Tiger volleyball picked 10th in MIAA
By AUSTIN COLBERT
By AUSTIN COLBERT
Fort Hays State University volleyball coach Kurt Kohler gave his team a vote of confidence on Wednesday as part of the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association Virtual Media Day.
Despite being picked to finish 10th in the 12-team conference, Kohler's words echoed that of a coach with expectations much higher.
"I think this season is going to be a great one for us," said Kohler, who is entering his sixth season at Fort Hays. "They've just recently come back on to campus and they are very excited. I think they spent a lot of time working out this summer. I think we are going to be a team that is much improved from what we were last year."
The Tigers are coming off a disappointing 14-19 campaign in 2013, one that included a 3-13 record in the MIAA, good for 11th place. They have 12 returners from last year's group, led by honorable mention All-MIAA selections Mallory Flagor, a junior, and senior Taylor Mares.
Other key returners expected to contribute heavily this season include outside hitters Sara Hewson, a senior, and sophomore Haley Corkill, sophomores Rebekah Spainhour and Rachel Szczepanski in the middle. Sophomore Raegan Vanderplas and senior Libby Ary return at setter.
FHSU is looking to replace three key seniors from last year's team: middle hitter Jenna Ulrich, outside hitter Madison Schwartz and libero Makenzie Weinman.
"We are in an unusual situation in that our two returning all-conference players are both right-side hitters, and you don't see that a lot with teams around the country," said Kohler about Mares and Flagor.
"It's going to be interesting to see how we can cater our offense to utilize them a whole lot more this year, as well as taking advantage of some good middles and outside hitters that we added to our roster. I'm hoping that our offense is a little more diverse than it was."
The Tigers received 38 points in the preseason MIAA coaches' poll, ahead of only Missouri Southern and Southwest Baptist.
Reigning MIAA champion Central Missouri was picked to finish atop the conference yet again, receiving six of the 12 first-place votes, four going to Washburn, which is second in the preseason ranking.
Third-place Nebraska-Kearney received the final two first-place votes and is followed by Central Oklahoma, Emporia State, Missouri Western, Pittsburg State, Northwest Missouri and Lindenwood to round out the poll.
FHSU begins its season Sept. 5 at the Henderson State Tournament in Arkadelphia, Ark., against McMurry University and Southeastern Oklahoma State. The Tigers' home opener is Sept. 19 against Missouri Southern, part of a new 22-match conference schedule, up from 16 in previous seasons.
"This may be the toughest conference in the country. Easily the toughest region in the country that we compete in," Kohler said.
"I think our kids are ready for it. We got a good group of veteran players who understand the competition in the MIAA. I think their talent and their experience are going to help guide us this year."