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.”
[caption id="attachment_26265" align="alignnone" width="300"] T.J. LaFaver[/caption] With Will Smith popping up on your television almost twice a day, I am sure you are aware of the rising concern of concussions in sports. Recent incidents around the country have forced the NCAA and other organizations to take a strong approach towards the protocols when dealing with a concussed athlete. Some of those same protocols have been followed carefully by Missouri Western. Blaise Kriley is going into his third year as the head athletic trainer at Western. He noted that, since the topic is becoming more popular, more people are starting to be more aware of seriousness and the symptoms of concussions. “If you remember, back in 2011-2012, that’s when the big NFL case came out with the concussions,” Kriley said. “The awareness about concussions became much more apparent, and I think it has risen due to education.” Yearly, Kriley and his staff work with over a dozen incidents involving concussions with athletes. Since Kriley has arrived, that count has been pretty steady over the years. “Each year we deal with 15-20 concussions,” Kriley said. “And for this year, we are kind of going on that same pace.” There are normally trainers around at the different sporting events going on around campus. According to Kriley, it is their job to identify athletes with concussion symptoms and proceed with the protocols immediately. “Basically, if we suspect that someone has a concussion, we evaluate them,” Kriley said. “If it is during practice or during a game, we immediately remove them from activity, then we do the evaluation.” After being removed from activity, a series of tests are ran on the athlete by a physician. “They then start what we call our concussion protocol,” Kriley said. “Which is when they see our team physician and they do what we call the IMPACT test, which is a neurocognitive test that helps measure brain functions.” After that, the athlete is then shut down from activity to allow time to heal from the incident. “They go into a period of rest and once they are symptom free, then they can start a return to play protocol,” Kriley said. “Which is just a progressive day-by-day exercise regimen that they do to work back into full activity.” This same protocol is used for athletes on campus, from the football team to the cheerleading squad. “It does not matter if you are a cheerleader, a golfer, a football player or a basketball player,” Kriley said. “We treat all concussion incidents the same.” The NCAA also has a hand in how the concussion protocols and history of the incidents are handled. “We have to have a concussion protocol on file,” Kriley said. “It’s like a plan that is on file so everyone knows what we have to do. We also have to do education on concussions. So, every student athlete that comes here, they watch a team video in their team meetings. It goes over signs and symptoms and a broad return to play protocol.” Some notable concussion incidents so far have been suffered by two of the Griffons quarterbacks. Both Skyler Windmiller and TJ Lafaver split time this past season when the other could not play due to concussions. Football was not the only sport were a notable concussion incident occurred. For a period of time, volleyball was without one of their All-MIAA performers in Jessie Thorup, due to concussions. Coach Marian Carbin feels that although volleyball is not seen as physical as football, some of the same symptoms apply. “I think the symptoms are similar,” Carbin said. “We actually had two concussions this year, and I think that some of the symptoms can get really severe. We have players that get nauseous, especially when they hit the floor or get hit by the ball.” Carbin noted that the after-effect problems can also be a challenge to deal with. “They have to be in environments that are low-stimulating,” Carbin said. “Where they just sit in their rooms normally. For our players coming back, just the noises in the gym are sometimes hard to deal with.” Concussions are an issue that is rapidly growing onto the public conscious and there are many accusations of wrongdoing in different levels of sport, but it is safe to say that Western takes the problem seriously and handles occurrences as such.
