From Central’s sports information office
PELLA— A veteran Central College volleyball roster is receiving an influx of talent in the freshman class as the Dutch continue their climb to the top of the American Rivers Conference in 2019.
With 11 letterwinners returning, including five starters, the Dutch have plenty of experience to jumpstart a program that hasn’t had a winning record since 2014. Mixing in some talented newcomers has coach Jeanne Czipri excited through the first week of practice.
“This group is special,” she said. “There is a resiliency and fight to them that is extremely empowering right now.
“I think we may catch some teams off guard with the improvements in our back court. With the addition of some really solid first contact pins and liberos and some of our returners playing really solid right now, our defense has had a whole new look this preseason. The IQ and tenacity we are playing with back there is definitely heightened.”
The seasons starts with a four-game tournament in Oregon and also includes tournaments in Illinois, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin. The Central Invitational on September 20 and 21 will be a celebration of Central’s three national championship teams from 1998, 1999 and 2000.
“We want our girls to learn how to win this year,” “We tried to schedule teams that we haven’t played a lot before that we will be competitive against. We need weekends where we will be challenged but also weekends where we can go 4-0.”
At the conference level, the University of Dubuque is the preseason favorite in the coaches’ poll with Wartburg and Coe rounding out the top three. Central is projected for a sixth-place finish.
“With people acknowledging us, I take that as we are doing something right,” Czipri said. “But we want to be in the top half of the conference going into the conference tournament. It’s excited to have others acknowledge the work we’ve been putting and see the potential that I see in our program.
Alyssa Lewton (sophomore, Ankeny, Centennial HS) is the most experienced option at setter on the roster, having played 87 sets last year. She averaged 3.95 assists per set, starting nine matches.
“She runs our tempo well and I think the experience has been huge,” Czipri said. “We’re excited to see her continue to make strides.”
Classmate Ashley Moore (sophomore, Plainfield, Ill., Romeoville HS) also played four varsity matches and saw plenty of action in junior varsity contests.
“Ashley came in a much better head space this year,” Czipri said. “So, I think she’s going to be able compete.”
The freshman class also has three potential setters Czipri has been impressed with in early practice sessions, giving the team plenty of options and flexibility at the position.
“We like what we see,” Czipri said. “We feel like we are in a stronger place with the quarterback of our offense than we were my first two years.”
Right side hitter/outside hitter
A plethora of talented hitters has created a logjam for Czipri and staff to sort out on the pins. Aside from senior Erin Dilger (Tinley Park, Ill., Lincoln-Way North HS), who is entrenched as a starter on the right side, the outside hitting positions are largely undecided.
“It’s an easy decision for us to have Erin on the right side, “She knows what she needs to do, we can utilize her ability to hit the quick sets and also still be able to a little bit more booming with her swings because she has the ability to put some heat on the ball.”
Primarily an outside hitter, Krissa Larson (sophomore, Waverly, Waverly-Shell Rock HS) was an honorable mention for the all-conference squad. She led the team with 296 kills.
“Krissa is continuing to develop her volleyball IQ and ball control,” Czipri said. “She is our highest jumper and the highest contact point offensively. She is going to be able to make a name for herself again this year.”
Starting 27 matches for Central as a freshman, Landry Luhring (sophomore, Grundy Center) had 411 digs and 205 kills. Her athletic ability gives the coaching staff additional positional flexibility.
“Landry is going to potentially float,” “Certain matches, we’re going to need her to be a defensive-minded outside that’s going to be smart and chippy. But her leadership in the backcourt on first contact is also making us consider her for that libero jersey as well.”
After transferring in last year, Kristin Fick (North Aurora, Ill., West Aurora HS) played 12 matches in 2018, starting four times and tallying 34 kills. The senior is looking for increased time on either side of the setter.
“This spring was the best I’ve seen Kristin play,” Czipri said. “She’s doing her job on the court really well.
