WINONA LAKE, Ind. — A new era begins this August for Grace College’s volleyball team. First-year head coach Katie Van Hofwegen is poised to imprint her unique style onto the Lady Lancers in 2015.
Van Hofwegen inherits a program that has racked up 106 wins over the past four seasons. Grace has advanced to the NCCAA National Semifinals twice since 2011, including last year’s squad which finished 30-12.
Van Hofwegen, who played collegiately at Shorter (Ga.) and was an assistant coach at NCAA Div. II Virginia-Wise, admitted things would look different on the court this fall.
“I’m really excited about the season. We are changing things from last year, but the ladies are working hard with the transition,” Van Hofwegen said. “They are committed to learning our new system. Based on the level of talent we have, we’ll be pretty good once we get it down.”
Already through preseason, the Lady Lancers have impressed their new coach with a voracious work ethic. Led by the team’s co-captains — senior outside hitter Alix Underwood and junior outside hitter Megan Johnson — the ladies have applied themselves fully to learning their new coach and new system. “The team is committed to working hard. They are willing to run through walls to learn the new system,” Van Hofwegen continued. “They’re excited about it, which excites me. They’re committed and are holding each other accountable. They are a coach’s dream in that sense.”
While three NCCAA National Championship appearances in four seasons is impressive, the Lady Lancers are hoping for more in 2015. The team’s goal is to reach NAIA Nationals for the first time since 2001. Additionally, Van Hofwegen is hoping the squad wins every home game at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center (MOCC). “We have to stay disciplined and committed to fine-tuning the details of our game. But if we remain committed, we should reach our goals.”
Grace is replacing a number of key positions from 2014 — including All-Americans at setter (Ellie Harp) and outside hitter (Calah Kruse) as well as the team’s libero Hannah Clemmons. Junior Kaitlin Kerrigan is the squad’s most accomplished offensive threat, racking up 421 kills and 312 digs last year. Returning as a starter on the opposite side is 6-foot-2 Sierra Smith (208 kills, 76 blocks). Naarah Foster and Cassaundra Worthen also figure to play on the opposite side.
The middle hitters are a diverse, talented group, spearheaded by 6-foot-1 Grace Woolsey and 6-2 Tori Bontrager. Woolsey was No. 2 in the NAIA for total blocks last season, and Bontrager had 239 kills on a team-high .272 attack percentage. Kari Feddema and Savannah Hart rejoin the front row for their sophomore campaigns.
Joining a strong crop of returners are four dynamic freshmen. Caylie Teel (Tippecanoe Valley HS) has impressed in the preseason with her ability to play both defensive specialist and outside hitter. Marta Bleed (Blackhawk Christian) and Kelsee Zuidema (Spring Lake, Mich.) are set to contribute as a pair of 6-foot outside hitters, and setter McKenzie Haite(LaPorte) has showcased a mix of athleticism and volleyball IQ in her first few weeks.
Haite is one of three setters on Grace’s roster this fall. Haite, along with sophomore Laken Chaney and junior Taylor Baird, form one of the more interesting positional battles on campus. All three setters add a unique element to the squad, which could result in Grace running a two-setter rotation, according to Van Hofwegen.
An area that Van Hofwegen plans to focus on is serving and serve receive. Improving that aspect is necessary in her words because “serving wins games; we want the ball in our hands to score points.”
Off the court Grace will be heavily involved in community service with a focus on developing servant leadership, according to Van Hofwegen. “The team has verbalized wanting to become well-rounded spiritually and to grow in their faith, so we will look for ways to encourage and serve fellow students, peers and our community.”
The season officially gets started with the Grace College Classic at the MOCC on Aug. 21-22. The Lady Lancers will host IU-East, Trinity Christian, St. Ambrose and IU-Kokomo in the tournament.