By Alex Brown
Coming off a challenging 2009 campaign, Union’s volleyball squad is confident they are poised for a breakout season in 2010.
After a 23–4 start last year, the Lady Bulldogs finished with a 7–6 record in their last 13 regular season games, occurring after the late-season resignation of head coach Steven Gream. Interim coach Kelly Elliott guided the team to a second-place finish in the 2009 TranSouth Conference Tournament and returns this season to take on full-time head coaching responsibilities.
Elliott believes the team’s returning talent, depth and chemistry makes them a favorite in the TranSouth.
“We have high expectations,” Elliott said. “Our goal is to win the conference.”
Both Elliott and her players stated that the transition last season strengthened the Lady Bulldogs’ trust in one another and molded their relationships.
Heather Lieberman, senior business major, echoed the sentiment.
“The coaching change has made a big impact on team chemistry. The way we respect each other … is going to highlight our strengths and make us a stronger team. (The change) definitely tested our love for each other and for the game. Had it been anyone else but Kelly coming in, we would have fallen apart.”
After graduating one player last year, Elliott said she believes the three seniors on this year’s team will play a crucial role in the Lady Bulldogs’ success. She praised the play of Lieberman; Kelsey Duling, business major; and Marcela Madeira, sport management major.
Madeira was a 2009 All-American in both the NAIA and the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Lieberman, the team captain, was on the 2009 TranSouth All-Conference team. Duling was also an All-Conference performer last season.
Elliott said she also expects standout play from Anna Sims, junior nursing major, and Caroline Robbins, sophomore nursing major. Sims is expected to bolster the offense while Robbins could give the team an elite right side that will be difficult to defend.
These returning players are not the only ones Elliott is depending on to contribute. Transfer Emmie Moroski, junior psychology major, is expected to be an impact player in her first season.
“Emmie has the potential to be the best newcomer in the conference,” Lieberman said.
Another newcomer to the team is Ariel Apolinario, Union volleyball’s first assistant coach. Elliott said the addition of Apolinario is an important step in the evolution of Union’s program.
“Coach Ariel and I complement each other really well,” Elliott said. “We bring a good balance of encouragement and pushing (the players).”
As this season begins, several of the Lady Bulldogs are hampered by injuries. Lieberman said the injuries are helping to improve the team’s depth despite the challenge they present.
“(The injuries are) making us versatile and flexible,” Lieberman said. “I would feel confident with every member of our team on the floor.”
The strong level of competition in the TranSouth Conference will make every game a challenge, Elliott said.
“Our goal is to win every conference game, but it’s going to be hard for any team to be undefeated in the conference because there are too many good teams.”
Union opened its season Aug. 31 with a home victory over Lyon College in Arkansas. The Lady Bulldogs took the first two sets and rebounded from a close loss in the third set to clinch the match in the fourth. Sims, Lieberman, Robbins and Madeira each tallied double-digit kills.