By Jim Wrobel
Special to GoHolyCross.com
There is a ton of excitement surrounding the 2011 Holy Cross volleyball team. The Crusaders are coming off a 2010 season (12-21 overall, 4-10 Patriot League) that saw them earn their most overall victories since 2000 and their most conference wins since 2004. With seven players returning who all saw crucial minutes in big matches last season and the addition of eight talented freshmen, the 2011 team will look to be the first squad in program history to qualify for the four-team Patriot League Tournament that started in 1996.
Last season saw Holy Cross set three team records as the Crusaders' 1,368 kills, 1,239 assists and 1,868 digs are now ranked first at the school. Holy Cross also led the Patriot League in digs and was second in kills and assists, while it was third in aces. First-year head coach Erin Walker, who was an assistant coach last season at Holy Cross, is looking forward to building on last year's success. "I am excited for this season because we have an opportunity to continue last year's success and we are constantly striving to improve," said Walker. "The team has a huge sense of excitement to start the season. The players have been talking and e-mailing each other all summer about this season and our high hopes for this year. One of the strengths of the team will be our passion to work hard and our motivational drive to establish ourselves in the Patriot League."
The Crusaders displayed their winning attitude after recording numerous big wins last season. Holy Cross defeated Boston College twice as its win over the Eagles in the season-opener was its first since the 1991 season breaking a 15-game slide. The win versus Harvard was Holy Cross' first victory over the Crimson since the 1993 season as Harvard had also won 15 straight over the Crusaders. Walker sees that experience of winning big matches as something that will be a key to this year's success. "The first step is believing we can win," said Walker. "With several wins against big opponents last year we have started to believe in our potential. We are looking to carry those wins over into this season but understand we are a new team this year with new players, coaches and potential."
This winning attitude also was a factor in earning close victories as the Crusaders went 4-4 in five-setters last year which was a big improvement from years past. The team's attitude is a reason why they can win those close matches. "Five-set matches have been a challenge for us in the past," said Walker. "The team has a hard working mentality and it understands the amount of physical and mental effort it takes to come out on top of a five-set match."
The Crusaders return seven players and add eight freshmen but also lose three key players from graduation in Angela Chisholm, Rebecca DeSanti and Chelsey O'Donnell. Because of this, Walker sees creating chemistry as a big key to the team's success. Some of that chemistry started in the spring season. "With only seven returning players they had a busy spring," said Walker. "The players trained hard and all made improvements. The strides the team has made to define its culture will be a beneficial aspect we will carry into the fall."
Last year's team had 10 players on the roster, while this year there are 15 members. Walker sees this increase in depth as a help in providing strategic options for games. One big area of the sport that Walker wants the team to improve on is blocking. "We are planning on working on our team blocking and synchronizing our block and one unit," said Walker.
This year's captains are senior Kathleen Colpoys (Scituate, Mass.), and juniors Megan Lynch (Mendham, N.J.) and Elizabeth Watters (San Francisco, Calif.). "The three captains provide great leadership because they are all unique," said Walker. "Having three captains will be helpful with a large incoming class. They play three different positions which will help connect our team."
Colpoys, who is the team's lone senior, has seen the Crusaders go from winning a combined six matches during her first two seasons, to the 12 victories last year. "Her experience provides insight to the history of Holy Cross volleyball program," said Walker. "She will be able to draw from her past experiences to lead the team in the right direction."
Colpoys, who enters the season ranked third all-time at Holy Cross with a .230 career hitting percentage, is a strong offensive and defensive player. Last season she led the team with a .243 hitting percentage and a career-best 57 total blocks, while she ranked second on the team with a career-best 229 kills. For her career, she has 532 kills, 133 blocks and 56 aces. "She is an offensive and defensive threat on the court," said Walker. "Her fast pace offense and hard work on defense will be a great contribution to the team's success."
Two-time second team All-Patriot League member Lynch enters the season already ranked fifth all-time at Holy Cross with 813 career kills. She is the first player in program history to record over 400 kills in a season as she set a school record with 442 last year. She also ranked second on the team with a career-best 388 digs which are the fourth-most in program history. "Lynch's determination to win and improve contributes to her being such a special player. She is committed to the program and it shows in her hard work."
Watters will anchor the Crusader defense. She is following a season in which she ranked third on the team with a career-best 333 digs which were 10th all-time for a season at Holy Cross. "Watters is an important part of our defense, her experience will help unify our defense," said Walker.
Junior Liz Ashton (Milford, Mass.) had a career season last year as she ranked first on the team with 0.57 blocks per set and her 54 blocks were second. She also recorded 121 kills which were fifth on the team. Junior Callie Black (Fallon, Nev.), who missed some matches due to an injury last season, ranked second on the team with 0.49 blocks per set and was third with 38 blocks. She also recorded 94 kills. In her first two seasons she already has 96 blocks. "Black and Ashton are improving every time they step on the court," said Walker. "Both are strong offensively and defensively as middle hitters."
Sophomore Alex Aycock (Jonesboro, Ark.) had a strong freshman season as she ranked third on the team in kills and also had 103 digs. Sophomore Christiana Blakeslee (Ashtabula, Ohio) did a little bit of everything last season as she ranked fourth on the team with 0.26 blocks per set and was fifth with 21 blocks. She also recorded 74 kills, 30 assists and 63 digs. "Alex had a great spring season," said Walker. "She has made great improvements and we are looking forward to her carrying those over into this fall. It is always great having a player like Christiana. She is able to play several positions and is willing to play the role the team needs the most."
Freshmen Julia Gould (Ridgewood, N.J.), Layne Hubbard (Austin, Texas), Heather Roberts (San Jose, Calif.), Kamele Shizuru (Kailua, Hawaii), Mary-Kate Short (Lighthouse Point, Fla.), Hannah Grace Stokes (Atlanta, Ga.), Alicia Swearingen (Springdale, Ark.) and Dana Weston (Canton, Mass.) are expected to contribute to the team. "I expect them to buy into our culture, work hard and strengthen our program. With eight freshmen we are expecting big things from this class."
The Crusaders start the season with two home matches as part of the first day of the Beanpot Classic on Aug. 26 when they take on Fairleigh Dickinson and Central Connecticut. Holy Cross' first Patriot League contest is at Lafayette on Sept. 23, while the Patriot League Tournament will take place on Nov. 19-20, on the campus of the regular season champion. The top four teams in the final regular season standings will qualify for the tournament.