Jennies Volleyball looks ahead


Written by Muleskinner Staff


(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) — Jennies volleyball lost a few seniors this year, so only two weeks into practice, the team’s group dynamic has yet to take shape.

After falling short of last year’s goal of playing in the national championship game, associate head coach Caitlin Pankratz said the team’s approach to this season is focusing on the players’ individual characteristics and working them to the advantage of the team’s goals.

“Usually, people make goals like, ‘Let’s win a conference,’ (or) ‘Let’s win a national championship,’” Pankratz said. “This year, our goal is to work more in our daily process and working on ourselves individually and the character that each one of the girls has.”

In order to work to build the individual characters and the new team as a whole, Pankratz said they are working for the little daily victories.

“(We’re) more focused on the day-to-day grind and just doing the best we can do in that drill,” she said. “I think that will lead to a successful bigger picture.”

Jennies volleyball was ranked ninth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association’s preseason poll. Even though half of the 2016 roster has not stepped on the court as a Jennie, they still tied for second in the MIAA preseason polls. Among the returners are one All-American and five All-MIAA players. The Jennies won the conference tournament last year and made their 33rd straight appearance in the NCAA tournament before losing in the first round of regionals.

The Jennies lost two All-American seniors last year, outside hitter Carly Sojka and libero Annie Reilly. The team now looks to senior Cheyanne Lyons to fill Sojka’s spot. Lyons ended strong last season with three straight double-digit kill matches, totaling six for the season. Another versatile player who will help Lyons is sophomore Kylie Hohlen, who as a freshman started all 35 matches of last season and racked up 214 kills along with 373 digs.

“We lost two All-Americans and three other seniors that, just as a whole, it was a really talented group,” Pankratz said. “But I think they did a good job helping these players know what our program’s about and what we expect, and so I think that the girls we have this year will do a good job stepping up.

“We’re just going to be a little bit young. We’ll definitely have players on the court that have never played before, and that’s always a little bit of an uphill battle, but they’ve done a really good job so far, and I think that, get a couple games under their belt and they’ll be just fine.”

There is no direct replacement for Reilly, but the Jennies’ roster has a few options for libero. Junior Katie Carlson proved herself to be a strong server for the team last season, racking up 20 aces in 83 sets, with 25 assists. Sophomore Kylie Hohlen is also an option, along with redshirt freshman Carly Offerdahl. Head coach Flip Piontek also brought in junior-transfer Fuatino Manu from Western Nebraska Community College to fill in the position.

The team will be looking to senior setter Kourtney Thompson and senior middle hitter Maddie Jones to lead this mixed team of new and veteran players. Pankratz said the team captains are helping blend the new and old players.

“They’ve been starters for the last three years, so I really think that they’re going to do a great job kind of taking control of the team on the court and kind of pulling those younger players along,” Pankratz said. “(Thompson) works really hard on the court and makes it easy for girls to want to follow her.”

Thompson said the biggest difference this year is having a practically whole new team because most of the seniors left last year.

“Actually, I think our toughest opponent is going to be ourselves just because of how new we are,” Thompson said.“And it’s going to be fighting against a lot of confidence, I think.”

Pankratz said everyone in their conference is getting better, which means no off games or nights off to just go play and have fun.

“It’s going to be a pretty tough schedule,” Pankratz said. “We’ve only practiced for a couple weeks, but we’ve spent a lot of time together, and I’m ready to kind of see what they do out on the court without us kind of running the show.

“I’m ready to watch them compete.”

After two weeks of practices, the Jennies are ready to get on the court. Their first tournament is Thursday, Sept. 1, in Pensacola, Florida. They return to the Multipurpose Building Friday, Sept. 16, for the Peggy Martin Crossover Challenge.