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Tiger volleyball looks to end struggles

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Middle hitter Jenna Ulrich, libero Makenzie Weinman and outside hitter Madison Schwartz are roommates and four-year seniors for the Fort Hays State University volleyball team.

All three have started multiple years and earned all-conference honors. The trio has a daily opportunity to bond off the court and talk about the struggling Tigers, who are an unexpected 0-8 overall, 0-3 MIAA.

"Everybody on this team wants it so bad," Ulrich said. "We have got a lot of season, so it has definitely not slipped away, but you are definitely getting that taste of if we don't pick it up right now, it is not going to be the season that we want. We have seen glimpses of how amazing we are, and we know we can be there."

Virtually all of the returners' production has slipped from a 23-14 season in 2012, especially the seniors.

"Our seniors need to step up and be a lot more consistent," coach Kurt Kohler said.

FHSU has had some struggles at setter and a 6-2 offense this fall; last year, the Tigers ran a 5-1. Tonight, Fort Hays travels to Missouri Western State University (3-7, 1-1 MIAA) for a 7 p.m. contest in St. Joseph, Mo. Kohler labeled the year a "constant roller-coaster."

"Once we start winning some games, I think we will start winning a lot of them, but right now, we are just going through the motions," Kohler said. "We are going to have a horrible season if we don't change something."

The team opened 0-5 in Hawaii and then lost three straight conference matches. The Tigers have played just two ranked teams.

"We just didn't really come together in Hawaii as a team the way we should have," Schwartz said. "We weren't connecting very well, especially throughout the last game. We just need to pick it up as a team, work together and keep improving."

Ulrich averages 2.04 kills and 1.04 block per set with a .194 hitting percentage. Schwartz has 1.85 kills per set and is hitting .137, while Weinman averages 4.15 digs per set.

Last year, Ulrich was one of the MIAA's top players with 2.61 kills, 1.28 blocks per set and a .311 hitting percentage. Schwartz tallied 2.44 kills and Weinman had 4.50 digs.

Last Friday, Schwartz started a 3-1 loss to University of Central Oklahoma. She hit minus-.200 on 10 attempts. Freshman Haley Corkill came in and hit .120 with seven kills on 25 attempts.

On Saturday, it reversed in a 3-0 loss to Pittsburg State. Kohler benched Schwartz for the first game and started Corkill, who struggled in her first career start. Schwartz entered in the second set and led the team with a .333 average.

In addition, juniors Sam Ledy and Camille Hubert, veteran players, are hitting negative for the year. In 90 attempts this fall, Ledy and Hubert have 19 kills and 27 errors.

"How many kids on a consistent basis are hitting negative?" Kohler said. "We need to steal those jerseys from the other teams and start dressing our girls in those because as bad as we are hitting, we want them on the other side of the net, so they actually do help us. It can't continue the way that it has been going."

At setter, juniors Libby Ary and Kelsey Broadwell have ran the 6-2 offense, the only position that has changed from last year. However, there's sometimes a disconnect between setter and hitter. Kohler said Ary and Brodwell set the same three hitters every time.

"There is not a huge adjustment that should happen," Kohler said. "I believe our hitters are mentally making more out of running a 6-2 offense than what they need to. It's easy. We run it everyday in practice, so it's not like they don't see that stuff already."

However, Ulrich said there are times where she hits off two different setters.

"Just everyone is a little different," she said. "I think that also puts a little mental aspect in the game. One setter might shoot a (certain pass) a split-second faster than the other one. Personally, myself, I know that I think about my hits more than just playing."