Western’s season came to an end with a five-set loss to the No. 15 Washburn Ichabods in the first round of the MIAA Tournament on Tuesday. Head coach Marian Carbin was happy with the way her team fought throughout the match, despite the loss. “We battled; the girls played really well and I’m proud of the way we competed,” Carbin said. “We never gave up and I’m super proud of our group.” Both teams were neck-and-neck throughout the first set of the match. The Ichabods jumped to a 16-12 lead and would continue to hold the lead until the Griffons battled back to take a late 24-23 lead. Washburn scored twice in a row to quickly take a 25-24 lead. The teams would continue going back and forth until the Griffons tied the set for the final time and scored three points in a row to win 30-28, giving them a 1-0 lead over Washburn. The beginning of the second set was once again a back and forth battle between Western and Washburn. The Griffons found themselves with an 8-5 lead, but the Ichabods erased that lead with a 3-0 run, tying the set at 8-8. Western reclaimed a 10-9 lead, but Washburn put together a scoring run of 5-0 to gain a 14-10 lead. From there, the Griffons were not able to take control and were defeated by the Ichabods 25-18, tying the match 1-1. Set three had the same story as set one. Western was down 17-16, but a 5-0 run gave them a 21-17 lead. The Ichabods would not back down, forcing three set points, but the Griffons were able to hold off their opponent and claim a 28-26 victory and take a 2-1-match lead. Washburn dominated the fourth set through its entirety. Other than Western’s 1-0 lead at the very beginning of the set, they played from behind the whole time. The Ichabods piled on a 3-0 run and two 4-0 runs on their way to a commanding 25-15 set win, once again tying the match at 2-2. The Griffons offense struggled to get on track in the deciding fifth set, quickly falling behind 6-2. They could not gain ground, as Washburn would beat Western 15-10, claiming a 3-2-match win and ending the Griffons' season. Not being able to counter the Ichabod’s scoring runs gave the Griffons problems in the match, according to Carbin. “We just had lapses where we gave up runs to them that we didn’t return,” Carbin said. “We got stuck in some rotations and we didn’t put enough pressure on them is some of their weaker rotations.” Western was led in kills by freshman Rachel Friedrichs with 16, closely followed by freshman Shellby Taylor with 15 and junior Blair Russell with 13. Senior Jordan Chohon led in assists with 52 and was second in digs with a career high 24. Sophomore Kayla Ruff led the team with 29 digs. The Griffons ended the season with a 21-10 overall record and a 12-6 conference record. They placed six players on the All-MIAA team, with senior Jessie Thorup and Chohon receiving first team bids, while senior Lindsey Partridge received honorable mention. After overcoming many obstacles this season, Carbin is proud of how her team grew over the year. “I’m really pleased with the way that we’ve matured throughout this season,” Carbin said. “Our young players just really came along and our older players kind of brought them along. When they had moments of inexperience or immaturity, our older players kind of carried them.” Although this season is over, Carbin already sees promise for next year. “Watching Shellby Taylor and Rachel Friedrichs have just really great nights against a good team like Washburn, and watching Blair Russell develop into a leader on our team, is definitely promising for our future,” Carbin said. “We’ve got some leadership coming back with Blair, and we’ve got these young talented players that now have a lot of experience with postseason experience at that, but now they’ve got that hunger to be back every year.”
The Griffons swept the rival Bearcats at home without star outside hitter Jessie Thorup for the second match. Last Friday, in a win against Fort Hays State, Thorup suffered what would appear to be a serious knee injury, which has kept her sidelined for the last two matches. Although the team does not fully know the extent of Thorup’s injury, head coach Marian Carbin knows that the whole team will have to step up in her place. “When she [Thorup] hit the ground, the first thing she said was, ‘It's my ACL,’ and having been through it before, we kind of give her the benefit of the doubt,” Carbin said. “You can’t really replace a player like Jessie with just one person. It’s going to have to be everybody picking up a little bit of what she does.” Tuesday, Western faced rival Northwest at the Fieldhouse for their final match in the rivalry series. In the beginning of set one, the Griffons got off to a slow start, allowing the Bearcats to go on an early four-point run by way of two errors, a kill and a service ace. Western did not back down, outscoring Northwest 9-3 to take a 9-7 lead. The Griffons began to pull away, increasing their lead to 22-16, but the Bearcats went on another four-point run to make it a 22-20 set. Western was able to hold on to their lead to take a 25-22 set one victory. The Griffons started off hot in the second set, gaining a 20-13 lead over the Bearcats, but the rivals clawed back to tie up the set 20-20. Both teams fought back and fourth, battling through 11 lead changes, before Western prevailed over Northwest 31-29 to take a 2-0-match lead. In the third set, the Bearcats gained a quick 5-3 lead over the Griffons, only to have it erased by a six-point run, giving Western a 9-5 lead. Once the Griffons took control of the set, they would not look back. Northwest would only pull within four points of Western before the Griffons pulled away to win the third set 25-18, and claim a 3-0 sweep of the Bearcats. Carbin was happy with the way Western came together to defeat their rival. “I was really proud just with the way they played as a team, it was a team effort where everybody just did their job,” Carbin said. “We talked yesterday [Monday] about how no one person has to do everything that Jessie did, everybody just has to take a part of it in order to make up the difference, and I thought they really executed that well.” It felt good to defeat the Bearcats again, but beating them at home made the victory even sweeter, according to outside hitter Blair Russell. “It felt really good, especially this time since Jessie was hurt, we really had a game plan where we’re focusing on each person doing their part and not everybody can make up what Jessie did,” Russell said. “We all had to pitch in to get that win, and sweeping them on our home court was really awesome.” After the victory, Western’s record improved to 21-7 overall and 12-4 in conference play. The Griffons have already clinched a spot in the MIAA Tournament and currently sits at fifth in the conference. Although Western already has a spot in the MIAA Tournament, they do have a chance to make a late rise in the conference standings with their last two matches of the regular season. The Griffons face Central Missouri for their last home match of the season on Thursday, Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. They finish the regular season on the road against Lindenwood University on Saturday, Nov. 14 at 6 p.m.
