Tiger volleyball hopes to continue climb
Published on -8/30/2012, 10:52 AM
By CONOR NICHOLL
No position encapsulates the Fort Hays State University volleyball team's improvement like the middle hitters. In coach Kurt Kohler's first two seasons, FHSU won just seven contests each fall. In 2010, Fort Hays went 0-20 in conference play. Samantha Ledy, then a true freshman, was easily the Tigers' best middle hitter. Then, Ledy took a year off for personal reasons before she rejoined the team for 2012.
Ledy has performed well in the offseason and throughout fall camp, but the Tigers' talent has improved around her. Ledy went from the best middle hitter to the third-best. She is behind junior Jenna Ulrich and sophomore Kylee Hoagland, two returning all-MIAA honorable mention players.
"That's the way the program is supposed to go," Kohler said. "Every year we are supposed to get better. We are bringing in more and more talented kids and it's important for those returning players to do a lot of work in the offseason to come in in shape, ready to go from the beginning, because we are always going to be pushing them with new players. As our program continues to get better, you are having a lot more talent that is really wanting to come to Fort Hays."
Ulrich and Hoagland, along with a host of other young players, helped Fort Hays enjoy a 10-win improvement and finish 17-16 last fall. It marked FHSU's first winning season since 2005 and most wins since 2004. This fall, Fort Hays has just two seniors in setter Kayla Zoglman and right side Megan Glandon, but returns all but one starter, all-MIAA libero Tracie Hileman. Zoglman called everything "more comfortable" this year.
"There was ups and downs," junior Makenzie Weinman said of turning the program around. "Definitely now the chemistry is unreal. You can see that. In volleyball, you definitely need to move as a unit, so we are definitely trying to get the six of us to click."
After a solid fall camp, Fort Hays opens the season at the Oklahoma Panhandle State Tournament on Friday and Saturday. FHSU's season opener is against University of the Southwest at 11 a.m.
Weinman, a strong defensive specialist and the team's top passer in 2011, steps in for Hileman. Weinman, a Phillipsburg native, is known for his bubbly personality, a role that fits the libero, a position usually known for players that are vocal and display enthusiasm. Playing libero versus defensive specialist is an adjustment, though. Kohler believes Weinman can be the MIAA's best libero.
"Your footwork is different," Weinman said. "The angle of your arms is different, reading the hitters is different. I am digging every ball outside. Outside balls can cut a lot more."
In addition to Ulrich and Hoagland, sophomore outside hitter Sara Hewson collected all-MIAA honorable mention in 2011.
"She is just all around a very good player," Zoglman, who averaged 10.1 assists per set last year, said. "Pretty impressive. She is very smart. There are not many balls that I'll set her that she can't do something with."
Junior outside hitter Madison Schwartz earned all-MIAA honorable mention for the second straight year. Hoagland, out with a knee injury at the team's annual scrimmage last week, is expected to play. Junior Ashley Evans has had multiple knee injuries and hurt her knee again last weekend. Her status for the rest of the year is unknown.
Zoglman has enjoyed working with virtually the same hitters for a second straight year. Four players are back who averaged between 2.32 kills and Schwartz's team-leading 2.55 kills per set.
"It's fun to be able to have some depth in that middle position," Kohler said. "We feel like we have it on the outside, too."
"It's definitely easier because last year it was a little rough," Zoglman said. "Because everyone hits a little bit differently, and you are unsure of how to talk to people when you meet them at first. They don't know whether they should approach me and say, 'I want my set this way or I want it that way,' or if I should change or they should change what they are doing. We are already connecting a lot better than we did last year."