HARROGATE, Tenn. — Here is a comprehensive preview of the 2015 Lincoln Memorial University volleyball season, including a position-by-position breakdown, quotes from head coach Jenny Michael and key stats to keep an eye on.
Youth, inexperience and a lack of depth, spawned by a number of key injuries, laid the framework for the Lady Railsplitters’ up-and-down 2014 season.
After starting the season 1-4 with three straight-set defeats, Lincoln Memorial ripped off six straight wins and jumped out to 3-0 in South Atlantic Conference play. Another swoon followed that hot streak, though, as the Lady Railsplitters lost five of their next eight matches to slip to 10-9.
Despite winning six of the next eight matches, the Lady Railsplitters concluded the season with four consecutive losses, including a 3-0 setback to Anderson in the opening round of the SAC Championship.
All told, the Lady Railsplitters finished with a 16-15 overall record and a 12-10 mark in league play, accounting for the program’s fewest victories since going 13-18 in 1996.
Head coach Jenny Michael didn’t mince words when asked about the Lady Railsplitters’ showing in 2014.
“I really think that we underachieved in 2014,” Michael said. “I thought that we had the pieces and parts, but we just couldn’t put them together. The injuries didn’t help, but when it came down to it we weren’t very tough mentally. We were on our own worst enemy.”
The 2015 Roster
What the Lady Railsplitters lack in depth, they make up for in overall talent at the outside and right side, as both sophomore Kiera Holland (Columbia, South Carolina) and junior Brooke Fleeman (Nashville, Tennessee), are back for the 2015 campaign. The duo combined for nearly half of the team’s kills last season. The attacking group also welcomes the addition of Division I transfer Liz Brock (Lima, Ohio).
Holland — a 2014 All-SAC second team and SAC All-Freshman selection — led the Lady Railsplitters and ranked eighth in the SAC last season with 347 kills and 2.97 kills per set. The Columbia native was responsible for eight of the top 10 single-match kill outputs for LMU last season, while adding 305 digs and 2.61 digs per set. Holland accumulated 14 double-doubles with double-digit kills in 20 of her 31 appearances.
Fleeman — entering her third season in the Blue and Gray — accounted for 2.36 kills per set and 257 total kills in 2014, attacking at a .213 clip. The 5-10 right side broke the 10-kill barrier in 12 matches, including a season-high 17 kills against King in a five-set victory. Fleeman needs 67 kills to reach 600 for her career.
After spending two seasons with the Delaware Blue Hens and then opting to take a year off, Brock debuts with the Lady Railsplitters this fall. A four-year starter at Lima Bath High School, Brock was twice named Team Most Valuable Player, while compiling 1,103 career kills, which was the 32nd-most in Ohio high school history at the time of her departure.
“As far as the pins go, I think that we have a solid trio,” Michael said. “The problem is, though, that if we have injuries to any of those parts it could be extremely detrimental.”
Despite losing the team’s most efficient middle hitter in MaRanda Boddie, now the program’s graduate assistant coach, the Lady Railsplitters’ group of middles has extraordinary potential with Tone Gill’s (Nashville) return from injury and the arrival of freshman standout Danielle Ged (Smyrna, Tennessee).
Senior Jazzy Oates (Franklin, Tennessee) is the undisputed leader of that faction, though, as she contributed 1.52 kills, 0.97 digs and 0.62 blocks last season. Oates attacked at a .225 clip, the best among returning players with a minimum of 300 attempts. She ranked 15th in the SAC with 68 total blocks last season, as she enters the 2015 campaign with the 10th-most blocks in program history (235). She is also ranked seventh in LMU’s career history with a .256 attack percentage.
Senior Allison McKinnon (Missouri City, Texas) also returns after averaging 0.92 kills per set over 61 frames last season.
After missing the entire 2014 season with a torn achilles, Gill is ready for her debut season with the Lady Railsplitters. A superb athlete that’s listed as a 5-9 middle hitter, Gill was a standout for Martin Luther King Jr. Magnet school in Nashville.
Of the Lady Railsplitters’ four newcomers, the biggest impact could come from 6-0 middle hitter Ged. A 2014 graduate of Blackman High School, alma mater of Casey Mense (Littleton, Colorado.), Ged helped the Blaze reach their first state tournament in 11 years last season, accounting for 470 kills, 3.6 kills per set and a ridiculous .379 attack percentage. An All-Midstate and TSSAA Class AAA All-State first team selection, Ged also produced 172 blocks, 320 digs and 43 aces.
“It’s a very interesting group because they all do different things really well,” Michael said regarding her collection of four middles. “Jazzy is the veteran as far as experience. McKinnon is a high-energy crowd favorite. Then you’ve got the new ones. It’s Tone’s second year in the program, but her first on the court. And Danielle has been a physical presence at the net in preseason.”
A wealth of returning talent and a key recruit bolsters one of the Lady Railsplitters’ strongest positional groups.
Junior setter Abby Cash (New Carlisle, Ohio) is back after finishing fourth in the SAC in assists per set (8.90) and fifth in total assists (997). Cash also contributed 300 digs and 2.68 digs per set, the second-most for the Lady Railsplitters last season.
A worthy offensive weapon in her own right, Cash notched 75 kills on a team-high .347 attack percentage. After compiling 17 double-doubles and 20 30-plus dig appearances, Cash already ranks eighth in program history with 1,794 career assists.
“Abby has made a huge commitment to her nutrition and her fitness over the last year,” Michael said. “She’s ready to run the show and make this her team.”
Senior libero Mense is also closing in on a milestone, as the Littleton native enters the 2015 campaign needing 231 digs to match Amanda Horenkamp’s career record for digs. Mense increased her total to 1,499 after producing 541 last season, ranking fifth in the SAC in that department. Additionally, Mense posted 129 assists and 1.08 assists per frame. She collected 20-plus digs in 12 of her 31 appearances.
Junior Bristol Snider (Chattanooga, Tennessee) and sophomore Peyton McDaniel (Morristown, Tennessee) are also expected to contribute. Snider tallied 2.31 digs and 0.60 assists per set last season, while McDaniel appeared in 15 sets in her debut.
New to the group, Erica Whiteaker (Kingston Springs, Tennessee) arrives at Lincoln Memorial after a prolific career at Harpeth High School. Whiteaker accumulated 1,565 digs and averaged 10.7 digs per match over her four-year career with the Indians, which she completed by helping her team book its first-ever trip to the TSSAA Class AA state tournament. Harpeth High head coach Jim Hasse said Whiteaker was “the best libero in the state of Tennessee, in my opinion”.
Michael echoed that confidence, suggesting that the Lady Railsplitters’ group of specialists would be the team’s strength.
“Regardless of who’s in there, this will definitely be our strongest attribute.”