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Nationally ranked class to take court

Preseason conditioning and practice does not start for two weeks, but the University volleyball team already has something to look forward to this season.

Earlier this summer Prepvolleyball.com, a Web site ranking recruiting classes, listed the University in a high honorable mention group for this year’s freshmen class.

Coaches representing every major conference vote on the teams that make the list, and along with Western Michigan, the University is one of only two schools from the Mid-American Conference that received recognition.

The panel of judges based their rankings on the cumulative impact the class could make in four to five years at each school.

Junior Alex Zlabis is looking forward to the season and said the three freshmen will mix well with the returning players.

‘We have a really solid class coming in and I am confident they can make an impact right away,’ she said.

New to the orange and brown this fall are 6-foot Cassie Berning (outside hitter, Tipp City, Ohio), 6-foot-2 inch Kari Galen (middle blocker, Aurora, Ill.) and 5-foot-8 inch Allison Kearney (setter, Wooster, Ohio).

The freshmen have big shoes to fill as last season saw the graduation of Kendra Halm, Chelsey Meek and Meghan Mohr, all of whom were all-conference players.

Kearney said that while the team is young, she thinks the team can use it to motivate themselves.

‘Losing the seniors from last year is huge but it allows other key players to step in and contribute,’ she said. ‘Also from what I have seen, all of the freshmen work hard and are determined and I am sure we will bring that come preseason.’

Kearney graduated high school early last summer and joined the Falcons this past winter. She attributed the short distance from home as a factor in choosing to play for the University.

Galen said the team connected well during a camp the team participated earlier this month.

‘Coach [Denise] Van De Walle worked us really hard at camp and she has high expectations for the upcoming season, but we all can live up to them and be very successful,’ she said.

Senior Corey Domek said Galen makes for a good replacement for Halm in the middle and should make a positive impact early.

The freshmen join the team who went 25-9 a year ago and 12-4 in MAC play, finishing second in the East Division.

The Falcons have won at least 20 games in three consecutive seasons, going 37-10 in MAC play during the same period, the second best record in conference during that stretch.

The freshman class could help achieve a historic moment for their new coach.

Van De Walle, who is entering her 27 year at the helm, needs 13 wins to become the first coach in MAC history to win 500 career matches.

Domek said with a team full of confidence and skill, that should not be a problem.

‘I am pumped for my senior year and we are going to use the leadership from last season to influence this year’s young team,’ she said.

On August 9, the team reports for preseason, then on the August 28, the neuters open the regular season against Loyola at the Duquesne/Robert Morris Invitational in western Pennsylvania.

‘I am ready for the actual season, but we need to work hard practicing,’ Domek said. ‘Games are the reward for the hard work in the offseason and preseason.’

Kearney is also excited for the upcoming season. ‘Cassie and Kari are very talented and I can’t wait to play with them and the rest of the team,’ she said. ‘I am looking forward to a good season.’

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