YORK, PA - The York College volleyball squad enters the 2013 campaign with a much different outlook heading into the season.
Last year, head coach Sue DuMars had an extremely young squad after replacing a graduating class that won 80 games over their four-year careers.
The Spartans were held to nine wins last year but through the challenging season, DuMars was able to develop a number of young players that will play a large part in getting the Spartans back into the Capital Athletic Conference hunt.
"We were so young last year and we were forced to have many of those kids play key roles when they might not have been ready to take on that workload," says DuMars. "That being said, the experience they gained will prove to be very valuable moving forward. I was very happy with their efforts in training in the spring and in the off-season. This group of kids has a great desire to win, and win at a high level."
DuMars will lean on returning starters Katie Huston (Ellicott City, Md./Mount Hebron), Allie Donahue (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin), and Alison Dorsey (Elkridge, Md./Long Reach) while Jackie Schwarm (Lanham, Md./Homeschooled) returns to the squad after missing last season due to a shoulder injury. Also returning for DuMars are Kirstin Martinak (Hanover, Pa./Southwestern), Katherine Graziano (Elkridge, Md./Archbishop Spalding), Emma Geisser (Rockville, Md./Magruder), Cassie Miller (Odenton, Md./Arundel), Amanda Mackey (Whiteford, Md./North Harford), and Lindsay Jackson (Goshen, N.Y./Goshen Central).
Joining the Spartan veterans are senior Brittany Hicks (Dover, Pa./York Catholic), freshman Ijeoma Igwe (Windsor Mill, Md./Seton Keough), Phoebe Schmehl (Allentown, Pa./William Allen), Heather Kline (Woodbridge, Va./Woodbridge), Karli Hawxhurst (Prince Frederick, Md./Calvert), and Sarah Wukitch (East Greenville, Pa./Southern Lehigh).
"There is a good mix on this team," says DuMars. "We have talented returners and our newcomers really give us a boost. Another thing I like about this team is that it is a competitive group. Our preseason practices have been strong and they are really battling it out on the court. If the preseason is an indication of what we can accomplish, I think we could put a strong team on the floor."
Huston is the most experienced Spartan as the junior outside hitter has played in 64 matches in her two years in the Green and White. Huston hit .194 with 1.97 kills per game last season.
"Katie is one of our go-to hitters and has continued to improve as a blocker," says DuMars. "Her performance will be a key to our success this year."
Donahue returns as the Spartan setter and her improvement has DuMars excited.
"Allie has played well and continued to get better in what we are asking her to do," states the Spartan head coach. "The experience she gained last year will benefit her on the floor this fall. She is running a fast offense and her decision making has been fantastic during the preseason."
Martinak has moved over from the outside to back up Donahue and she has made a great transition to the setting position. Her ability to adapt and flourish gives DuMars outstanding depth at setter. Martinak's ability to run the offense in practice has enabled York to get in quality work while she will push Donahue for court time.
Mackey and Dorsey provide the Spartans with a strong returning duo in the middle. Dorsey played in 29 matches with a .172 attack percentage and 1.27 kills per set. Dorsey also totaled 82 blocks, the second-best mark on the squad. Mackey comes back for her senior year as an improved player as she is stronger and her feet are quicker.
"Ali and Amanda are two quality middles who give us options," says DuMars. "Ali should be an offensive force and could be one of our big scorers this year. Amanda has worked very hard and is a more confident player. She has the ability to be a good defender at the net and can give us an offensive boost."
One area of inexperience will be at libero where the Spartans graduated three-time All-CAC performer Ashley Rineman. Miller and Graziano will battle for the starting role though DuMars expects both to see significant court time.
"Cassie and Katy both have different styles but are both aggressive defensive players and strong passers," says DuMars. "Replacing Ashley won't be easy but I feel like we will be in good hands in that position."
Geisser and Schwarm give York a pair of strong outside hitters that are competing to get on the floor. Geisser got her feet wet as a freshman as she played in 28 matches in 2012. She averaged 1.81 kills per game and 2.05 digs per game. Schwarm returns to the Green and White after missing last year due to shoulder surgery. Jackson is another outside hitter who has a great work ethic and a great team-first attitude.
"Emma has returned to campus with more confidence and a stronger swing. Jackie was playing great before getting hurt during the preseason. If she can continue to work through her recovery, she could find herself on the court a good amount of time," says DuMars.
Hicks should be familiar to Spartan fans as she has been a standout for the women's basketball team including being named an All-American last winter. She comes to the program for her senior year, three years removed from her last competitive game at York Catholic High School.
"Brit is a gifted athlete that has really gotten back into volleyball very quickly," said DuMars. "She brings an innate ability to compete and I expect her to be on the floor a great deal for us."
Igwe is another newcomer that will make a significant impact on the Spartans. She is a dynamic outside hitter with raw power that gives the Spartan offense a new dimension.
"E.J. is an exciting player that brings a high level of athletic ability and power to the team," says DuMars. "She is learning the offense quickly and I would be surprised if she isn't one of the best freshman in our league."
Kline and Schmehl are a pair of tall middle hitters with great blocking instincts and strong swings. Wukitch and Hawxhurst are strong all around players who handle the ball well.
DuMars believes this season could be a very good one for the Spartans.
"I expect this season to be a full turn around from last year. We are much stronger offensively, we are more athletic and we have a determination to not repeat what happened last year. The kids worked very hard last spring and over the summer and they came into camp ready to challenge the rest of the conference for a shot at a championship."
The Spartans open the season on August 30 with a trip to the Moravian College Tournament. York opens its home campaign on September 17 against Hood. The Spartans will also host their annual Spartan Volleyball Invitational on September 27 and 28.