13abc.com Joe Nugent, Sports Anchor/Reporter - email
The Owens Community College women's volleyball team will open their regular season this weekend with four matches at the Battle for the Dells in Wisconsin. Here is a preview of what to expect this year.
This year's 12-player team features an even balance of freshmen and sophomores, and head coach Sonny Lewis is excited to see what his team will show him.
"We're looking to see how we're going to do," Lewis said. "We think we're going to do pretty well. We're going to play some very tough teams, so we're looking for good effort out of our players."
So far in practice, Lewis is excited about his team's athleticism.
"We really see a lot of good athleticism out of our team, much more than we had last year," Lewis said. "The kids are able to do a lot more things. They're much more aggressive. It's just something where now they're starting to learn the game. The biggest thing is we have six freshmen coming in and right now they're adjusting to the speed of the game. Opening weekend, they'll see how much faster the game is."
The team returns six players, including captains Ciarra Wirick (Benjamin Logan/West Liberty, Ohio) and Sara Turner-Smith (Cardinal Stritch/Toledo, Ohio).
"All of our returners are going to play a big part of our team," Lewis said.
Wirick, who set for the team last year, will be the team's defensive specialist or libero while doing setting part-time. Turner-Smith will play outside and left back, while Aricka LaVoy (Eastwood/Pemberville, Ohio) will play the libero and defensive specialist positions along with Wirick.
"One thing that's going to really help us is the fact that we're going to be a very good defensive team," Lewis said.
Wirick produced 233 kills, 776 assists, 337 digs and 38 blocks as a freshman. She finished fourth on the team in kills, first in assists and second in digs. She was named First Team All-Ohio Community College Athletic Conference (OCCAC) and First Team All-Region XII.
LaVoy, who produced 290 digs last year, finished fourth on the team in that category. Turner-Smith had 128 kills, 99 digs and 26 blocks as a freshman.
The trio of Wirick, LaVoy and Jessica Cooper (Brandywine/Niles, Mich.) also produced 49, 48 and 48 service aces, respectively, last year which was 1-2-3 on the team.
Aside from those three, the team returns their second leading assist producer (665) from last year in Cooper, the team's third leading kill producer (259) from last year in outside hitter/middle blocker Stephanie Kipp (Ida/Monroe, Mich.) and outside hitter Kayla Siefker (Kalida/Ottawa, Ohio), who had 98 kills, 62 digs and 69 blocks as a freshman. Siefker's block total was third on the team.
This year's freshmen class features two players who earned First Team All-Ohio honors in middle blockers Macy Reigelsperger(Coldwater/Coldwater, Ohio) and Ally Mikesell (St. Henry/St. Henry, Ohio).
"We're bringing a lot of good talent in and a lot of good athleticism and right now they're meshing very well," Lewis said. "But again, everybody looks really good in practice. We'll see how it looks after this weekend."
Lewis returns for his 14th season with the Express, while Denny Caldwell returns for his seventh year. Aside from them, the team has brought in two new assistant coaches, including former Owens volleyball player Ellie Comes. The team's other new assistant is Alex Gbur, pronounced Gabor.
After four matches in this weekend's Battle for the Dells, the Express will open their home slate with next weekend's Owens Invitational, which will feature six matches over three days.
Following that, seven of the team's next eight matches are OCCAC matches. Later in September, the team will take part in the Parkland (Ill.) Invitational and the Grand Rapids (Mich.) Invitational.
In between the final OCCAC matches of the year in October will be the team's participation in the Rock Valley (Ill.) Invitational.
Lewis added that over the past six years, the region Owens plays in is the second toughest in the nation.
Postseason Play @ Owens
Owens Community College, who hosted the past three National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) Division II Women's Volleyball National Tournaments, is hosting a different tournament this year, the Region XII women's volleyball tournament. The region consists of two separate districts, one of which Owens plays in, and each winner will receive one of 16 berths in the 2014 NJCAA Division II National Tournament, which will be held in Phoenix, Ariz. this year.
"It should be a little bit easier for us to run, but it's going to be a very exciting tournament because you have to win to go to nationals," Lewis said.
"We're just very happy with our players so far," Lewis said. "We've done well in our scrimmages. We've shown a lot of athleticism. The girls are starting to learn the game, how we want to play, and we think we have a very good outlook for the upcoming season."
For the first time in program history, the Owens Community College sports information department is planning on live streaming all home matches for free. Once things get set next week, we'll let you know via our social media accounts below where to go to watch the games online.
Aside from OwensExpress.com, there are several places you can follow the Owens volleyball team via social media. On Facebook, you can check out photo albums and various updates by visiting www.facebook.com/awinning tradition or by searching Owens Express Athletics while on Facebook. On Twitter, our handle is @owensexpress. We also have an Instagram account, which can also be found by searching Owens Express Athletics.