More experienced, more skilled, and more intelligent is
what describes the 2009 edition of Ferris State University women's
volleyball as the Bulldogs set their sights on a Great Lakes
Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) championship and a NCAA
Division II Tournament berth.
"We have all the makings to have a great season but performing at a consistently high level will be the key," said 14th-year FSU head coach Tia Brandel-Wilhelm. "I believe our players have a better grasp of how our structure fits into the team concept."
But with a year of experience and a rigid spring season under their belts, the Bulldogs are poised to bounce back from last season's 16-13 record. FSU welcomes back 12 letterwinners from last year, which includes five starters and its regular libero. The Bulldogs also return more than 85 percent of their kills production, better than 83 percent of their blocks output, and at least 70 percent of the squad's service aces.
"We have a lot of players back who received court time last season," said Brandel-Wilhelm. "While that's a positive, we're looking for those who can be consistent in their play. The ladies have performed with consistency in practice and the spring scrimmages so now they just need to do the same in our matches."
A notable change from this season's team compared to the 2008 squad will be in the Bulldogs' style of play.
"We will be able to generate more offense than in the past few years," stated Brandel-Wihelm. "A lot of our success this season will depend on our offense to score more points. We have considerable depth and a number of offensive weapons with which to choose from.
"We will need them because this year's schedule is one of the toughest we've ever had. We're sure to be tried and tested by our non-conference opponents," added Brandel-Wilhelm.
Ferris State's setting position will likely be the key to the Bulldogs' 2009 success. A new face will occupy the position this fall as both of last season's regulars, Andrea Rich and Candice Marut have graduated. Both concluded their careers with over 1,000 assists apiece. Samantha Fordyce, who redshirted a season ago, is expected to be the starter following a productive spring.
Ferris State's most productive position could well be at the net as the Bulldogs return five blockers from last season's squad. Highlighting the group should be as one of the conference's top blocking tandems in senior Kristy Gilchrist and junior Arielle Goodson return. Gilchrist hopes to make the most of her final year of collegiate competition after placing second among the 2008 team's leaders in blocks (79), third in kills (233), and fourth in service aces (23) en route to attaining honorable mention all-conference accolades. The 2007 All-GLIAC Second-Team pick recorded nine double-digit kill match efforts a season ago while pacing or sharing the team lead in kills on seven occasions. She enters this fall currently ranking tied for 27th place on FSU's all-time leaders list with 48 service aces. A rapidly improving player, Goodson turned in another highly-productive campaign last fall with single-season highs in about every statistical category. A starter in 26 of the squad's 29 matches, Goodson led the Bulldogs for the second consecutive season with a career season-best 92 blocks. The 2008 All-GLIAC Second-Team honoree netted 16 block solos and 76 block assists as both represented team highs. She also placed second on the 2008 squad with a career-high 262-kills total and averaged a team second-highest 2.43 kills per set. Goodson appears well on her way to etching her name in the program's annals for blocking by ranking 23rd all-time in solos (37) along with 30th in both assists (145) and total rejections (182). Senior Sarah Lark should also play a key role in the Bulldogs' success on the court following her most productive season in a Bulldog uniform last fall. Lark's 151 kills in 29 outings marked the team's fifth highest total and set a career single-season high as did her .208 hitting percentage. She also generated a career-best 52 blocks in 2008 to place fourth on the squad's blocking leaders list. As a result of her experience and leadership, Lark has been tabbed as a co-captain for the 2009 team. Danielle Hamilton returns for her junior year after playing in 10 matches last season while sophomore Mallory Kopa was on the court in five encounters. Anne Sutton, who was redshirted last fall, could also figure in the equation.
If there's an area which may raise a question mark on the surface it probably lies within the outside hitting position as Ferris State is limited experience wise. With the competition on the Bulldogs' schedule this season, this position will be vital to the team's offensive production and subsequently, its success on the floor. The veteran of the youthful group is senior Katie Edwards, who hopes to equal if not surpass her last season's statistical numbers. Edwards has proven capable of being a capable offensive threat as evidenced by her hammering a squad-high 274 kills in 29 matches last season. She also led the team with a 2.49 kills per set average and chalked up double digits in kills 16 times. Edwards either led or shared top team honors in kills on 14 occasions last fall and is eager to cap off a four-plus collegiate career with a flourish. Joining Edwards on the outside is sophomore Ashley Huntey, who wound up tallying a team sixth-most 118 kills to go with a team third-best 256 digs and a squad fifth-highest 22 service ace output in 29 matches. Amanda Kettlewell also returns to the fold for her senior year and has been hampered by injuries throughout her career. Nevertheless, she posted 28 kills in 24 outings a season ago to rank seventh among the squad's leaders. Sophomore Karen Thompson was right behind Kettlewell in kills (26), but was able to showcase her versatility with a squad sixth-most 87 digs while being listed seventh in both service aces (11) and total blocks (13). Redshirt frosh Aly Brecht, an up-and-coming player, is expected to push the others for playing time.
The Bulldogs welcome back experience and quality depth in this area which in turn will make multiple options available to the FSU coaching staff. Sophomore Lisa Tobiczyk is back as the incumbent at libero following a noteworthy display in her initial collegiate campaign. Tobiczyk amassed a team-leading 374 digs and a squad-best 3.28 digs pet set in 29 appearances last season. She recorded double-figure dig totals in 21 matches, which featured five 20 or more digs in a contest. Tobiczyk also proved to be effective in serving with a team second-most 34 aces to go with a squad-leading .945 serve percentage. For her efforts, she honored as a co-winner of the 2008 team's Bulldog Award for displaying the most heart and desire. An outstanding performer in the classroom, Tobiczyk not only landed a spot on the GLIAC All-Academic Team last season but also was recognized as the team's FSU President's Award recipient for maintaining the squad's highest cumulative grade point average. A pair of talented juniors, Dana Ruttle and Whitney Rupp, are sure to challenge Tobiczyk for playing time and the level of competition will be a benefit to all. Ruttle, a third-year junior, dispelled the sophomore jinx last season by making the most of her on-court experience. A 2008 FSU Coaches Award co-recipient, Ruttle ended up third among Ferris State's leaders a season ago in service aces (24) and fourth in digs (164). Ruttle, a 2008 GLIAC All-Academic Team pick, collected at least 10 digs in nine 2008 matches. She will team up with Sarah Lark to serve as co-captains for the upcoming campaign. Rupp saw action in 20 outings last fall while attaining GLIAC All-Academic Team accolades for the 2008 season.
Armed with arguably its best recruiting class in several years, Ferris State is in the process of laying a solid foundation for future success. Joining the program in 2009 are freshmen middle hitters Lindsey Miller and Angi Kent along with freshman outside hitter Brianna Grover and frosh setter Paige Wyers. The combination of this year's four-member group with last season's class will have a significant impact on the program's fortunes. Don't be surprised to see the newcomers battle the regulars every step of the way.