with 40 service aces, which was good for sixth in the conference.
Hardly alone on the back line, sophomores Kayla Riportella and Angela Dedering, and junior Daniel Kerschhackl. Kerschhackl looks to return to the lineup after missing the entire 2012 season with an injury. She was sixth on the 2011 squad with 1.29 digs per set. Riportella (74 digs) filled in for an injury nicely last year and Dedering offers versatility that will prove important to Routhier over the long season.