The 2014 Middlebury volleyball program has some unfinished business on its hands as it aims for a NESCAC Championship and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament. Despite losing a talented senior trio from last season, the Panthers look primed to contend.
Led by head coach Sarah Raunecker entering her 20th campaign at the helm, the Panthers return an experienced squad in 2014. With the loss of a talented trio of captains due to graduation that led a team to an 18-7 record and a sixth-place finish in the conference, the team will need to look for players to fill those roles this fall.
Leading the pack last fall were a pair of All-NESCAC outside hitters in Megan Jarchow and Amy Hart along with another outside in Meg Anderson, who all received their respective degrees.
Despite the absence of that particular trio, Raunecker is excited about the upcoming season and her returning players. "I am excited about this coming year and the team has put in a lot of work this summer to be ready for the fall," said Raunecker. "I know our upperclassmen knew what they needed to do in the offseason to prepare physically, and hopefully that influence has rubbed off onto the incoming first-year players."
Perusing over the 2014 edition of the roster, Raunecker talked about the top returners that are a mix of experience and youth. "We welcome into the program some talented first-year players, and it will be very important for us to integrate that young talent quickly into the mix of the team."
Leading this group of veterans will be a class of seniors comprised of libero Lizzy Reed along with right-side Olivia Kolodka and middle hitter Piper Underbrink. Reed transitioned to the libero role last season and played in 58 sets over 22 matches averaging nearly three digs per set (2.98). Kolodka ranked third on the team with 137 kills in 80 sets, while Underbrink returns from an injury that ended her season 14 matches into the season. In 42 sets, she amassed 87 kills and her hitting percentage led the team at .377.
Other hitters that will look to increase their playing time this fall are sophomore middles Melanie English (98 kills, team-best 66 total blocks) and Gabi Rosenfeld (48 kills, 26 total blocks) as well as sophomore outside Charlotte Devine.
Orchestrating the offense from the setter position, Raunecker welcomes back an experienced duo in junior Kathryn Haderlein and sophomore Hannah Blackburn. Combined, the pair dished out 895 assists. Haderlein played in 53 sets with 506 assists (9.55 assists/set), while Blackburn handed out 359 assists in 73 sets played (4.92 assists/set) while splitting time as a setter and a defensive specialist.
In addition to Reed on defense, junior defensive specialist Katie Chamberlain will look to aid the team with her defense and serving ability. Last fall, Chamberlain racked up 102 digs in 68 sets played.
"For us to be successful this fall, we need to continue to build off our successes at the end of last season," said Raunecker. "We are looking forward to continue that climb and hope to integrate our new players quickly, and in turn gel as a team as soon as possible. If we can do those things, I know we will have a lot of fun this fall."
The Panthers will start their quest for a conference title when they take part in the UMass-Boston Tournament with four matches over two days on September 12-13. Middlebury will play its first home match inside Pepin Gym on September 16 against Union at 7:00 p.m.