GVSU volleyball to rely on youth in 2016

GVL / Kevin Sielaff
Staci Brower (21) celebrates after a point scored. The Lakers fall to the Bulldogs at Ferris State University Sept. 29 by a margin of 3-1.

Kevin Sielaff

GVL / Kevin Sielaff Staci Brower (21) celebrates after a point scored. The Lakers fall to the Bulldogs at Ferris State University Sept. 29 by a margin of 3-1.

Brady McAtamney

Sometimes, when a team is young and full of fresh faces, camaraderie and cooperation are as important as mechanics and drills. The Grand Valley State volleyball team recognizes this.

As such, along with typical practice procedure, the Lakers ran mock Olympics that included events like karaoke and putt-putt. Practice was then capped off with a speech and massive team selfie with GVSU president Thomas Haas himself.

After graduating seven seniors from last year’s team, GVSU coach Deanne Scanlon organized these events to bring her players closer together to try and forge a bond that resembles sisters rather than just teammates.

“Volleyball, I think, is the ultimate team sport,” Scanlon said. “It’s a game of synergy, a game of momentum, being able to play together and having good cohesion, so graduating that many players makes it tough to trust the person that’s playing next to you but I really feel that it’s an area that we’re kind of excelling at.”

GVSU lost a chunk of it’s arsenal from a team last season that went 20-12—good for Scanlon’s 21st straight winning season—but lost in the first round of the NCAA tournament. With that, they were sent back to rebuilding the persona and attitude of the team, both of which are still developing.

The charge into 2016 will be spearheaded by returning standouts Staci Brower, Shannon Winicki and Katie Olson. Brower was the reigning GLIAC Freshman of the Year, Winicki was a GLIAC First Team All-American, as well as the team leader in kills and blocks. Winicki appeared in every game the Lakers played last season and contributed with strong statistics across the board. Olson led the team in assists and assists per set.

Other key players from last year’s squad set to contribute this season are Sydney Doby, Brooke Smith and Taylor Stewart.

However, it will not be just veterans putting in work on the hardwood this season. With such a dramatic overturn, the Lakers were charged with filling significant holes which have been plugged with both incoming freshmen and transfers.

Of the incoming personnel, Jayci Suseland appears primed to make the most significant impact of the bunch.

“She’s been great on the right side this preseason and has been generating a lot of kills,” Brower said.

Scanlon said she believes that Suseland can realistically follow in the footsteps of Brower from last year and bring similar honors back to Allendale.

Among other fresh faces looking to make an impact include libero Sydney Benchley, who has stepped up and is claiming an otherwise open position, and Kendall Yerkes who, as told by Scanlon, has been “very, very steady” in the passing game, which is something the Lakers need this season.

As is the case with any young team, there will be growing pains.

“It honestly can vary from game to game,” Winicki said, “At times, serving can break down and we are still working with some new players, so getting communication is big.”

The inconsistency that comes with having such a young team is something that the Lakers are anticipating and preparing for.

“I think that we can’t lose sight of the fact that we are young and that we’re going to go through some roller coaster moments,” Scanlon said. “I think we’re going to have some moments of greatness and then some moments where, yeah, we’re really, really young and we show it. In those moments I think we need to battle through and think ‘next ball, next play,’ and not worry about it.

“It takes a mature team to learn to play that way, to play ugly. It’s all fine and dandy, and I want to work through those challenges.”

While just about every game on the schedule will be an important one for GVSU this season, one opponent that stands out over the rest – especially after subpar performances against them last year – is Ferris State.

“We’re looking for some redemption and we want to show them what we’ve got this year,” Winicki said.

The Lakers will open up their season with 10 consecutive bouts on the road. Of those games, they will take on three ranked opponents in Big Rapids: No. 10 Minnesota Duluth, No. 21 Winona State, and No. 20 California State San Bernardino.

The first matchup will come Friday, Sept. 2 against Minnesota Crookston. The first GLIAC game is Friday, Sept. 16 against Hillsdale and the first showdown in Allendale is Saturday, Sept. 24 against Walsh.