New depth to help volleyball

There is something to be said for the competition when six new faces – five of whom are freshmen – are challenging for significant playing time on the floor.

Once a perennial weakness on a team which finished 12-19 and 4-12 in the Mid-American Conference a year ago, the depth on this season’s Bowling Green State volleyball team figures to be one of it’s greatest strengths, according to head coach Denise Van De Walle.

“We may have been lacking some depth, because if a certain individual was having a bad night we weren’t able to move someone into that position that played at the same level,” said Van De Walle, who is entering her 22nd season at BG as the MAC’s winningest coach with 380 victories.

“Right now, we have depth … we have solid performers at each position,” she said. “These freshmen are coming out of very solid programs and their skills are pretty good. So, they’re not holding us back like I had in year’s past, where we’ve kind of had to go slow and bring some people along.”

The additions of Elizabeth Simon, Stephanie Swiger, Margie Karges, Ashlei Nofzinger, Madeline Means and Kendra Halm will undoubtedly boost the spirits of a program that has suffered through three consecutive losing seasons.

But it’s the return of six letterwinners, including seniors Taylor Twite, Amber Mareski, and Melissa Mohr, that give the Falcons an identity and a reason to be optimistic .

After losing four seniors who started a total of 112 games last season, Van De Walle is looking for the trio to lead the team and help restore the winning attitude.

“I know they’re looking forward to the opportunity to being the catalyst on such a young team, because all of them are tremendous leaders,” Van De Walle said. “We didn’t perform like we should have last season, but I think this group of seniors is ready to help the team bounce back.”

Twite, who is expected to be the team’s No. 1 offensive option, was named to the All-MAC Team and compiled more kills than any junior in school history with 460, and Mareski finished 12th in the conference with 1,061 assists.

Van De Walle said Mohr, the only senior to have played all four years at BG, will have a breakout season.

“Last year was her first year in the middle and she did a great job. She’s blossoming … she’s improved a great deal,” she said. “I look at Mel for a lot of reasons … not just for her play on the floor, but her leadership skills.”

Junior Emily Manser, sophomore Chrissy Gothke, and redshirt freshman Corrie Mills are also expected to challenge for starting spots Van De Walle said.

Twite believes the mixture of young players and veteran leaders will ignite a complete turnaround.

“We look a lot better than we have in previous preseason’s,” she said during Tuesday’s practice. “We have great team chemistry and everything is going good.”

The addition of assistant coach Mark Hardaway may not mean much as far as how the team performs on the floor, but players say his pedigree for winning has already had an impact on the team.

Hardaway served as the head coach at Western Kentucky from 1993-95 and coached at Evansville from 1995-2002.

In 1991 and 1992, Hardaway teamed with Van De Walle to coach BG to a 59-13 overall record and a 32-2 record in the MAC.

“He’s been with the program before, so that helps us out a lot,” Mohr said. “We’re all really excited about him being here and he brings a lot of head coaching experience.”

The Falcons will begin the 2004 season on Sept. 3 at the Miami Invitational where they will face the Hurricanes, Illinois, and Rice.

“This is probably the toughest tournament we’ve been in in the last few years, but my thought on that was we have three talented seniors, I like our freshmen and I wanted to see what we could do early on,” she said.

We know the level of competition is going to be very good and those three teams are coming off banner years, but we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”