by Tim Miller
The Cedarville Lady Jackets’ volleyball team is coming off one of its best seasons in school history. The Lady Jackets reached the NCAA Tournament for the first time in its 54-year existence last season.
This year, however, Cedarville will need to leap over new obstacles in order to find itself back in the NCAA Tournament. Even though the Lady Jackets have won the G-MAC conference championship in four of the past five years, winning the conference this season will be no easy task.
Findlay, Hillsdale, Lake Erie and Walsh join an expanded G-MAC this season. Findlay was voted to finish first in the G-MAC West Division, and earned just seven more points in the preseason poll than second-place Cedarville. The Lady Jackets earned three first-place votes in the poll.
In the East Division, Lake Erie is tabbed as a heavy favorite to win the division. Lake Erie garnered 125 points, which is 44 more points than second-place Walsh.
Cedarville head coach Doug Walters said he understands the conference is stacked even moreso this season, and the West Division is shaping up to be a mammoth of a division.
“When you look at the poll, you see a conference that will be much more competitive,” Walters said. “Our side of the conference is super strong. I think that will bode well for us down the road.”
Walters said that even though Cedarville took two of three against Findlay last season, he wasn’t surprised to see Findlay get the most votes. The Lady Jackets lose Abby Shelton, Angela Becker, Kristen Cardwell and Rachel Krikke, so inexperience could hurt the Lady Jackets at times.
“The big thing about those four is the leadership they provided,” Walters said. “Everyone sees their playing ability and what they can do, but their leadership was the key component to a lot of our success in the last few years.”
Even though Walters said he expects more ups and downs with this year’s group, he has still seen some players step into leadership roles.
Senior Krissy Pratt and juniors Abby Woodard and Taylor Wilkerson are all captains and have taken the reins this season. Walters has also been impressed with the increased vocal presence from Gabby Olson.
Even with a rigorous schedule and new faces in the lineup, expectations are still high for the Lady Jackets. Cedarville has already been tested this season, and there are few games that Cedarville will be heavily favored in.
Cedarville opened its season on Sept. 1 at the Ferris State Invitational with matches against Davenport and Ferris State. The Lady Jackets lost each of the matches, and the season’s harsh components only begins there.
Cedarville’s first three G-MAC games pose a formidable threat to the Lady Jackets. Cedarville will travel to Ohio Dominican, Hillsdale and Findlay during the first three weeks of the season, and they won’t play a game in the friendly confines of the Callan Athletic Center until Sept. 22. This means the Lady Jackets’ first 12 games of the season will be played away from Cedarville’s campus.
“It’s gonna be a grind,” Walters said. “Our team is used to that though, since it’s been a pattern in years past.”
On Sept. 22, Cedarville finally gets its home opener against Lake Erie. Erie was voted first place in the G-MAC East Division, so playing in front of a home crowd may give the Lady Jackets the boost they need.
“We love playing at home,” Walters said. “There’s nothing like playing here in front of a thousand people that are just rocking and it provides an extra bit of energy to our team.”
Walters also said that the road trip to Kentucky Wesleyan and Trevecca on back-to-back nights will also be an exhausting trip to make.
Walters said his team’s most favorable facet is the front line. The blocking and hitting abilities are top-notch, according to Walters.
“Our front line is very good. We’ve got hitters all over the place and stacked the front line strong,” Walters said.
However, the youthfulness of the team may be cause for growing pains this season. He said there will be four freshmen on the court on a regular basis, and ball control could make or break the team’s sets.
Returning players Pratt, Olson and Wilkerson will be the core for the team this season according to Walters. he also expects Lauren Willow to compete for G-MAC Freshman of the Year, while freshman Autumn Foust is expected to see extended time on the court as well.
Sophomore Brooke Blattner and junior Faith Ferris are breakout candidates for Walter’s squad this season, as each have seen sporadic playing time in the past, but will see regular playing time this season.
Walters said he expects the Lady Jackets to compete for the conference once again this season, and said it’s one of the team’s goals to win the G-MAC. Returning to the NCAA Tournament is also something the Lady Jackets have their eyes set on.
The outcome of each match is important, but Walters said wins and losses will never be the most accurate determinant of success.
“A big thing for us is the spiritual aspect of what we’re trying to do,” he said. “We want to use these games as ministry opportunities.”
Tim Miller is a sophomore marketing major and sports editor for Cedars. He enjoys having a baby face, sipping Dunkin Donuts coffee and striving to be the optimal combination of Dwight Schrute and Ron Swanson.