New faces complement returning stars for GV

GVL Archive
Senior Nicole Whiddon and freshman Ally Simmons block the spike from their opponent at a past match.

GVL Archives

GVL Archive Senior Nicole Whiddon and freshman Ally Simmons block the spike from their opponent at a past match.

Zach Sepanik

It’s all in the numbers for the Grand Valley State University volleyball team.

Last season was highlighted by a 26-7 record and an appearance in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. This year’s numbers to focus on: eight and 6-foot-9.

Eight new players, six freshmen and two transfers will make their way onto the court for the Lakers this year, and one of them will be 6-foot-9 senior middle blocker, Allyssa DeHaan.

“The freshman group is very competitive,” said Deanne Scanlon, GVSU head coach. “I think there is going to be a couple of them that are going to work their way into the lineup, the most obvious being Clair Ruhenkamp, our freshman setter. Right now everybody is in the mix. All of them have a shot at contributing.”

The team still plans on running a two-setter offense with Ruhenkamp playing the bookend to junior setter and team captain Olivia Kohler. The two will be the base for the offense.

Kohler is joined by sophomore libero Sacha Gill and senior outside hitter Courtney McCotter as team captains. The younger players will look toward returning starters for leadership in all circumstances.

“We have two returning starters in junior Eno Umoh and senior Nicole Whiddon,” Scanlon said. “Even though they weren’t elected captains, we really look for them to lead by example and in tight situations their teammates can look to them to execute.”

The defense will be a big part of the team’s game plan this year as well, especially with DeHaan’s size.

“We have always focused on blocking as one of our main staples of our lineup,” Scanlon said. “[DeHaan] already can step in and help us at the GLIAC level. It is good to have her in the gym because she is competitive, a great teammate and will make us better in practice having to hit against a block like that.”

After playing four years of basketball at Michigan State University – where she compiled 503 career blocks, a Big Ten record – she now must transition to volleyball after having not played since her senior year of high school.

However, the team realizes it will take more than DeHaan for them to win a GLIAC championship and finish higher than last year’s Elite Eight appearance.

“With everyone being able to contribute, my expectations are that we do just that and everyone step up and do their part and not just look to one person,” Kohler said. “If everyone does that, I think we should definitely go far in the postseason.”

Besides the expectations the team carries from their outstanding run last year, the name GVSU brings its own expectations as a program along with it.

“The No. 8 ranking is nice, but we haven’t even played a game yet,” Scanlon said. “It puts a target on our back that everyone else in the country is looking at. We don’t talk about it. We just tell all our kids it is the expectation we have from our program, that we want to be a top ten program year in and year out and we have got to learn to expect everybody’s best.”

The team does not discuss its ranking, and the pressure of being a top tier program really doesn’t have much of an effect on the players as they enter the 2011 campaign, Gill said.

“Personally, I don’t put a lot of pressure because you just have to go out and play, not with a ton of pressure on yourself,” she said. “Grand Valley has a history of doing really well, and our title and ranking comes with playing here.”

It will be a different, younger team that takes the court this year. Scanlon still is trying to find the best lineup she feels most comfortable with as the team prepares for their trip to Florida on Friday and Saturday to open the season.

“I feel this team is the deepest team we have had in a long time,” Scanlon said. “I still don’t know the starting lineup and I mean that in a good way. I think I have a lot of options and there are a lot of people competing and fighting for spots that can play at a very high level. It will be a real asset to us all season long, that we can do a lot of different things.”

The Lakers will begin their 2011 campaign with a weekend in Florida that will see them take on Shippensburg University, Saint Leo University, Rollins College and Florida Southern College as a part of two classic tournaments. The first game against Shippensburg will begin at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

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