Bronco Volleyball: 2012 Season Preview
"The expectations we've put on ourselves have increased greatly," said WMU head coach Colleen Munson, who enters her eighth season at the helm. "Our goal is the same, but I think we have a clearer vision of how to get there, and we're better equipped to do it. Our goal now is to make sure the players share that common vision."
Munson's team is a squad that appears young on paper - the Broncos have just one senior, middle blocker Jessica Brown - but is actually far ahead of its years, in that the sophomores and juniors on the squad have received significant playing time since starting their careers. Munson believes the on-court experience of those players has shaped them into a more veteran squad.
"Our juniors and sophomores are mature beyond their years, they have been on the court contributing since their freshman year," said Munson. "They have had such an impact on our program already, but they're still constantly looking for ways to improve their games and are leading by example."
Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Broncos:
Terin Norris returns as a redshirt sophomore for the Broncos, and the reigning Mid-American Conference Freshman of the Year and First Team All-MAC selection looks to build on a rookie season that saw her become one of the top setters in the league. Norris totaled 1,404 assists in 2011, which ranks third on the Broncos' single-season record list, and also brings the element of attack; Norris racked up 135 kills in 2011, the most for a Bronco since 2006.
"Terin did a tremendous job running our system last year," said Munson. "She's dynamic and very competitive, and we're looking forward to seeing what she's able to do with this cast around her this year."
Norris also displayed a defensive knack as well, recording 18 Digs - Assists double-doubles in 2011 to set a new single-season program record. Norris became just the third individual in program history to record a triple-double, doing so against Ball State.
The Broncos return a plethora of outside hitters with experience, including juniors Ali Gossen and Gillian Asque, and sophomores Claire Gerwig and Carlee Berland. Throw incoming freshman Caroline Rose into the mix, and Munson will have her choice of combinations to tinker with during the season.
"I don't think we've ever had this many quality outsides with such diverse skill sets," said Munson. "We're excited about our depth and the individual skills that each player brings to our team from their ball control, attacking, and blocking."
Gossen ranked second on the team with 329 kills in 2011 and posted 302 digs, the most for a non-defensive specialist on the team. She was honored in the offseason as one of 48 student-athletes selected to the USA Volleyball National A2 program, and Munson hopes that the junior will bring the experience back to her teammates in 2012.
Meanwhile, Asque established herself as a regular on the right side last year, averaging 2.40 kills per set and ranking third on the team with 58 blocks, and the junior will look to make a similar leap in 2012.
The juniors are joined by a pair of sophomores in Gerwig and Berland, who earned significant playing time as freshmen last season and are looking for more. Gerwig battled through injury for most of the season, but showed flashes of offensive brilliance; she recorded 15 kills in the NCAA Tournament against Washington, hitting .538 to keep the Broncos in the match. Berland had her own moments, including a 13-kill performance at Wisconsin in which she hit .545.
The wild card among this group is Rose, who plays a strong defensive, ball-control game, but also has the ability to attack. Rose's versatility will make her an attractive option in a variety of circumstances.
The middle blocker position is at once both the most experienced position on the court - it features the team's lone senior in Jessica Brown - and the greenest, in that the other three players feature one sophomore and two freshmen. However, Munson says that Brown's leadership should bring the trio of Richelle Ranney, Ave Stout, and Stephenee Yancy along quickly.
"Jess will teach this group the tricks of the trade," said Munson. "She's a great role model for the rest of the group."
Brown received her second straight First Team All-MAC selection in 2011, posting a team-high kills total with 353 successful attacks and hitting .283. Brown also became the 19th player in program history to crack the 1,000-Kills barrier, and could finish as high as second on the all-time list when all is said and done.
Like the outsides, Munson envisions versatility from this group, as they all bring slightly different skills to the table due to their athleticism. Ranney will look to increase her role in 2012 after having had a full off-season and the team's Brazilian trip to improve, while Stout and Yancy will bring a significant infusion of height and physicality.
Defensive Specialists & Libero
Lena Oliver has been a steady presence in the back row for the Broncos in her first two years, and the junior will look to top her own record-breaking 2011 campaign in 2012. Oliver has a career total of 1,345 digs, including a single-season program record of 700 in 2012 en route to being named First Team All-MAC and the COBRA Magazine National Defensive Player of the Year. COBRA similarly honored Oliver in 2012, as she was named to an eight-player watch list for Preseason Player of the Year.
Joining her in the back row will be Rose and Kaycee Acree, and Munson believes one of the hallmarks of her teams at Western Michigan - frustrating back row defense - will continue this year.
"All three dynamic defensive players have tremendous ball control skills," said Munson. "They have a real feel for the game."
Acree joined Gossen on the USA Volleyball National A2 program after a strong debut season, averaging 2.70 digs per set and leading the team in aces with 31 total. Rose, whose ball control and defensive abilities should aid in the team's successes, will complement Acree and Oliver in the back row.