Capable of playing at outside and right-side, Kayleigh Fite (junior, Florissant, Mo., Trinity Catholic HS) and Ruth Hruska-Kelley (sophomore, Brookfield, Ill., Riverside-Brookfield HS) are also in the mix for extended time on the court. Fite started 11 times with 57 kills last season and Hruska-Kelley had six starts and 86 kills.
“Kayleigh and Ruth being able to play well on both of the pins is going to keep them firmly in the conversation,” Czipri said. “Kayleigh has done a lot of work in the summer to get her offensive game improved. Ruth has made some good mental strides this year and is showing a lot more discipline
The only left-handed returner, Ally Focht (junior, Stanton) is available, but exclusively as a right-side hitter.
“This is where we have the most even group of talent. The decision-making in this group is going to be twice as hard as last year.
Three new freshmen in this position group provide further options according to Czipri.
“We’ve wanted a lot of ball control and IQ on the outside and all three bring that to the gym.”
Hana Edgerton (senior, Grundy Center) and Tori Van Velzen (senior, Cumming, Norwalk HS) shared the load in the middle for Central last year. Edgerton had 144 kills while Van Velzen was involved in 90 blocks.
“They’re doing some really good things,” “Hana has really started to fine tune her technique and really raised her volleyball IQ.
“Tori has only played one season of college volleyball after transferring to Central. She had to figure a lot of things out last year and she’s come a long way.”
Fite is capable of sliding into the middle and Czipri is also excited about the potential of sophomore Tori Sparger (Eau Claire, Wis., Memorial) both this season and in the future.
“Tori is somebody we’ll keep developing, she’s going to get some opportunities,” Czipri said.
Sophomores Sydney Burgardt (Britt, West Hancock HS) and Megan Reem (Davenport, North HS) are additional returners looking for playing time at the varsity and junior varsity level.
DaLana Kron (junior, West Branch) and Brooke Caves (senior, Oskaloosa) both have spent time as the libero or defensive specialists. Kron tallied 267 digs in 60 matches while Caves had 92 in 41 matches.
“They’re both playing really great volleyball in practice,” Czipri said. “Not only are they playing well, but are really managing our defense well.”
Senior Courtney Comstock (Hedrick, Pekin HS) and junior Jenna Decker (Geneseo, Ill.) have primarily played in junior varsity contests but are important figures on the team.
“Jenna and Courtney give us some great leadership,” Czipri said. “It’s been monumental this preseason.”
A pair of highly-touted freshmen have Czipri even more excited for this position.
“They are really athletic and really skilled,” she said. “They will be able to compete and challenge for some time and maybe even the libero jersey.”
Adding 12 freshmen brings the roster to an even 30 players. Despite the abundance of returning talent, the freshmen are capable of displacing returners.
“There’s a lot of talent and skill in our freshmen class as a whole,” Czipri said. “They are going to be challenge our returners for time in the varsity lineup.”
The influx of talent will force the coaching staff to make some tough decisions in the coming days as they prepare for the team’s trip to Oregon to open the season.
“Only taking 16 players to Oregon is really challenging as we feel we have at least 22 who are more than capable of making it a successful trip,” Czipri said. “The level of play, focus, work ethic and unity in the gym I something we are really pleased with right now.”
Czipri will retain the services of her top-two assistant coaches as Amy Trageser and Molly Steffens are back on the sidelines for each of their second seasons.
“The first year was us getting on the same page with systems, training and technique,” Czipri said. “The chemistry between the three of us is fantastic. We all challenge each other in different ways which makes all of us better and ultimately our program better.”
In addition to long-time volunteer assistant Libby Foster, new part-time coaches Andrea Vignovich and Cyndi Boertje provide some new insight. Vignovich is also a therapist at Orchard Place in Des Moines and Boertje is a tutoring coordinator for Student Support Services on Central’s campus.
“Andrea brings a very different perspective as far as what she brings from her full-time job,” Czipri said. “With Cyndi, it’s just exciting to have somebody else here on campus be a part of our volleyball family.”