The Fredonia State volleyball team will undergo a major transition in 2012. Seven key players graduated from last year's SUNYAC runner-up team, including three of four all-conference players and a pair of All Americans. Five players return on a roster featuring only one senior - Lindsey Olson - and nine freshmen. The Devils have proven to be one of the region's most successful teams during head coach Geoff Braun's tenure, but this year poses a new challenge with the young squad.
Olson, a First-Team All SUNYAC selection, will be key in stabilizing the young Devils. She led the team in kills (394) and was second in service aces (39) and digs (341). Junior Hannah Manning is the team's only other returning starter. Both Manning and Olson are outside hitters. Junior Lauren O'Hara did see a great deal of action as a defensive specialist and is the only other Devil with significant experience. O'Hara's experience gives her the edge on nailing down the libero position, but she will be pushed for her role. The trio will serve as team captains this year.
"We talked about the challenge of leading a young group," said Braun of his captains. "They are excited about the challenge. They will have to be vocal and encourage their teammates to be vocal and lead by example."
Kaitlin Orcutt and sophomore Heather Cooper are the other returning players. Orcutt was slowed last year by injuries, and returned to play the last few weeks of the season. "She will push for time on the left side. She is an explosive athlete and will look to contribute," said Braun.
Despite a big turnover Braun feels this social-media-age team will meld quickly as a group. He noted the incoming freshmen corresponded quite a bit over the summer, expediting a team atmosphere allowing them to develop relationships prior to working together on campus. "We encouraged them to get to know each other, but they took it to another level," said Braun.
This is especially important since as many as five of the six positions on the court could be filled by freshmen - setter, opposite hitter, both middles and libero.
One freshman, Kelly Edinger, has been tabbed as the team's setter. She will be replacing four-year starter Brittany Lis, but Braun indicated high expectations for Edinger and is confident she can direct the offense.
Three incoming freshmen bring with them state championship backgrounds. Paulina Rein was a state champion as a junior at Baldwinsville and named MVP of the tournament. Madison Hoffman's Penfield squad earned the Class AA title last year and Lauren Hokaj was on the St. Mary's of Lancaster Catholic Division state champs.
As for team strengths, Braun sees defense and a strong left side as a plus for the team. "The challenge is going to be staying together as a young group."
The team opens its season at the Cortland Invitational on Friday. The home opener is Sept. 11 against Nazareth. Highlighting the home schedule are the Blue Devil Invitational on Oct. 5-6, and SUNYAC Pool Play on Oct. 19-20.