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August 22, 20132013 VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW: LOFTY EXPECTATIONS NOTHING NEW FOR LADY DRAGONS
It's hard to believe, but it has indeed been 10 years since Hutchinson Community College burst onto the national junior college volleyball scene.
Ten years ago, the Lady Dragons produced a memorable and dazzling 43-1 season that ended 21 years of misery against rival Barton, that saw HCC win its first Jayhawk West and Region VI crowns and finish fifth in their first NJCAA National Tournament.
From that point, Lady Dragon volleyball joined its HCC men's and women's basketball, football and baseball counterparts as a program with dizzyingly high levels of expectation.
Now some 241 victories, five Jayhawk West and six Region VI championships later, nothing has changed for HCC volleyball.
The 2013 Lady Dragons are picked to win the Jayhawk West and open No. 11 in the NJCAA Division I volleyball poll this season. Hutchinson begins the new season on Friday and Saturday at the New Mexico Military Classic in Roswell, N.M., opening with Eastern Arizona College in its first match at 11:30 a.m. CT.
"I'm sure expectations are a little higher, as they should be," second-year head coach Patrick Hall said. "That's what happens when you come to a place like Hutch. That's part of being here.
"Unlike any other school in this conference, every single person circles their calendars for the day they play Hutch. You have to relish that and accept the challenges that come with it."
The Lady Dragons return four players, all who played roles, from last year's team that finished 28-10 overall and went 1-2 in the NJCAA Tournament last season.
Leading the way for Hutchinson is returning second-team All-American outside hitter Teresa Wade (5-foot-11, St. John, KS), who was the Jayhawk West Player and Freshman of the Year last season. Last season, Wade became only the sixth player - just the second freshman - in HCC volleyball history to have at least 400 kills (414) in a season. Her 3.00 kills/set mark was 10th best in a season.
Sophomore libero Samantha Lackey (5-3, San Antonio, Texas) posted the second-most digs in a season in 2012. The first-team libero had 624 digs and is one of only seven Lady Dragons to average four or more digs per set (4.33).
"It was really exciting to be part of (winning Region VI)," Lackey said. "We're looking forward to making it better than last season."
Sophomore middle hitter Megan Heier (5-10, Grainfield, KS) returns. She averaged 1.22 kills per set and hit .252 as a freshman. Heier was second in 2012 in blocking with 112 (0.90 blocks/set). Heier returns from injury last season. She missed the NJCAA Tournament with her injury.
The fourth returning sophomore is right-side hitter Mariah Dickson (5-10, Lawrence, KS). She averaged 1.11 kills and hit .151. Dickson averaged 0.39 blocks per set.
"T, Sam, Meg and Mariah all played a lot, and that experience will be huge for us early in the season," Hall said of his returning players. "(Teresa) is looking better than ever. Her game has improved and we'll expect a lot from her this season."
The 2013 Lady Dragons look to be a better, deeper offensive team. As a team, the 2012 Lady Dragons hit .223 as a team and averaged less than 12 kills per set. HCC hit .300 or better in only 11 of 38 matches last season.
Defensively at the net, the Lady Dragons averaged 2.35 blocks per set in an area of the game where they were most inconsistent last season. Hutchinson was stellar in the back row last season with an average of 13.46 digs per set. Because of that defense, Hutchinson had a knack of winning its share of long rallies.
Hall adds one transfer and nine freshmen to the mix in 2013.
The transfer is Serbian native Dragana Micic, a 5-9 outside hitter who played at Panola College last season. With Panola, Micic in 89 sets played, averaged 0.92 kills, 0.88 digs and 0.34 blocks per set while hitting .223 on 83 kills.
After having a pair of sophomores at setter during his first season at Hutchinson, Hall will have a pair of freshmen setters in 2013. Alex Keller is a 5-10 freshman from Basel, Switzerland. Paige Weidner is a 5-10 setter from Ottawa. Both will also see time getting swings on the right side as well.
First-year players on the outside are Hannah Doll (5-9, Salina Sacred Heart) and Antjelica Pfannenstiel (5-10, Wilson). In the middle will be Hugoton native Nicole Kinser (6-2) and Kawehi Granito-Wallace (5-8, Hilo, Hawaii), who can also swing from the outside.
As good as the 2012 Lady Dragon back row was, the 2013 version could be even better with Lackey, Serbian native Minja Rankov (5-7) and freshman Rachel Griffitt (5-4, Wamego).
"We could be a really strong team," Heier said. "We're rough right now, but Coach Hall is great working with us. We could be a top-eight team at the national tournament for sure."
The 2013 Lady Dragons will be tested in big ways through the first two weeks of the season.
After four matches against Eastern Arizona, Yavapai, Frank Phillips College and Pima this weekend, the Lady Dragons open the home and Jayhawk West season on Wednesday with Barton in a rematch of two memorable Region VI matches, including a five-set championship showdown. One week later, the Lady Dragons travel to Colby and then head to Twin Falls, Idaho, to play No. 3 College of Southern Idaho, No. 6 Salt Lake, North Idaho College and Snow College at the CSI Invitational.
+ KJCCC West Predicted Order of Finish - The Jayhawk Conference office released its Jayhawk West predicted order of finish on Friday. The poll is voted on by the league's eight head coaches.
Hutchinson was picked to finish first, followed by Seward County, Colby, Barton, Dodge City, Cloud County, Pratt and Garden City.
+ Notable - The Lady Dragons will meet No. 12 Redlands, Jefferson College, Seminole State and Frank Phillips at its home classic on Sept. 20-21 at the Sports Arena. Samantha Lackey needs only 75 digs to join the Lady Dragon career top 10 in that category. Ashton Thomas (2002-03) is currently 10th with 699 digs .... Lackey and career leader Mariana Blum are the only two players in team history to average for or more digs per set for a career. Blum averaged 4.63 digs per set. Lackey enters her sophomore season averaging 4.33 digs per set.