The 2011 season proved to be one for the record books for Spring Hill College volleyball as Head Coach Dr. Peggy Martin directed the Badgers to the NAIA National Championship Tournament's Pool Play Round for the first time in school history. The Badgers also captured their second consecutive Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) West Division crown and set a school-record 38-match winning streak to cap a 40-3 overall record. As a result, the Badgers enter 2012 ranked at No. 12 in the NAIA Preseason Ratings, but Martin approaches the season in a pragmatic manner, "Although we are pleased to be ranked so high by the conference and national polls, our players know that it's a ranking based on last year and we need to make our own history with this team," Martin says.
Losing NAIA All-America right side hitter Yiting Cao and outside hitters Abbey Roam and Sarah Stacey along with middle blockers Holly Shultis and Cassandra Marchand-Stewart to graduation will be a major challenge for this team to overcome, but Martin is confident that honorable mention All-America junior setter Taryn Nash of Independence, Mo., is the right player to step into the team's leadership role. "We are blessed to have a terrific leader in the setter's position," she says. "Taryn is a smart player who is very competitive and controls the offense very well."
Junior middle hitter Sha Sha Buchanan of Mobile's McGill-Toolen Catholic High School and sophomore outside hitter Megan Haber of Lillian, Ala., are also returning to the Badger offense. "We will ask them to carry a lot of the load of our offense this year," says Martin. "Sha Sha will be a three-year starter and Megan is our most versatile player who can play all three front row positions and could be a six-rotation player for us. She is our best all-around athlete and will contribute with both her hitting and her blocking."
The early practices have seen the right side position vacated by Cao develop into a battle between sophomore Maddie LaForge of New Orleans, La., and freshman Savannah Becnel of Metairie, La. "Maddie is really a utility gem for us," says Martin. "She can set and play outside as well as being one of our best servers."
On defense, junior libero Meredith Donald of McGill-Toolen is also back. "Meredith is a good volleyball player and is the leader of our defense," says Martin.
Martin knows that the majority of her team is very young and inexperienced. "I don't believe I have ever had a team with no seniors before," she says. "We definitely need our underclassmen to accept their roles quickly and support the leadership we have." Sophomore outside hitter Sami Maurer and redshirt freshman middle hitter Sami Hantak both from St. Louis, Mo., are two young players that Martin sees playing big roles this year. "Maurer will start on the outside," she says. "She is an extremely good ball handler and has a high volleyball IQ. Hantek also has been a very pleasant surprise with her improvement. Her hard work has paid off and she will start in the middle and play some on the right side."
Freshmen defensive specialists Abby Allard of Belleville, Ill., and Mallory Raulerson will be key reserves as their back row play improves. "Another freshman, Taylor Lahasky of New Iberia, La., has shown promise on the back row while freshman outside hitter Ginny Hicks of Salt Lake City, Utah, will help as her game becomes more consistent," says Martin. "Freshman defensive specialist Brianne Nelson of New Orleans is learning our system and is also very competitive." Freshman Jalen Jones of Baton Rouge, La., has been learning a new position on the right side and will contribute in the middle.
"Obviously, we are young," Martin says. "We're trying to bond seven new players with seven returning players, but I have been very encouraged by the overall hard work this team has put in during the preseason both on and off the court. The lofty preseason ranking will challenge this young team even more with the proverbial ‘target on the back,' but from what I have seen this is a gutsy team that will look forward to those challenges."
The Badgers will open the 2012 season with a home doubleheader on Friday at the Arthur R. Outlaw Recreation Center versus Milligan College at 4 p.m. and Southeastern University (Fla.) at 7 p.m.