Replacing key contributors is never an easy task for an athletic team. Naturally, a rebuilding process follows.
Last season, the GW volleyball team lost three seniors. But in the offseason, the Colonials have spent their time retooling and changing their style of play.
The 2003 squad featured seniors Ruth Lazzari, Lauren Dunning and Sarah Hokom, who powered the team to an 11-0 start and a 21-11 regular season record. However, the personal styles of the three players called for a more individualistic style of volleyball.
“I think the last three years when Hokom was starting we were very one dimensional because we relied on her,” head coach Jojit Coronel said. “We are so much better this year offensively and defensively as a team. I believe we are a lot better than we were last year at this point in the season.”
Now, with Lazzarri, Dunning and Hokom gone, Coronel said he is rebuilding his team with a well-rounded mindset. When the team begins play, the starting lineup will include many new faces, including sophomores Kaimana Lee at setter and Juliene McLaughlin at outside hitter.
Juniors Lindsey Vernand and libero Jessica Vesey will return as starters. Coronel said sophomore Kelly Kabbes and junior Shannon Parks are the frontrunners to fill the final two starting spots.
The team, which has been training for the past three weeks, is beginning to create its own identity, Coronel said.
“I think everyone has gotten so much better, everyone has played with so much confidence,” he said. “This team was really dominated by the seniors who graduated, the chemistry is so different. The dynamic on this team is great. It’s so conducive to getting better, winning and having fun, unlike last year where we were grinding it out.”
The Colonials’ three outside hitters, McLaughlin, Vernand and freshman Janine Brown, will each try to match the 775 total kills that Lazzari and Hokom compiled last season. Leading the attack is McLaughlin, who had 141 kills last year.
“I think Juliene is playing better on the outside than any of those who graduated,” Coronel said. “Juliene is an exceptional player. The more she learns the game and understands what she is capable of (doing), it could lead to her being a great player.”
Senior captain Katie Downey and fellow senior Molly Law will also see considerable playing time this year. Junior Abigail Hatter, who at six-foot-three-inches is the tallest Colonial, will vie for time as middle blocker. Sophomore Abigail Greenleaf will be a change of pace for GW as a left-handed outside hitter.
The original freshman class included five players, but only three of them will be playing this season. Brittney Retzinger is red-shirting after tearing her anterior cruciate ligament playing club volleyball in the spring. Jackie Yaniga, who also plays softball at GW, will not be able to play for Coronel this season because of NCAA restrictions placed on two-sport athletes.
Joining Brown are freshmen Jessica Buche, a backup setter, and backup outside hitter Erica Williams.
The Colonials begin their season on the West Coast next week, where they will square off against several of the best teams in the country. Nationally ranked University of California at Irvine and University of Utah will provide stern tests for GW, which has a tough schedule this year.
“There are going to be losses this year but hopefully we can turn them into positive losses where we can learn from them,” Lee said.
Looking ahead to Atlantic 10 play, GW will square off against many similar teams. Many league foes are rebuilding, including conference champion Dayton. GW will also try to snap its 12-match losing streak to Temple at home on Oct. 2. The Colonials, who were projected to finish fourth in the A-10 coach’s poll, are still confident that they will be successful during conference play.
“After going to the west coast, the A-10 will seem so much slower and that will give us a big advantage over the conference,” senior captain Katie Downey said.
However, Coronel’s goal for the season is not simply winning.
“I think for me if I can walk out of practice everyday and feel that our team got better today I think that will be successful season,” Coronel said.