Head coach Marian Carbin is entering her fourth season as the Missouri Western volleyball coach. The Griffons have improved each season since she took over the program and they hope to continue that streak this season.
“I think it gets harder and harder every year,” Carbin said. “But every coach’s goal is to win championships and until you do that, there is always room to improve.”
Western finished the 2015 season with a 21-10 record, going 12-6 in the MIAA. Experience will not be an issue for Western, as the Griffons bring will be led by five juniors and four seniors. They also add three newcomers who should see plenty of action this fall.
“We have a healthy mix of both, and the key is that the veterans take a leadership role and the new girls be the talented players that they are,” Carbin said.
Outside hitter Blair Russell returns for her senior season after starting 12 matches for the Griffons last year. Russell finished the season with more than 200 kills.
Senior Kelsey Olion hopes to bounce back from a knee injury she suffered at the end of the 2014 season. Olion earned All-MIAA Honorable Mention in 2014, accumulating more than 250 kills, but only accounted for 11 digs and four kills.
“I’ve been doing lots of rehab, trying to get my vertical back up,” Olion said. “I think it’s going well and I’m excited to have a good senior season.”
Leading the junior class is Amanda Delbey. Delbey is a two-time MIAA Academic Honor Roll athlete and last season appeared in all 31 matches for the Griffons. Delbey started 24 of those matches and ended the season with 267 digs.
Filling the middle will be Texan Ashley Mainord. Mainord played in 21 matches for Western last season, starting five. The junior finished last season with 89 kills and 17 blocks. She is not the only middle to stand out over the off-season. Rachel Friedrichs and Rachel Losch both had impressive off-seasons for the Griffons.
“All three had outstanding off-season,” Carbin said. “By the end of spring they were all touching 9’9” or higher. We haven’t had that in four years.”
The coaching staff believes that their middles and defense will be the strength of the team this fall.
“Our middle, as well as our defense will be a definite strength,” Carbin said. “It was a strength last year, and you add in all the experience that our middles have.”
With Western having so much youth and the many new faces, the team felt like one of the biggest things they needed to work on was their chemistry on the court.
“We’ve been working with our freshman middles and outsides, connecting with them and making sure we are all on the same page,” Mainord said.
The Griffons will need solid play when they open the season with the Washburn Invitational on Sept. 2 and 3. Western will play the University of Mary, Drury University, Quincy University and Midwestern State University.
“I think the important thing for us is that three of the four matches are regional matches and so a win against Mary [University] could be big at the end of the season,” Carbin said. “Those first three games of the year could be just as important as the conference tournament.”
Missouri Western started last season 0-2 before rebounding and winning their next 10 matches. Starting 0-2 this year could mean big trouble for Carbin and the Griffons.
“A loss to Mary could be really rough because they’re in our region,” Carbin said.
Expectations are high for Missouri Western this year. The program has come a long way in just a few years.
“When I first got here we were 16-14 and we were excited because it was our first winning season in a long time,” Olion said. “But it’s all the hard work that no one sees, that is how we continue to improve every year.”