New Era for RedStorm Volleyball
By KERRY GIBBS
Rio Grande Sports Information
RIO GRANDE, Ohio – No matter the sport, expectations are always going to be high after a successful season.
For University of Rio Grande head volleyball coach Billina Donaldson, meeting those high expectations with a fresh-faced squad is a challenge the sixth-year coach is ready to take on with open arms.
“If you're going out recruiting, the big positions on your team are your libero, your middle, your setter, and your outside. We lost all of those in Lauren [Raines], Kayla [Landaker], Whitney [Smith], and Erin [Sherman],” Donaldson said. “We did our best to recruit higher-level players who were ready to go on the floor because we weren't going to have the time we'd need to work with them to make them ready.”
One can imagine the frustration of losing four key players all in one offseason.
In fact, the RedStorm totaled 10 departures from the 2012 squad which finished 21-10 overall and third in the Mid-South Conference following a loss to eventual champion Lindsey Wilson College in the semifinal round of the MSC Tournament.
Among those departing from the team were middle blocker Erin Sherman and outside hitter Whitney Smith, both of whom earned first team All-Conference honors last season.
Sherman was sixth in the country last season in hitting percentage (.384) and left the school just shy of the 1,500-kill club with a career total of 1,487 kills, 309 of which came in the 2012 season.
Smith was among the top 30 in the country last season in both kills per game (3.81) and hitting percentage (.330) and finished her career with 1,582 kills.
Also among those not returning from last season are libero Lauren Raines (294 digs, 22 service aces) and setter Kayla Landaker (447 assists, 112 digs, 21 service aces). Setter/defensive specialist Kelsey Martin, who led the team with 692 assists and was expected to return this season, recently left the squad as well.
Despite the departures, Donaldson is doing her best to move on.
"It was hard for me to get over losing the kids that we lost, particularly with Whitney and Erin, because they were the first two recruits I signed. They were the first players I got to coach all the way through," she said. "But having the new faces is exciting, though. Honestly, though, the first time these girls walked into the gym, I was ready to get on with moving toward bigger and better things. I'm excited to see what we're going to do.”
Leading the list of returnees is lone senior and defensive specialist Nicole Ogg (Albany, OH).
Ogg brings talent to the court along with her experience and leadership, as she looks to join the 1,000-dig club (currently sits at 916 digs) and possibly play her 500th career game for the RedStorm (currently sits at 362 games played).
"Nicole is everywhere you need her to be along the back row,” Donaldson said. “She's a great leader as well. The kids really look up to her even though they're looking down at her because she's so small.”
Schramm, an outside hitter, brings some veteran leadership to the squad and has racked up 478 kills in 239 games. George has played in 204 career games and has recorded 27 aces.
Others returning for the RedStorm are sophomores Alex Phillips (Williamsport, OH), Logan Gowen (Akron, OH) and Dani Brannon (Atwater, OH). Brannon is a defensive specialist, while Phillips and Gowen are right-side hitters.
Phillips saw action in all 31 matches last season and finished with 72 blocks, 106 kills and a .265 hitting percentage.
"You can tell that all of the girls that we have back are better than they were last year," Donaldson said. "They've all worked hard."
After some relentless work on the recruiting trail, Donaldson has managed to bring in six freshmen who she believes should be able to make a big - and immediate - impact on the program this season.
Brown earned first team All-Southern Ohio Conference and first team All-Southeast District honors, as well as being named an honorable mention All-Ohio selection. Clark earned All-Southern Ohio Conference and All-Southeast District first team selections.
“Chandler and Miranda have played at the highest level,” Donaldson said. “They went to Dayton and played in the state tournament. I'm very, very happy with the way that they're playing now. Chandler seems to be everywhere she needs to be.”
The remainder of the incoming freshmen include setters Kayla Briley (Marion, OH) and Sarah Martin (Jackson, OH) – the younger sister of Kelsey Martin – as well as middle blockers Autumn Snider (Marion, OH) and Sam Ousley (Wellston, OH).
“Autumn and Kayla also came from the same high school. They're above and beyond where I thought they'd be at this point,” Donaldson explained. “It took about a week to get Kayla playing at the tempo we want and to get Autumn reacquainted with her playing at that tempo. It's a little different than what they were used to in high school. They're really starting to come around. Sarah Martin and Sam Ousely are both from Jackson County, they're both working really hard and I see improvement every day.”
However, as is the case with all things involving youth, there will be growing pains and Donaldson is well aware that there will likely be some trying times this season.
"There are going to be games.....The conference we're in is so tough that, if there were games we were barely hanging in last year with all the talent that we had, we're probably going to be fighting for every breath with a bunch of new kids," she said. "It's all about getting better as we go and trying to continue to build a program around the kids that we have.”
Despite the inexperience culminating with a challenging schedule, Donaldson continues to maintain a positive outlook and sees big things lying ahead for her program.
"I was really pleased with how things went for us in the preseason but, again, when you consider who we're going to be playing once the season gets underway, we're not where we want to be just yet," said Donaldson. "I'm not going to sit here and say we're better than we really are, but we've got the chance to have a good team. I think the first round of conference play and the experience it will provide will be big for us.”
Rio Grande opened its 2013 schedule last Saturday with a straight sets loss at home to the University of Northwestern Ohio. The RedStorm return to action on Tuesday, Sept. 3, when rival Shawnee State pays a visit to the Newt Oliver Arena for a 7 p.m. first serve.