By Alyssa Kerry
A rough season for the volleyball team leads hope for next year with a young team returning for the fall season of 2017. This season served as an opportunity for the recent recruits to learn the ropes of college play and gain experience.
Through out the last few years, according to senior Shawni Willis, “the program went from not having enough players to scrimmage or perform to certain drills to having a full gym of girls.”Showing the progression that the program had over the last few seasons.
The Statesmen started off the season with a very young team that needed to get use to the high level of play required to succeed in the Heart Conference. Returning only four seniors and five juniors left a clear majority of the roster being underclassmen.
Due to the high number of recruits, it left it up to the seniors to try to convey a sense of leadership. Shawni Willis, was one of these seniors. Willis said, “I took more of a caption role, I have always been a leader by example rather than a vocal leader. However, this season I felt like I was more vocal than past years.”
The squad started the season off at the Huntington Tournament on August 21st with a 3-0 loss to Huntington.
Leading the Statesmen’s offense was senior, Savanna Hartman and sophomore Claire Simmons. Both players pacing the offense with four kills each. Sophomore, Ashley Miller, led the defense with 16 digs. The tournament was followed by a close match up loss to Robert Morris at 3-1 with all sets being within 9 points. Once again Simmons was a leader for the offense improving on her four kills to 13 in the second game of the tournament. Hartman was not too far behind in the hitting category with six kills.
Sophomore, Haley Vampran, had a strong defensive showing with 19 digs. Later the Statesmen fell to Roosevelt, 3-1. In which newcomer Kathleen Steffen and sophomore, Haley Smith, had a large impact in the offense with having 11 and ten assists respectively. After the first go round with the new team, the squad was able to take back things to work on.
Sophomore, Ashley Miller said, “at the beginning of the season we brought in a lot of new girls so that was step one was to start to connect as a team and get to know each other while still taking our skills and perfecting them.”
In a non-conference match up with Grace University the squad fell short after being outhit by their competitors. Losing the game 4-1, the Statesmen kept each set extremely close, but due to a large amount of attacking errors were unable to overcome in the end. Willis lead the offense with 13 kills, followed by Hartman with 11, Simmons and junior Lilly Martinez with nine apiece. Leading with assists was setter, Kathleen Steffen, with 29 and was combined with a solid defense effort from Ashley Miller in the back row with 35 digs.
August 30th was the first success for the squad, winning a non-conference match up against Hannibal-LaGrange. The Statesmen were in the lead of every set for a clear majority of the time. Leading in the offense was Claire Simmons with six aces and six kills.
Simmons kills were matched by freshman, Nesreen Iskandrani and Willis who both had six kills apiece. Defensively the Statesmen was lead by Ashley Miller who contributed 14 digs.
The Country Inn & Suites Invitational hosted by Waldorf ended in a complete shut down for the Statesmen. Only wining one single match out of 13, left the squad with a lot of ideas on what they needed to work on for the next game.
September 10th was the Saint Mary/Grace tournament. The Statesmen had a split of wins and loss during the course of the tournament. Beating Grace and Dakota State, but falling to Mayville and Dakota Wesleyan. The tournament was headlined by Claire Simmons double-double with 19 kills and 11 digs in the Dakota State game. During the win against Grace, Savanna Hartman had a huge performance with 17 kills, followed by Simmons with nine and Willis with eight. Ashley Miller was the top defensive player for the statesmen in nearly all matches with 15, 24, 24 and 23 digs respectively.
Following the Saint Mary/Grace Tournament Ashley Miller was awarded for her efforts being named as the Heart of America Athletic Conference Volleyball Defender of the week. This was a first time award for Miller and for William Penn as well.
In the first conference match up the Statesmen were unable to overcome against Central Methodist in a 3-1 loss. With a rough start in the first set, the Statesmen gained ground during the second but where unable to continue that through the next two. The Statesmen went on to lose a non-conference match up against Simpson later in the week 3-0.
While on the road, the Statesmen were unable to pick up the conference win, falling to Missouri Valley 3-0. The Statesmen responded well throughout the sets but were unable to rally for the win. Following the loss on the road, the squad returned back home but were unable to get the win against Benedictine. In the 3-0 loss, the Statesmen’s Claire Simmon’s had 12 kills and three aces, she was joined in the double digits by Savanna Hartman who had 11 kills and two blocks.
