Influx of freshmen talent fortifies volleyball team

Emanuel Johnson

Last year, the Grand Valley State University volleyball team spent the entire season on a streak of inconsistency.

Finishing the season at 16-13, the Lakers were only once able to reach three wins in a row, before falling in the two consecutive matches after. Their play was good enough to get them into both the GLIAC Championship and the Midwest Regional tournaments, but the team could not pull it together to scrape out a postseason victory.

That inconsistency is something the entire team pulled together to address this past offseason, said junior outside hitter Courtney McCotter.

“It can only get better from last year,” she said. “This offseason we did a lot of work in trying to make the whole team better rather than just the players on the court or the seniors. We did a lot of team building and adopted a new attitude.”

McCotter said that in an attempt to limit the inconsistency issues, GVSU head coach Deanne Scanlon has worked to put the most consistent player on the court for the longest periods of time, no matter how many or few years of experience they may have.

The team welcomes seven active freshmen to this year’s squad, two of whom, defensive specialist Sacha Gill and outside hitter Stacey Catalano, will see significant time on the court.

Gill will begin the season as the team’s starting libero, the player responsible for making defensive plays and keeping the ball alive.

“We struggled last year defensively and with our passing being consistent,” Scanlon said. “But from the day she stepped on the court, we noticed a huge difference in our ball control.”

As for Catalano, she will be the second freshman starter on the team and will play in all six rotations on the court. Scanlon said Catalano’s overall skill and power will make her a great asset to the team.

“It’s a tough thing to do, but she’s our best passer and probably one of our best defenders,” she said. “And she just annihilates the ball in the front row. She’s coming in at 6-foot tall, and she’s just a great athlete.”

McCotter echoed Scanlon’s praise of Catalano’s power.

“The game just comes so easy to her, and her power is ridiculous,” she said. “Other teams are really going to have a difficult time with her.”

The two freshmen have a well-experienced core of upperclassmen to learn from, including senior middle blocker Rebecca Rapin. The 2009 All-American returns to the team after having led last year’s squad in hitting percentage (.275), kills (327), solo blocks (22) and total blocks (115).

Scanlon said her sense of urgency and commitment to the team will make a big difference as something that last year’s team lacked.

“One thing we lacked last year was players that would step up at key moments,” she said. “I see a little more urgency to get things done and stay focused that I didn’t see last year. And Rebecca Rapin is a senior now, so she’s definitely coming with that energy. It’s basically her gym.”

The team opens up the season with the Tampa Classic this weekend. The Lakers will compete against four top-25 opponents, the first of which being No. 1 Concordia-St. Paul University tomorrow afternoon.

Aside from winning, Scanlon said she will look for one thing above everything else.

“I want us to go down there and compete,” she said. “We’re playing the No. 1, No. 3, No. 5 and No. 13 teams in the country. It’d be nice to go down there and win a few of those games, if not all of those games, but those are the teams that we want to play in the end. For me, it’s about ‘let’s go down there and compete.’”

The first match against Concordia-St. Paul begins at 3:45 p.m.

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