NEWARK – The volleyball teams at most schools with an enrollment of 180 students would be devastated by graduating four starters, and five players total, in a single offseason.
Although Newark coach Tonya Grayson said the Class of 2013, and particularly All-Little Ten Conference players Abbey Akre, Taylor Krug and Lauren Tollefson, will be missed, the Lady Norsemen are not using their absence as an excuse for diminished results.
Grayson said she expects the Lady Norse to continue to succeed in the LTC, in which they have gone undefeated for three straight seasons. Otherwise, they will use their tournaments – Newark will play at Manteno, IMSA and Plano – to help them prepare for the 1A postseason. A 29-win 2012 season ended in the sectional semifinal round to Keith Country Day, which went on to win the state championship.
“The way we train our kids, we train a lot of our young ones along with the varsity team, and that puts us in a better position to reload from graduation rather than having to go into a rebuilding mode,” Grayson said.
“It’s a different look. It’s not the experienced seniors, whereas last year I had four of my seniors (who) had started varsity for three or four seasons. We don’t have that, but we definitely have talent, and so as we continue to play together, they’re going to have another real successful season.”
The lone returning all-conference player is Kristina Nichols, a senior who will take over as the team’s top outside hitter. Sophomores Kelsea Zitt and Madison Friestad are competing to be the second Newark outside hitter. The middle blocker position is shaping up in a similar way, with senior Alexa Myre entrenched in the top spot and two players, senior Kristine Zitt and freshman Jasmine Mitchell, in contention for the second.
Junior Rachael Lape, a transfer from downstate Christ our Rock Lutheran, will be the primary setter. At right-side hitter, senior Lindsey Larson and junior Lexi Zeznanski will play. Defensively, junior Melanie Kala will be the libero and sophomore Megan DiClementi will also be in the rotation.
The Lady Norse expect the winning to continue and to do so in dominant fashion.
“Team goals, we want to really work on getting at least 25 [wins], and we really want to strive to keep as many teams at 15 points and under,” Nichols said.
The graduation losses are allowing Newark, in spite of its recent dominance, to enter conference play with a bit of a chip on its shoulder.
“A lot of people in our conference are looking down on us this year because we graduated five seniors, four starters, so we kind of just want to exceed everybody’s expectations and how they look at us this year,” Nichols said.