In the conference play games against Peru State, Culver-Stockton and Evangel the Statesmen were unable to come out with a winning game. Losing to Peru State 3-0 the squad then went on to face Culver-Stockton but in a 3-1 loss the Statesmen were unable to over come. Following the Culver-Stockton game the Statesmen went on to face the defending league champions. The squad gave Evangel quite the fight even after being outhit by the Crusaders.
Both Claire Simmons and Savannah Hartman were able to reach the double digits, with 16 and 10 kills. Ashley Miller owned 41 digs, but even with a strong defense and offensive, the squad were unable to rally against the visitors for the win, losing 3-1.
Earning her second award of the year, Ashley Miller, was honored with the Heart of America Athletic Conference Volleyball Defender of the week. In two games Miller had a total of 58 digs, this is the sixth highest tally in school history and the highest since 2009.
The squad fell to Mount Mercy 3-0 and during the Triangular hosted by Central Christian came home with a split beating Central Christian 3-1 and falling to Haskell Indian Nations 3-0. In the big rival game against Grand View on October 11th, the Statesmen were unable to beat the Vikings losing 3-0. Savannah Hartman had six kill and was closely matched by fellow senior Shawni Willis who had five.
Miller said that the squad “had ups and downs we weren’t all together as a team like we wanted to be so it hurt us a lot but we had the skill there we just weren’t able to piece it together.”
Following the loss to Penn’s rival Grandview, the Statesmen had a rough streak of matches falling to MidAmerica Nazarene, Baker and Avila. The Statesmen were able to pick up a couple of victories at the Calumet-St. Joseph tournament. Splitting their wins and losses. Winning over the host Calumet-St. Joseph, and Silver Lake but were unable to come out on top over Governors State and Saint Mary-of-the-woods. Junior, Brittany Welkel, had a good showing in the Calumet-St. Josephs game, leading the way with 10 kills, combined with Shawni Willis who had 8 and
Kiera MacPhersons with 5 kills. Steffen’s had 17 assists, while Haley Smith had a double-double with 13 assists and 13 digs during the same game.
After the success at the Calumet-St. Josephs tournament, the squad was unable to show it during conference play against Graceland. Losing 3-0, even after having a lead in the first set.
On senior night the Statesmen were able to bring home a non-conference 3-0 win against foe Faith Baptist Bible. Senior, Savannah Hartman was one of the four seniors recognized paced the team with 12 kills. Senior, Nicole Harrison had nine kills, senior Shawni Willis had seven and senior Sawyer Woodworth had four.
Even though there were only four seniors on this year’s squad according to Miller “our seniors are very helpful with helping everyone get settled into the college life for the freshman by helping them understand the schedule or the do’s and don’ts of college or even for volleyball in general. This has helped our chemistry by letting the team be comfortable with everyone.”
The squads season ended without a conference win after losing to Clarke 3-1. In the final match up. Three of the seniors lead the offensive attack but where unable to capture the win to end their careers.
Following the season Willis said, “the seasons record did not show the talent that we had, which caused a lot of frustration.”
Sophomore, Ashley Miller, had one of the top defensive season in the programs history and was one of 30 players named to Heart of America Athletic Conference honorable-mention teams. Miller had 659 digs for the season 72 assist, 22 aces and two kills.
Following the season senior, Savannah Hartman and junior Jasmin Sonnenschein
were honored for their excellence in the classroom as they were named to the 2016 Daktronics-NAIA Volleyball Scholar athletes. Hartman has a 3.92 GPA and Sonnenschein had a 3.57. The two Statesmen were among 481 players from the NAIA to be awarded this academic award.
Up next for the squad is to start the preparation for the next season. Miller said, “once we get back from break we get back in the gym and break down our skills from step one to perfect every little piece of what we know. We also get in the weight room four days a week to “bulk” up. And something new we have started is watching film with our coaches once a week. One very important factor of volleyball is our IQ and by watching film will help increase our awareness of the court and help show us what we did wrong and what we can improve in that situation if it ever happened again.”
Even with a rough year there is still a lot going for the team. With the large numbers of players, young recruits and newcomers entering the program it is only a matter of time before large success is coming their way. Willis said, “there are many girls that work hard and have heart and passion for the game” the only question is, where is it going to take them next year?