The weekend was filled with success as the Griffons swept both of their road opponents and Jessie Thorup was crowned Western’s overall kills leader. Sweeping both road matches showed head coach Marian Carbin that their offense was able to dictate each set. “What I was most pleased with was that we played well offensively, we controlled the tempo against both of these teams,” Carbin said. Friday, the Griffons traveled to Joplin, Missouri to take on the Missouri Southern Lions for the second time this season. Their previous meeting, in the Fieldhouse, Western swept Southern who, at that time, had not yet had a win. This match against both teams would not be different. The only time the Griffons were behind in the first set was when the Lions scored the very first point of the match. After that, Western controlled everything. Thanks to kills from multiple Griffons including, outside hitters Thorup and Shelby Taylor, as well as middle blocker Rachel Friedrichs, they defeated the Lions 25-16 to take a 1-0 match lead. Southern put up more of a fight in sets two and three, but Western was able to stall their opponent’s attack and take the lead both times. Ten Griffon kills and 12 Lion errors lead to a 25-21 set two win for Western. In set three, 13 Griffon kills and nine Lion errors once again gave Western a 25-21 set victory and completed the sweep. The team was led in kills by setter Jordan Chohon and Thorup who each had seven. Chohon also led the Griffons in assists with 27 and libero Kayla Ruff led with 10 digs. On Saturday, Western traveled to Bolivar, Missouri to face another struggling MIAA opponent in the Southwest Baptist Bearcats. In the Griffons previous match at the Fieldhouse against the Bearcats, Western had a dominant sweep of their opponent. Much like the match against the Lions, the Griffons would once again show dominance over the Bearcats. Western did not allow Southwest Baptist to reach 20 points in sets one or two. They were able to string together multiple scoring runs with the help of kills from many players, including middle blocker Lindsey Partridge and outside hitters Blair Russell and Thorup. In the third set, the Bearcats had an offensive surge, leading the Griffons 5-0 and eventually 12-7. Western held Southwest Baptist’s offense long enough to put together a 6-0 run, giving them the 13-12 lead. Bearcats reclaimed the lead 14-13, but the Griffons quickly pulled in front yet again and held the lead until the end of the set, winning 25-22. In those three sets, Thorup recorded 14 kills giving her 1,132 total career kills, passing former Griffon Alyssa Berg to become the school’s all-time kills leader. Berg, a member of the team from 2003-2007, recorded 1,130 kills in her career. A celebration for Thorup is already in the works, according to Carbin. “We’re gong to celebrate it this weekend, just like we did Sarah Faubel last year when she became our career digs leader,” Carbin said. With Thorup’s record and the Griffons’ dominate weekend, Carbin thought her team met many goals. “Statistically, we had some really good performances,” Carbin said. “We hit for high percentages, blocked well and just all around played really well.” Western is now 18-5 overall and 9-2 in the conference. Their record gives them possession of third place in the MIAA, behind first place Central Oklahoma and second place Washburn. The Griffons have also earned 29 votes to be ranked nationally, when previously, they only received 14. With the year moving closer to postseason action, Carbin knows that the team controls its own fate. “We’re looking at the exact same situation as last year, where we control our own destiny,” Carbin said. “If we can get wins over the next few weeks, we’ll be in really good shape regionally, and if we don’t, we’re going to have to make a run in the conference tournament, so it’s crunch time.” Western returns home from their five-game road trip to face the Emporia State Hornets on Friday, Oct. 30 at 7 p.m., followed by a rematch against the No. 10 Wasburn Ichabods on Halloween night at 6 p.m.