By: Ryan Gasser, sports information director
COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Capital University volleyball team started making preparations for a new beginning last spring. With small victories throughout the offseason and the desire for consistent growth over the course of the season, look for 2019 to be the year that the Crusaders revitalize the program.
The rear-view mirror has been taken off the bus that will drive the Crusaders into the 2019 campaign. Youth may still make up much of the roster, but experience is now starting to trickle into key positions mixed in with a few surprises from the first-years joining the program.
TWO PERCENT MORE
There is an idea that the best change is the one that is not drastic, but instead progressive. Enter the "two percent" method and the concept of "leveling up". With competition heating up in the Capital camp, every play is an opportunity to get better, and with time that incremental improvement should pay off.
"It is about giving two percent more every play," said senior Carlie Wilson. "So anytime you do anything, the next play, if you make a mistake the next play you give two percent more and you fix it. If you do something great, you give two percent more and it's even greater. It's not a lot. You're not asking to double how good you are. You just want to give two percent more every time."
The energy that is being generated in The Capital Center gym will not only make the team better, but will also lead to one of its anticipated strengths and strategies, and that is conditioning. With multiple five-set matches going the wrong way last season, which could have made the difference between making the OAC Tournament, there is a focus on bringing energy to every practice in order to improve and outlast the competition.
By class: seniors (2), juniors (4), sophomore (7), freshmen (9)
By position: outside hitters (10), right side hitters (7), middle hitters (2), setters (5), defensive specialists/liberos (5)
The front line may prove to be most veteran and the offense begins with junior outside hitter Leighann Osborne (Canal Winchester, Ohio/Pickerington Central). Last year, Osborne tallied 164 kills but given the successful offseason, expectations are high for year three, especially with another weapon added to her arsenal.
"She [Osborne] bought in to playing back row in the spring and she has done so much in the gym that she is at the top of everything we do," said third-year head coach Amanda Hubbard. "She leads by example and to see her grow to become a six-rotation player is huge for us."
Senior Kirsten Jutte also believes that Osborne will be a key contributor, but even more so for her demeanor on the floor.
""She is so quiet and nothing affects her. She can have a really bad day and still the next play she is coming back and getting us a kill, all the time," said Jutte.
Sophomore Miranda Jordan (Springfield, Ohio/Emmanuel Christian Academy) showed promise as a freshman and has continued to bring intensity to the floor while competing for playing time. First-years Jenna Suda (Darien, Ill./Hinsdale South) and Bradan Mast (London, Ohio/Madison Plains) are also in the mix for time on the outside.
The right, or opposite, side is loaded with veteran talent and may prove to be one of Cap's offensive strengths. Seniors Kirsten Jutte (Fort Recovery, Ohio/Fort Recovery) and Carlie Wilson (Richwood, Ohio/North Union), plus sophomore Delanie Nahikian (Allegan, Mich./Allegan) are listed as favorites at that spot and all may have ample opportunity to play. Nahikian was second on the team with 148 kills and also contributed on the block with 43 total stops at the net.
Jutte, who moved to the right side two years ago was described by Coach Hubbard as, "one of the most fierce competitors, and she is one where you know that you are on her team you're not going to lose, because she's not going to let you." Jutte recorded 110 kills and 35 blocks last year.
Junior Jessica Gavlak (Sheffield Village, Ohio/Lutheran West) began to come on at the end of the 2018 season, solidifying her spot in the middle for the Crusaders. With 59 total blocks, her presence became known to opponents on the other side of the net.
However, behind her the ranks were a little thin coming into camp. Coach Hubbard commended multiple first-years for sacrificing to make a transition into the middle to provide depth at that position. Freshman Caleigh Hamby (Newbury, Ohio/Newbury) and Regina Cetnarowski (Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio / St. Vincent/St. Mary) came in as outsides but now will spend time in the middle.
"She [Hamby] is so calm, cool and collected that you forget she is a first-year," said Hubbard. "She has come in really composed."
Much time and effort was put into building the unit that would stop opposing offenses, both at the net and the backline. Coach Hubbard said that in 2019, defense is an area that has seen some of the most improvement and that excites her the most.
"I think finally we are seeing a lot out of our defense, as a whole. It is not just about the person that wears the opposite color jersey. It is everyone as a collective effort on defense has improved significantly."
It is a heated competition for the libero spot and one that has different players bringing different qualities to the table. Junior Isabelle Jimenez (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) tallied 173 digs out of that position a year ago and brings two years of experience, but a four-way battle has broken out at the DS spot. Sophomore Erin O'Connell (Lyndhurst, Ohio/Gilmour Academy) has shown fantastic progress between years one and two, but freshmen Paree Furness (Springfield, Ohio/Shawnee) and Lea McFadden (Chillicothe, Ohio/Paint Valley) have widened the coaching staff's eyes as possible contributors early.
"They [McFadden and Furness] are very fierce," said Coach Hubbard. "They're willing to sacrifice their bodies on the floor and we needed more of that in the gym, and it's been quite contagious for everybody else."
While the Crusaders welcome back its top two setters from a season ago, an open competition has yielded some positive results. Sophomore Jenay Kocsis (Marysville, Ohio/Fairbanks) shared time with Jimenez as the team's primary setter in 2018, but sophomore transfer Emily Cooper (Hamersville, Ohio/Western Brown) has made a big push in the preseason to get the nod when opening day comes around. Cooper comes to Cap from Shawnee State University (NAIA) where in 30 matches she tallied 463 assists and 20 service aces.
The combination of Jimenez and Kocsis totaled 490 assists and 33 service aces, but Coach Hubbard eluded that it may come down to defense when selecting a starter. Having players that can contribute in multiple ways while on the floor will be critical when selecting the lineup.
Both Wilson and Jutte made very clear that there will be some notable differences in this year's squad even if the names sound familiar. One such area was in the energy being manufactured that will be present in every match.
"I think energy is our biggest one. You can just tell immediately that this team is just loud and this team wants to be a force in the gym that is recognized," said Wilson.
Fight is something difficult to teach. Luckily for Coach Hubbard, she may not have to. Having been so close in multiple matches last year, the taste of victory has created a desire to get to where they want to be.
When asked what word would describe this year's team, Jutte said, "Resilient. We came off of a rough season, but this year we are ready to go, ready to bounce back and make it much better."
Another phrase came to mind when Coach Hubbard was posed the same question.
"The players have been very hungry, yet humble. They have been hungry to learn, to please, to uphold expectations, yet when people do win or do have a success at practice they are not arrogant or selfish about it. We've really been humble in our earnings at practice and over the weekend at our scrimmage."
ON THE WAY
There is no question that 2019 will be a critical year in Capital Volleyball's rebuild, but the senior class is ready for the challenge ahead.
Wilson said, "While we have a lot of the same girls, this isn't the same team from last year. We're coming out of a rough season but we don't like to focus on that. We're focused on growth, and this is a season that you're going to see a lot from us and we're working really hard to bring it."
"As a team, our main thing is we want to set a foundation, something that for years to come they can start and build off of what we bring this year," said Jutte.
The season begins with the inaugural Pam Briggs Memorial Classic, co-hosted by CU and Otterbein University. That tournament will take place Friday, August 30 through Saturday, August 31 with all 12 matches between the six participating teams behind held at The Capital Center. The Crusaders will open with Hiram College (4pm) and Lawrence University (8pm) on Aug. 30.