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Rosenthal counting on depth for success in 2009-2010 season
Brandon Rosenthal
Brandon Rosenthal

Monday, August 03, 2009

School doesn’t start until Aug. 24, but the Lady Bisons volleyball team will arrive on campus Thursday and hit the court running as they work to return to the Atlantic Sun Tournament Championship match for the third straight year and a berth in the NCAA Tournament after a one-year absence.

Coach Brandon Rosenthal, set to start his seventh season as head coach, welcomes six new players, but also returns the bulk of last year’s team.

Rosenthal, whose office is jammed with equipment, made room for Lipscombsports.com to ask a few questions before preseason drills begin.

Last year the team set records for most regular season match wins (20) and most match wins overall in a season (21). How do you top that this season?

“We need to go back to the NCAA Tournament and win at least one match. The one thing the program is missing is a big win over a top team. We have always scheduled tough. We have to break through and I think this year we have our best chance to get a couple of signature wins early and let the momentum run.

“Our goal in the next three or four years is to be a top 50 program. I don’t see any reason why we can’t do it. If we get a four or five more wins in a season we will be knocking on the door.”

The Lady Bisons have improved their win total each season. How difficult will it be to keep that string alive?

“We have had to deal with our success and deal with expectations that previously weren’t there.

“We are going to turn up the intensity. As our expectations go up I think our level everyday has to go up. It’s not that our level was down last year, but having won the A-Sun Tournament Championship the year before I am not sure if we really raised the bar. And that’s my fault. I have thought a lot about it. Our goals and expectations are changing. We have a great atmosphere and a great attitude, but I think everybody realizes we are going to have to go after it that much harder to do what we want to do.”

This season there are six newcomers to the roster. Will any of them make an immediate impact?

“It is one of those years where we have a good, solid base, but we are also bringing in some very talented young players. If we can just get some of them going right away it should be a lot of fun. I’m really uncertain as to who will be starting.

“I expect Cortney Crocker to really show what she can do as a libero/defensive specialist. Kaycee Green is a naturally-gifted player, but she will be challenged by the intensity of the game. The one to really watch is Kory Honel. She plays with a lot of passion and a lot of drive. She hits the ball surprisingly hard. She has a great vertical. She understands the game well.

"Tory Ashcraft has played for me before in club volleyball, but has taken a couple of years off. It is going to be an interesting start for her as a junior to play again. I know her. She knows me. She knows exactly what to expect. I think she will give us some stability as the second setter.

“Amanda Rhein is a tremendous player. She is coming off an injury and we want to see how she has progressed. When she is healthy she is a very solid, all-around player. She is a very good outside hitter. She is very good on defense. She is a solid passer.”

Meghan Hinemeyer, who transferred in the spring from Clemson, is another in a string of solid players who have transferred to Lipscomb to play volleyball after starting their careers at another college, What kind of impact do you expect from Hinemeyer as an outside hitter?

“We all know what Meghan is capable of doing when she puts everything together on the court. Spring was fun, but she is going be doing it day in and day out when it counts. She is very excited about that.“

Speaking of transfers, Elly Kaiser joined the team last season after playing at Illinois State. What will be her role this season?

“She played tremendous in the spring. She played the libero position and really came back to where we thought she would. When we played in the spring matches she was one of the keys to why we won some of those.”

Alex Kelly was named the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year and earned A-Sun Player of the Week honors three times, also a program record. What kind of impact do you expect from her as a junior?

“I expect Alex to have an even better year than last year. Alex has really come into her own this last half of year. She has worked extremely hard on her leadership ability. With the passion that she brings to the court each and everyday and the desire to continue to get better Alex will continue to be one of the top players in the Atlantic Sun.

" Another challenge that she will face is the fact that many teams will spend a good majority of their time game planning against her. We have talked at length about this and Alex is more than ready for the challenge.

Stefine “Jake” Pease provides the spark as the setter. She and Alex have played together since their days in club volleyball. What made the difference for them last season?

“Jake, for the last couple of years, has been the quarterback of the team, but she has also been a young person on the team. She has gotten over that and this is really her team.

“She and Alex have figured out how to work together. I think they have realized they both need each other on the court. The way they lead will be a huge thing for us.

“It is interesting to deal with team dynamics. There is so much passion on the team and sometimes that passion gets in the way.”

Katie Rose was a formidable player as a freshman. Will she be returning to her outside hitter position this season?

“Katie played great on the outside, but we will be moving her to the middle and maybe the right side. She doesn’t care where she plays. She just wants to be out on the court. Not a lot of players can transfer from position to position, but Katie is very athletic and very comfortable playing a lot of different positions. That is going to work to her advantage.”

Erin Pierce, a fifth-year-senior, was often the X-factor last season. She always had the knack of being involved in virtually every play. Where does she fit in during her final season?

“When you talk about our core I think you are talking about Jake, Alex and Erin. Obviously, Jake and Alex get a good majority of the accolades. I think Erin is our X-factor. With her being a fifth-year senior this is her last hurrah. I expect her to lay it on the line. We really saw her blossom last year into a really good team player.”

Amy Trykowski is another senior hoping to finish her career on a strong note. How much progress has she made since she first signed with the Lady Bisons?

“We saw a lot of potential in Amy and it was just a matter of time for her to get enough experience and to really feel comfortable. She will be challenged this year by Kelsey Neumann. I will be really interested to see what the competitiveness brings out of Amy. It is her senior year and she has worked so hard for this.

"She wants to get the ball more, just like everyone else and when she gets the ball she is efficient with it. She did some really nice things for us last year, but defensively there is a still another level I would like to see her get to and she knows that.

“Kelsey knows there is a lot of pressure everyday to give it everything she has got because everybody else is. She has worked hard in the spring to establish herself on the team. It is not just her height, but her length that is important.”

Kaley Mohr’s specialty is her ability to serve. What kind of a challenge is it for her to come off the bench to serve in key situations during a match?

“Kaley is a serving specialist, but she will also challenge for a spot in the back row. Most teams have at least one serving specialist. Kaley has done a great job of accepting that role. A big thing for us is that once she goes in to serve we have to continue to play defense well so we can keep her in there.

“We want her to work herself into a rhythm as a server and not try to give it everything she has on her first serve. Coming off the bench you always want to prove yourself, but we want her to be comfortable and under control. When the time is right she can go for it.”

This season’s roster is the deepest in terms of talent and versatility in the history of the program. What will it be like to have so many options in terms of players?

“At every position there is some serious competition. We will be the deepest we have ever been as far as looking down the bench and having viable options at every position. It will add an element to practice that we haven’t ever had before. It should be a lot of fun to watch.”

“One of our new players coming in said she wanted to come to a program that was doing the right things and going in the right direction. But she also wanted to go be a part of a program that was going to challenge her. She wanted to go into a situation that was very competitive where she might even have to sit for awhile.”

What will be the key or keys to a successful season?

“I think it is passing. We have been a very good passing team over the years. We were pretty good last year. We were very good the year before.

“It is passing and defense for us. I don’t think there is any secret to the way we play and how we score. When people look at us we don’t do anything that special, but we pass well and we are able to run our offense faster than everybody else.”