2002 Season Preview
Success, which is defined as the achievement of something desired, planned or attempted, has been a common denominator throughout Ferris State University’s rich women’s volleyball history.
Since the program’s inception in 1972, the Bulldogs have claimed eight conference titles, made 10 NCAA-II Tournament appearances and produced 22 winning campaigns.
During the 2001 season, the Bulldogs compiled a 21-11 record, which represented the program’s 15th 20-win season. FSU also claimed Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) Tournament runner-up honors for the third time in the last four seasons.
As Ferris State embarks on its 30th anniversary campaign in 2002, seventh-year head coach Tia Brandel-Wilhelm hopes the return of eight letterwinners and five starters from 2001 can enable the Bulldogs to build upon their successful tradition and earn the school’s first trip to the NCAA-II Tourney in three seasons.
“For the first time in several years, we’re returning a core of key players,” Brandel-Wilhelm said. “We should be an extremely mature team and I expect us to play consistently high-level volleyball throughout the season.”
For the third consecutive campaign, a returning All-Great Lakes Region honoree is expected to lead a promising unit. As was the case with former all-region standouts Sarah VanderMolen (2000) and Erin Minnis (2001), senior middle hitter Alaina Olds possesses the necessary combination of athletic ability and experience needed to rank among the nation’s best.
An all-star candidate, Olds led Ferris in kills (405) and total blocks (148) last season while registering two triple-double (kills, digs and blocks) performances. The explosive Olds is currently 281 kills shy of becoming the 12th player in school history to record 1,000 career kills. If Ferris hopes to contend in an always-competitive conference race, Olds must shoulder a bulk of the offensive load.
Besides Olds, the Bulldogs also return seven other players with starting experience. A talented and experienced group of five seniors is expected to add quality leadership, a common ingredient of all championship teams.
The outside hitter positions appear secure with the return of seniors Stephanie Speed and Erin Rind. Speed, a 2001 GLIAC Honorable Mention selection, totaled a team-high 360 digs and had 238 kills while starting 31 matches as a junior. One of the league’s top defensive players, Speed should contend for all-conference and all-region accolades.
Rind, one of the squad’s most effective servers, had her best season as a Bulldog in 2001, registering 58 kills and 29 service aces.
Senior Kate Pickvet, who has the experience needed to be a potent weapon in Ferris’ offensive arsenal, has been bothered by a lingering back injury and will see limited action this season. Pickvet, who presently has 772 career kills, started 13 matches in 2001 and registered 285 kills in 113 games.
Depth at the outside hitter position, however, is available with the return of sophomore Annie Foster. Foster was a pleasant surprise as a freshman, gathering 90 digs in 65 games. She should contend for additional playing time this year.
“We’ll have more depth than we’ve had in the past,” said Brandel-Wilhelm. “Hopefully, that will allow our practices to become more competitive every day and keep our veterans playing well all season.”
In the middle, the foundation is solid with the return of Olds and fellow senior Angie Desmarais. Desmarais, a three-year letterwinner, compiled 188 digs and 22 service aces a year ago. She may also see significant action this season as the squad’s libero, a designated back-row position implemented under a new collegiate rule this fall.
“The libero position adds a new element to the game,” Brandel-Wilhelm said. “It will bring a faster pace and should be exciting for both the players and spectators.”
Sophomore Karla Fairbanks had an outstanding freshman campaign and ranks as one of the team’s most versatile inside and outside options. Her 69 total blocks and 166 digs placed fourth and fifth, respectively, among Ferris’ 2001 leaders.
The setter position is solidified with the return of sophomore Ashley Green. The Pittsburgh, Pa., product assumed the starting role early last season and compiled 965 assists while establishing herself as one of the league’s top performers. Her determined approach and continued development will be a valuable asset in FSU’s offensive scheme.
Plenty of new faces also abound. The Bulldog roster includes three redshirt freshmen, four true freshmen and sophomore Nichole Valuch, who has yet to see any match action after an injury-plagued two seasons at Ferris State. A 6-0 right-side/outside hitter, Valuch has shown significant improvement and could figure into the playing rotation.
Headlining the list of newcomers are redshirt freshmen Sarah Miller, Becky Thurau and Marissa Leusby. Miller, a 6-3 right-side hitter, and the 6-4 Thurau both have the necessary size to be steady contributors. Miller was a two-time first-team all-region selection at Bay City’s John Glenn High School while Thurau attained first-team 2000-01 Detroit News All-Metro honors at Birmingham Groves High School. Leusby’s career status remains in doubt following an off-season motor vehicle accident.
Emily Clouse, a Tiffin, Ohio, native, leads a quartet of talented signees. She registered 802 set assists while leading Bascom Hopewell-Loudon High School to its fourth-consecutive Ohio High School Athletic Association Division IV State Championship as a prep senior. Her game experience and competitive nature are expected to help fortify the setter position.
Newcomer Adrienne Jager, a third-team 2001-02 Michigan Interscholastic Volleyball Coaches Association (MIVCA) Class B All-State pick, will primarily work as an outside hitter while two-time (2001-02) second-team Detroit News All-Metro Volleyball honoree Lauren Heine will compete for regular playing time at the middle hitter position.
The squad’s other freshman, 5-7 outside hitter/libero Brittny Godlewski, tallied 381 kills, 488 digs and 52 service aces in leading Marysville High School to a 62-1 overall record and the program’s state record-setting sixth consecutive Michigan High School Athletic Association (MHSAA) Class B State Championship during the 2001-02 campaign. The first-team 2001-02 MIVCA Class B All-State selection figures to be a key component in the FSU attack with the adaptation of the libero rules.
“All of our freshman are capable of receiving significant playing time,” said Brandel-Wilhelm. “They all expect to contribute immediately and have worked hard to prepare for those opportunities.”
While Brandel-Wilhelm expects her talented group to be a strong contender in a competitive league race, the 2002 schedule provides plenty of difficulty. The Bulldogs, who have only eight home matches, will play their first 13 outings away from the confines of Ewigleben Sports Arena.
“It’s a tough schedule, but I believe having a mature team to deal with that will be beneficial,” Brandel-Wilhelm said. “Besides, if you’re going to be successful, you must win both at home and on the road.”
If the past is any indication, the Bulldogs possess the ingredients to earn their share of success in 2002.