By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – There is no time like the present. Capital University Volleyball may be young, but the freshman class is skilled, makes up a core of the roster and will be relied upon to fuel the 2017 squad.
By virtue of sheer numbers, Capital will filling out its starting lineup each night with a good number of first- and second-year players. Sixteen of the 20 players that will suit up for the Purple and White are freshmen or sophomores, and three changed their commitment and followed first-year head coach Amanda Hubbard from Alfred University (N.Y.) to Capital last spring. Those players include setters Morgan Tripp (Jupiter, Fla./Jupiter Community), Laura Williamson (Glen Allen, Va./Patrick Henry), and libero/defensive specialist Sarah Franczak (Colonia, N.J./Bishop George Ahr).
When asked what made Hubbard want to bring those players with her to Capital, she immediately replied with a one-word answer.
This single word also reflects the growth of the returners, whom Hubbard says have worked on becoming problem solvers as opposed to those who bask in misfortune. She is not shy that every year, every team encounters adversity or a "stormy phase", but it is how they as a team and individuals react that matters most.
With maturity, the leadership value of the Capital veterans has grown exponentially. Led by seniors Graysan Braun (Springfield, Ohio/Northwestern) and Kasey Parkhurst (Castalia, Ohio/Margaretta), the returners were the first pleasant surprise Coach Hubbard encountered to begin fall training.
Hubbard reported that all the returners came back in peak shape and better than expected, which not only will elevate their play, but also sets a good example for the first-year players coming into the program.
She said, "The veterans have been great leaders and great mentors, so it's been fun at practice because we have such great attitudes and great leadership on the court."
When it comes to the play on the court, Hubbard cites that the key will be to keep composed, convert plays when out of system (or off the net), and to create chaos so as to induce free balls to help get back into system.
The first month of the season may prove to be an extended preseason to allow for all to compete for a spot in the starting lineup. Hubbard cites it is an important part of the process because many of her players excel in several different areas, making the team and its strategy very adaptable to the opponent or situation.
"Whatever we become good at, we will need to blow it out of the water," said Hubbard. "With those things we need work on, we need to understand it's not because we're not good at it, it's just getting enough repetition to become more aware and fix it."
Of those areas Hubbard defined as early strengths, she mentioned that serve receive and blocking are at the top of the list – areas in which the Crusaders have struggled in previous years. While one of those areas create chaos and the other can subside it, Hubbard says the next area the team will be working on in the coming weeks will be improving its offense. This means not only beating the opposing defense, but also causing disarray on the other side of the net with pressure.
Helping in those efforts will be lead returners right-side hitter Graysan Braun and sophomore defensive specialist/libero Jaelin Rios (Champlin, Minn./Tontino-Grace). After losing their top four attackers from last year, Braun has the most kills among returners (76), and looks to put up numbers close to her junior season when she tallied 138 in 2015. In split time as a freshman, Rios made 308 digs and averaged 3.50 per set on the defensive end. Sophomore frontliner Kirsten Jutte (Fort Recovery, Ohio/Fort Recovery) led the team with 36 service aces in 2016, and will also likely be in competition for a starting spot or significant playing time.
There is one intangible that cannot be accounted for when it comes to additional intrinsic motivation for the team. Hubbard and the team say it was decided very early that this year's effort will be dedicated to Pam Briggs, the winningest volleyball coach in Capital history and pioneer for women's athletics at CU. Briggs was diagnosed with cancer near the time of her retirement in 2014 and continues her battle against it. The team will be wearing pink uniforms to support Coach Briggs in her fight, while also hosting various fundraising and awareness events over the course of the season.
When all is said and done, Hubbard hopes that this team can look back and feel "complete pride" in its performance.
The first steps of this year's journey will be taken on Friday, Sept. 1 at the Otterbein Volleyball Fall Classic. Cap will first play St. Mary's College (Ind.) at 6 p.m. followed by a nonconference matchup against rival Otterbein at 8 p.m. All matches this weekend will be help inside The Rike Center in Westerville, Ohio. Fans can watch the Crusaders at The Capital Center for the first time on Wednesday, Sept. 6 against Ohio University – Chillicothe at 7 p.m.