After battling through a myriad of injuries last year, Grace College’s volleyball team is excited to welcome in the 2017 campaign.
The Lady Lancers field an experienced roster, led by six seniors who are primed to end their careers on a high note.
Grace’s senior class of Kari Feddema, Tori Bontrager, Sara Miller, Naarah Foster, Sierra Smith and Savannah Hartenjoyed a national tournament during their freshman season. They have plans to return to nationals in 2017 and are armed with the big-game experience to back up those dreams.
Third-year head coach Katie Van Hofwegen maintained that the senior class was “essential” to the team’s success. “They’ve all had significant roles the past few years. We will look to them for leadership, to set an example for the rest of the team and to invest in the underclassmen. They are wholly invested, and they want to go out on top.”
In the summer, Grace’s team took a mission trip to inner-city Philadelphia. That experience fused the players together in a unique way. Van Hofwegen noted the team’s chemistry has only grown from there during the preseason.
Team chemistry is not always a certainty, especially with players battling for playing time. And several starting positions are up for grabs this fall.
The level of competition has been markedly high this year, according to Van Hofwegen, showing promise for a deep and talented squad. “We are off to a strong start. The girls have been really focused and have high energy every day in the gym so far.”
To return to a national tournament in 2017, the Lady Lancers will need to compete for a conference championship. According to Van Hofwegen, the team “has the right people to do that this year.”
One of Grace’s strength will be its defense. NCCAA All-American Caylie Teel anchors Grace’s back row after amassing 621 digs (5.22 per set) in 2016. She partners with Miller, who has 1,201 career digs to her credit.
The team’s offense is primarily returning, led by the strong arms of Kelsee Zuidema (335 kills), Smith (243), Feddema (195) and Marta Bleed (157). Smith and Bontrager, who both missed significant time last year with injuries, are back to full health. The two middle hitters each hit over .220 for the season, led by Smith’s team-high .252 percentage. Foster and Deborah Michalski add depth on the outside.
Zuidema and Bleed are two of the hardest hitters on the team and bring experience to the outside attack, and Feddema is a tremendous vocal and emotional leader from the middle.
The setter position will look new in 2017. Sophomore Alexa Hill played in every set except for six last year, but she was rarely setting. This year, however, she will be asked to fulfill the primary setting responsibilities.
Freshman Gabbey Harrington adds another layer to the setting spot. The Cowan High School standout provides a fundamental technique to the position, creating a dynamic partnership with the athletic Hill.
All five freshman have a strong opportunity to earn playing time in Van Hofwegen’s mind. “They are talented and work hard, so I’m excited to see them grow throughout their transition this year.”
Away from the court, Grace has displayed a commitment to be invested in the classroom and the community. Grace boasted a 3.75 GPA last year, the highest team GPA on campus and 19th-best in the nation.
The Lady Lancers were also one of the most active teams in the community last year, serving at a variety of organizations.
Grace will kick off the year on Friday and Saturday, playing four games at the Huntington Tournament. On Aug. 25-26, Grace will host the Lancer Classic at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center. — from gclancers.com/