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FHSU Volleyball: Veterans look to improve

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

The Fort Hays State University volleyball team finished 23-14 last season and stood seventh in the MIAA with a 7-10 mark. FHSU returns all but two of its key players from 2011 and five Tigers who have collected all-conference honors in their careers.

However, the veterans and coach Kurt Kohler are well aware if the Tigers are going to move into the top-25, multiple players have to improve on last season's performances.

"We need to take a big jump this year," Kohler said.

Among returners, senior middle hitter Jenna Ulrich led the MIAA in blocks per game (1.28) and was seventh in hitting percentage (.311) en route to second team honors. Senior libero Makenzie Weinman, in her first year as a full-time starter, was seventh in digs per set (4.50). However, fourth was 5.02, or the equivalent of roughly 67 more digs a season.

No other Tiger ranked in the top-15 in any individual statistic.

Two starters, outside hitters Madison Schwartz and Sara Hewson, had worse numbers than 2011.

"It's a lot more than just your skills when you are out there," Hewson said. "Communication, intensity, attitude. I have learned that you can bring much more to the court than your skills. You can bring all of those outside things that help yourself and your team."

Schwartz averaged 2.44 kills per game and hit .125. Hewson hit .110 with 1.86 kills and 2.60 digs per set.

Two years ago, Schwartz hit .170 with 2.55 kills per set and Hewson hit .165 with 2.32 kills and 2.87 digs.

"Each year is a new opportunity to succeed, and I think we have both worked over the summer," the 5-foot-9 Hewson said. "I am obviously not the tallest person. Neither is Maddie. Just working on our different options, instead of hitting straight down, because that is not going to work for us. Just expanding our game."

Kohler believes Hewson will improve, but said a changing mindset is key.

Fort Hays opens the season in Hawaii from Sept. 5-7.

"She has the tendency to overthink the game a little bit," Kohler said. "If she can come out this year, get rid of all that extra stuff, just focus on what she needs to worry about, she is going to return to an all-conference caliber player. I know that.

"She is a great kid. She always comes in and works hard."

Weinman played defensive specialist as a freshman and sophomore and patrolled the right side of the back row.

A superb passer, Weinman said she is "pretty comfortable" with serve-receive, but wants to improve her digging.

As libero, she is now on the left side.

Weinman called the change "totally different" with new angles, foot positioning, coverage and communication.

"Finally getting the groove of the left side, but now I want to perfect it," Weinman said.

Defensively, Hewson, Weinman and the rest of the Tigers could improve from sixth in the MIAA in the digs per set with help from the middles.

Ulrich returns and junior Sam Ledy is back after last starting as a freshman. Strong blocking and more touches on the ball helps out the back row.

"Sam is a hard, hard worker and that is something that you can always count on," Hewson said.

"As a middle hitter, playing the middle back on defense, you realize that you rely on them a lot, because you have the Grand Canyon back here to cover, so if your middle blocker isn't there, it's going to be really tough, so you can always count on Sam to work on her butt off to get from pin to pin."