The SUNY Potsdam volleyball team showed a glimpse of what is to come with several players stepping up in key roles during the 2011 season. Last year's experience should help the Bears compete at a high level in 2012.
“We are dedicated and improving the areas we didn't have as much success in last year,” said Head Coach Steve Pike. “We are excited. I think we are serving better and tougher than we have in the past and looking to create some offensive every time we have the ball on our side of the net.”
While the Bears will look to replace kills leader Samantha Strader and a solid player in Allison Metot, Coach Pike is confident in his returning core players.
“We return a pretty good core of kids that had key roles last year on the court," said Pike. "So we are looking for them to perform at an even a higher level and with more consistency.”
In addition to the returning players, four new Bears add depth in the hopes of propelling the team to the top ranks of the SUNYAC East Division.
“Our goal for this year, on the court, is to make it to the SUNYAC Tournament,” said Pike.
In order to accomplish this goal, Potsdam will rely on its leadership.
“We've named two captains, Jill Dye and Dakota Pruiss. They are different types of leaders, but they are both leading in their own way and doing a great job,” said Pike. “A lot of our upperclassmen are also doing a great job leading even though they may not have been named captain, but they're definitely leading on and off the court. They are examples of how we conduct ourselves in this program.”
Potsdam's senior returnees include Dye, a libero, and middle hitters Anne Fildes, and Kayla Howard. Dye provides a defensive security blanket to the back half of the court. The libero played in 31 matches in 2011 and tallied a total of 362 digs. The duo of Fildes and Howard will be a force in the middle and provide the consistency Pike is seeking. Howard returns from 2011 with 142 kills and 70 blocks. Fildes returns after contributing 94 kills and 49 blocks.
Setter Jenna Blujus, and outside hitters Pruiss and Erin Wagner lead a strong junior class. Blujus, a first team All-SUNYAC selection, played in all 36 matches, led the team in assists (889), service aces (66), digs (373) and contributed 100 kills. Pruiss is coming off a big year. She was second on the team in kills (270) and third in service aces (36) and digs (295). Wagner provides leadership and depth to the outside hitter position.
A solid sophomore class returns to contribute to the Bears' success. Defensive specialist Gabby Arana will provide depth in the back row, while outside hitters Tia Wright, Stephanie Vlad and Liza Fields provide a boost to the Bears' offense. Fields returns after serving in a utility role during her freshman season.
“As the year progressed, Liza developed a bigger role so we are looking for her to help us more offensively than she did last year.”
The new Bears for the 2012 season consist of a junior transfer and three freshmen. Junior Sara Anderson transferred from SUNY Adirondack and was the region player of the year. She will look to contribute at the middle hitter position. Freshman Rachel Auerbach, who Pike describes as a “six foot, lefty for us who can help us on the antennas and the pins,” will contribute depth to the right side. Freshman libero Allie Romaniello is hard working and entered the preseason already performing at a high level. Freshman Casey Chase gives the Bears more options at setter and as a defensive specialist.
According to Pike there is a big difference between past teams and his current squad.
“I would say the biggest difference between last year and this year is that we have depth at almost all positions,” Pike said. “Our freshmen and sophomore classes, including a transfer, will make us deeper everywhere, so if injuries do happen we will be able to play more consistently than we have in the past.”
Consistency is what the Bears' coaching staff is looking for as they begin a tough in-and-out of conference schedule.
“As you look through our entire schedule there is not a weekend where we can just show up," said Pike. "We have got to be prepared to compete every single match.”
Potsdam's first home contests will be Sept. 7-8. The Bears will host the Victory Promotions Invitational, which includes Division II foe Saint Michael's and an NCAA Tournament team in Southern Vermont.
“We are excited to host the Victory Promotions Invitational,” said Pike. “It will be a fun tournament.”
The Bears will face off against the strong SUNYAC East Division in pool play at Cortland on Sept. 21-22, and at New Paltz on Oct. 19-20. In order to prepare for the rigors of conference play, the Bears will face a tough nonconference schedule. Potsdam will travel to the RIT and Ithaca Invitationals. In addition to those tournaments, the Bears will face local Liberty League powerhouses Clarkson and St. Lawrence twice.
“We are really looking forward to competing with those two programs (Clarkson & St. Lawrence) locally and see how we match up with them. They'll show us where we are in relation to the top of our conference,” said Pike.
The Bears' coach knows that making the SUNYAC Tournament will be a challenge.
“We are on the east side with Cortland who is a physical team and New Paltz, which has been a great program for a while," Pike said. "It has been a battle in the East Division for spots in the SUNYAC Tournament.”
Pike is pleased with his players this preseason and is confident in the direction the team is heading into the 2012 season.
Potsdam opens its season at the Oneonta Invitational on Aug. 31 against the Union Dutchwomen at 6 p.m.