Beaver Falls, PA – All the 2011 Geneva College volleyball team did in 2011 was finish with a school record 27 victories, a 17-1 conference record and the school′s first Presidents′ Athletic Conference title. As the team reassembles to open pre-season camp this week, the 2012 Golden Tornadoes will have a tough act to follow.
Not only will the 2012 Geneva College women′s volleyball team be looking to duplicate its success from a year ago, it will try to improve upon what turned out to be the most successful volleyball season in school history. Improving upon a championship season will be no easy task and topping a school record 27 victories from last fall will be equally challenging as the new campaign gets underway. The Golden Tornadoes will indeed have a tough act to follow. “What defines our program is how we handle ourselves on and off the court,” says co-head coach Curt Conser. “While we have very specific goals on the court, we are equally proud of what our program stands for off of it.”
On the court in 2011, the Golden Tornadoes made school history by capturing Geneva′s first Presidents′ Athletic Conference title in only the first year of eligibility. With a school record 27 victories, the Golden Tornadoes cruised through the PAC schedule with a 17-1 mark in league play. While many key pieces are still in place for 2012, Geneva did lose some veteran leadership while also having to replace perhaps its top two defenders and ball controllers. “Bri (Brianna Mixter) and Rachel (Kuegler) were two players that helped make up the backbone of our defense,” says co-head coach Wendy Smith. “We will have to replace that element of our game while also filling the void of lost leadership.” Despite the loss of those two graduating seniors, Geneva is far from having an empty cupboard. PAC player of the year Deanna Briody returns after setting the single season record for assists with 1434. Joining Briody as returning starters will be Ashley Davis (outside hitter), Kristland McCracken (outside hitter), Maggie Bowersox (middle hitter) and Erin Smith (middle hitter). “We have a great core returning to the line-up this year,” says Conser. “We are also looking forward to watching Paige (Banyas) step into a more significant role this season.” Banyas may be the top candidate to fill to void at libero following the loss of Mixter.
Like any good program, the influx of a solid freshmen class each year will continue to make the entire team better. The 2012 freshmen group is no different for the volleyball program. “We are excited about having some internal competition at many positions to start the season,” says Smith. “We have a good mix of offense, defense and setting joining the program this year which will only serve to make our entire team better. It is a very well-rounded incoming group that has the potential to make some immediate contributions.”
“We were thrilled to have won the conference title in our first year of eligibility,” says Smith. “We have now set a standard that must be duplicated in order to call our season a success. Anything less than a conference title will be a disappointment for our team. We also would love to get back to the NCAA tournament and pick up some wins on that national stage.” Geneva was ousted in a heartbreaking five-game match against Heidelberg in the first round of the NCAA tournament. “The experience of competing at the top level of Division III should only serve to help our players understand what it requires taking the next step,” says Conser. “We are all looking forward to getting back in the gym and defending our conference crown.”
It has been three years since a Geneva volleyball team lost a game at Metheny Fieldhouse. Last season, the Golden Tornadoes were a perfect 10-0 at home. This group of returning players is used to winning matches every night and will be hungry for more of the same in 2012. Leading the charge in the middle will be Bowersox and Smith. The dynamic duo combined for over 500 kills a year ago and will look to continue that dominance this year. “We believe our middles have established themselves as a tandem that is among the best in the conference,” says Conser. “They are both very athletic and they know how to put the ball on the floor.” On the outside, Davis and McCracken each had break-out seasons in 2011. McCracken led the offense with 398 kills while Davis checked in with 330. Each also had solid years on defense with over 300 digs apiece. McCracken could also give Geneva some versatility on the court by playing multiple positions across the front and back line. “It′s nice to have a player like Kristland who we know can step in at a moment′s notice and take on whatever role is asked of her,” says Smith.
The flame that sparked the offense to a conference title in 2011 was that of setter Deanna Briody. In addition to breaking the school record for assists in a season, Briody pushed her teammates with her work ethic every day. “Deanna gains her teammates respect everyday by the way she works,” says Conser. “She is the same player every day in practice as you see on the court on game day. When your best players are also your hardest workers, it is a pretty nice mix.”
The 2011 Geneva College volleyball team set a standard of success that will have to be lived up to by all the teams that follow. First up will be the 2012 version of the Golden Tornadoes. With some heavy hardware already taking up space in the Geneva College trophy room, it may be about time to expand that room for what may come next this fall.