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Youth movement: Underclassmen to play key role in volleyball’s season

<p>The RedHawks are replacing key players like Sarah Wojick (left, no. 14), Abigail Huser (in red) and Morgan Seaman (middle, no. 12)</p>

The RedHawks are replacing key players like Sarah Wojick (left, no. 14), Abigail Huser (in red) and Morgan Seaman (middle, no. 12)

Last year, experience was Miami volleyball’s best asset. 

The RedHawks had four seniors; libero Abigail Huser, setter Morgan Seaman and right sides Sarah Wojick and Avarie Powell.

This year, however, the team brings a little bit less experience. All four of those seniors are gone, as none of them took the extra year of eligibility granted to them by the NCAA. 

The ’Hawks do have a few key upperclassmen, including senior outside hitter Gaby Harper and junior outside hitter Allyson Severance. Others, like seniors Sophie Riemersma and Jennifer Schulze and juniors Jacquelyn Krumnauer and Lindsay Taylor, will have more responsibility than they’ve had in past seasons.

“With good practice and teaching right here, we’ll eventually be able to replace each one of them,” Head Coach Carolyn Condit said after practice.

Still, the team will have to rely on first-years and sophomores to carry the load at key positions. Sophomores Maggie McCrary and Abby Stratford both played important roles last year in the front row. McCrary will continue to play in the middle, while Stratford will take over Powell’s spot on the right side. Stratford’s status for the first game of the season is in doubt, as she recently suffered a sprained ankle.

The hardest spot to fill may be the libero position. Liberos are different from other players; they wear a different color jersey from their teammates, and can only play in the back row. Teams are only allowed fifteen substitutions per set, but liberos don’t count toward that number.

Huser had been the libero for the last three years, and excelled at the position. Now, Condit will have to find someone to replace her production. She says there are three players who could be the team’s starting libero when the season starts: Krumnauer, sophomore Taylor Normanson and first-year Margo Lawson.

While losing a key player like Huser is always tough, Condit is thrilled with her options at libero going forward.

“I think they’re all gonna be really good and the depth we have at that position, whoever earns it on whatever day, will be phenomenal for us,” Condit said.

There are six first-years on Miami’s roster, and some of those players could make a big impact. One such player is setter Gracie Norris. Condit thinks Norris will be a household name by the end of this year.

“She’s doing amazing,” Condit said. “I think Gracie will be a pleasant surprise for anyone to watch because they won’t know who she is and she’ll create a name for herself.”

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Another first-year setter who looks to get a lot of playing time is Lydia Harper, Gaby Harper’s younger sister. Though the younger Harper has a stress fracture and isn’t practicing right now, Condit anticipates she could play a key role once she’s healthy. 

Last year, the elder Harper was dealing with an injury of her own. A slight tear in her shoulder bothered her, but Condit says the injury didn’t require surgery. So far, the senior has been good to go in practice.

“She’s doing great. She rehabs all the time … her strength is really good and she swung really hard today,” Condit said.

The RedHawks have a solid program, and should be a contender in the Mid-American Conference (MAC) this year. Still, it’s hard to know for sure until the season starts. 

The non-conference schedule to start the season doesn’t make things any easier. The team travels to Huntington, West Virginia to start the season, playing in the Marshall Invitational against Marshall, Alabama and Austin Peay State. The next weekend, Miami travels to Durham, North Carolina to play against Duke, College of Charleston and Howard University in the Duke Invitational.

The RedHawks get to host an invitational of their own the next weekend against Northern Kentucky, Evansville and Middle Tennessee before wrapping up the non conference schedule against regional foes Xavier and Cincinnati. 

The target date for Condit? Sept. 24, when Miami takes on Buffalo in its first conference game of the season. With younger players trying to step into new roles, the head coach thinks that will be when the team finally starts to gel.

“It’ll happen,” Condit said. “We just need a little training time because we’re talking freshmen and sophomores filling those roles.”