By BRIAN LESTER
Two straight winning seasons.
Back-to-back trips to the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament.
Life is good again for the University of Findlay volleyball team, which is ready to take another step forward after its first 20-win season since 2006. The Oilers are coming off a 20-12 season that ended with a 3-2 loss to Northern Michigan in the first round of the conference tourney.
UF did lose one of its top hitters in program history in Danielle Taflinger, a two-time All-American, but head coach Wick Colchagoff has good reason for optimism.
“Last year’s seniors helped re-establish the winning tradition,” Colchagoff said. “We also had a lot of underclassmen who got valuable playing time. The offseason went extremely well and we feel really good about the season ahead.”
The Oilers only have three seniors, including honorable mention all-GLIAC selection Amanda Calhoun. The veteran setter dished out 1,089 assists a year ago and also came through with 209 digs.
Samantha Granger is entering her fourth year as a starter. She played at outside hitter her first two season but was a defensive specialist last year. Granger tallied 213 digs for the Oilers.
The other senior is Heather Schwyn, who saw limited time as a defensive specialist last season.
UF’s cast of underclassmen includes former Carey standout Hannah Tong. The talented outside hitter came on strong during the second half of the season and was even named the GLIAC Player of the Week. Tong finished third on the team in kills (184) and also made 32 blocks.
Junior middle blocker Julie Lyons turned in a stellar performance last year despite getting injured. She finished with 169 kills and is expected to be even better this year as she will take on a key role in the Oilers’ offensive attack.
“Julie had a monster season up until she got hurt,” Colchagoff said. “Hannah did some tremendous things for us and has only gotten stronger. We are expecting big things out of them.”
Andrea Roach, a junior right-side hitter, racked up 131 kills last year and has put in a lot of time in the weight room during the offseason.
Junior defensive specialist Becca Shoemaker will play a pivotal role defensively after coming through with 195 digs. Shoemaker excelled during the spring in scrimmages. Freshman defensive specialist Megan Wendel, who won two state championships at Marion Local, is expected to step in and play right away.
The Oilers are expected to be in the mix for a conference championship, and one thing that will benefit them as they begin their quest is the consistency they have started to establish. The Oilers didn’t have a lot of ups and downs and only lost more than two matches in a row twice last year.
“We didn’t have those stretches where we come off a big win and then get upset,” Colchagoff said. “The mentality for us now is to go out and play our best against the best and still play at a high level against teams that are less skilled. We want to be competitive in every match.”
The Oilers were 11-8 in the GLIAC and gave NMU all it could handle before falling short in the postseason. A lesson was learned that night.
“I think what that experience does is let our team know the importance of finishing in the top four and getting a home match in the first round,” Colchagoff said. “It was a match we could have and probably should have won. We came up a couple of points short, and if we were at home, that probably would have been a couple of points along the way.”
The GLIAC will be just as rugged this year. Grand Valley is the defending league champion and Ferris State won the NCAA Division II regional and played in the Elite Eight.
The Oilers, who hope to earn a trip to the NCAA tournament this season, open the season on Sept. 4 in a tournament hosted by Rockhurst, which won the West Division of the Great Lakes Valley Conference last year.
“We definitely try to play a very competitive pre-conference schedule to get ready for the GLIAC,” Colchagoff said. “There are plenty of places I could get us to play where we could get four or five wins in a weekend, but that wouldn’t prepare us at all for what is ahead in the conference.”
Send an E-mail to Brian Lester
- The Docket
- Member Service