Chemistry will be key for veteran CMU volleyball team
When you finish the season on a disappointing six-match losing streak, there’s only one thing to do: Hit the beach.
“It (was) sad after regionals, because we wanted to go to nationals, but (we had) that break to reset and say, ‘OK, we need to get back in the gym as soon as possible,’ ” said MacKenzie Edwards, the hard-hitting junior outside hitter for the Colorado Mesa volleyball team. “Thankfully for us we have sand, so that really helps us get back into playing volleyball.”
Playing two-man beach volleyball in the spring allows the Mavericks to keep competing. It also gives them some extra time to work on that all-important chemistry, something CMU coach Dave Fleming agreed with Edwards and libero Taylor Woods has improved this fall.
“Getting touches. Last season gave us motivation to keep getting better,” Woods said. “Remember, it wasn’t a bad season last year. We did go on a little bit of a losing streak at the end, but it wasn’t a bad season. We’re a good team, we’re all good athletes. We’re using that as motivation.”
Part of the improved chemistry is the natural process of maturing, especially those eight freshmen from last season,three of whom redshirted. And you know what coaches think about freshmen ...
“The big thing for us is our big group of freshmen are now sophomores,” Fleming said. “They’ve been there and done that, and that’s going to help us. These guys (Edwards and Woods) are veterans, and they’re only juniors. That sophomore class having another year under their belts is going to make a big difference.”
The sophomores showed plenty of raw ability as freshmen, but it was just that — raw. After a full year of college, offseason weights, spring and the beach season, that ability is more refined. Edwards said all of the Mavericks have matured, even those veteran juniors.
“With the help of the leadership group we had, it helps (her and Woods) figure out what the team is looking for in a leader,” she said. “I feel like that has really helped with the chemistry. Everyone has matured. I think that’s a big part of it, everyone has matured a lot, including the both of us. With the eight sophomores having a year of experience, we click better now. Not that we didn’t click as a team last year, but the chemistry is a lot stronger this year.”
One of the biggest challenges facing the Mavericks, who open the season this weekend in the Oredigger Classic in Golden, is breaking in a new setter.
Samantha Ritter, one of those fab freshmen, played in 17 matches last season behind Ali Svorinic and Hana Peterman, but what she lacks in college court time she makes up for in athleticism.
“Sam’s a good setter, she’s just unproven. She’s more athletic than setters we’ve had in the past,” Fleming said of the 5-foot-10 sophomore from Tinley Park, Illinois. “There will be some bumps in the road but by the time the end of the season rolls around I think this group can be very good. We just have to keep our heads up and understand there will be some bumps and we’re not going to win every (match) 75-nothing.”
Edwards said the timing between Ritter and the hitters is getting better every day.
“At the beginning it was a little difficult because we want to run a faster ball ... I don’t know if I should be saying that,” she said sheepishly, realizing she just gave away a bit of the Mavs’ game plan, “but we do want to run a faster offense to our pin hitters, so that took awhile to get used to. Now I feel like it’s clicking a lot better with not just me but all our outsides and our right-sides are doing a lot better at that aspect.”
Although the Mavericks do want to run a faster tempo on the outside, they’ll continue to establish the middle attack with senior all-RMAC middle Hattie Gianinetti and sophomore Camille Smith, and will still be a team that prides itself on defense. Gianinetti and her twin sister, Megan, an outside hitter, are the only seniors on the roster, so Fleming knows this team will continue to grow as the season progresses.
“I like our top end. I’ve told the group that over and over,” he said. “I think we are a team that can compete at the regional level and get to nationals when we’re playing our best volleyball. We just have to find a way to do it more consistently at that level. We have weapons at each position.”