With several starters back from a 29-8 regional championship team combined with an influx of talent from a 33-1 sophomore squad, there is plenty of reason for optimism for the La Salle-Peru volleyball team.
“We have a nice nucleus and we have a nice young group coming in,” L-P coach Mark Haberkorn said. “We should have a very solid and balanced team again this year.”
The Lady Cavaliers return four players who saw significant time last season in seniors Rachel Hunt, Katie Olson and Abby Turczyn and junior Ellie Senica.
Olson will run the offense in her third season as L-P’s starting setter and her fourth season as a varsity starter including her year spent at Rock Falls.
“Her decision making and experience make the offense better from the start,” Haberkorn said.
Olson, a NewsTribune Second-Team All-Area pick last season who had 264 assists, 309 points, 218 digs and 31 aces last season, will be the team’s lone setter this season as the Lady Cavs switch from a 6-2 to a 5-1.
“It’s going to help,” Olson said about going to a 5-1 system. “When you have one setter the whole way around, it’s easier because they set one way. For me, it’s easier to get to know the hitters. (The hitters and setters) have a better connection when you run a 5-1 instead of a 6-2 because you get to set more with the same people. … It seems like it’s a good thing this year.”
However, if the need arises, Haberkorn said the Lady Cavs could switch back to a 6-2 as they have other capable setters in senior Jenessa Huebbe and junior Abbey Lauer.
Olson will set to a front line that is expected to be extremely strong in the middle with Hunt and Senica, who are each 6-foot.
Last season, Senica led the team in blocks with 81 and was second in kills with 147, while Hunt returns to her natural position after playing outside hitter last year.
“I think our middles should be very capable this year,” Haberkorn said. “Both are strong, both are athletic girls and both should provide a lot of offense for us this year. … It’s a big plus when you have strong middles.”
On the right side, juniors Cierra Johnson (6-0), Allison Korsan (5-6) and Taylor Nauman (5-7) will all see time. Nauman will also play some in the middle.
Varsity newcomers Shana Puetz, a 5-10 junior, and Tayor Gibson, a 5-11 sophomore, will man the outside. Sophomore Abby Happ also is an outside hitter who will dress with the varsity.
Defensively, Turczyn returns to anchor the back row, while seniors Haley Duncan and Josie Kampwerth and juniors Whitney Lippert and Kristi Wallin also will contribute.
“I’m excited for the defense,” said Turczyn, who had 146 digs last year. “We lost Shev (NT First-Team All-Area libero Sarah Shevlin) and Shev’s a big loss, but our defense should be pretty good again this year.”
With the mix of veteran players and young talents, the Lady Cavs hope to bring home the title in the four tournaments they play, compete for the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference West Division crown after placing second behind Sterling last year and win the program’s third consecutive regional and sixth in the last seven years.
“Our expectations are of course to win a lot of matches, to win a regional and go as far as we can,” Olson said. “I think we can go pretty far this year. We have a pretty good team.”
The Lady Cavs open the season Tuesday at home against Mendota.
“I’m excited to start the season,” Turczyn said. “I think we have a lot of talent. We’ve been working well together as a team through the summer workouts and the start of practice. We have a lot of good team chemistry and a lot of good communication.”
Kevin Chlum can be reached at 220-6939, or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_SportsEditor.