As sensational as last year was — a school-record 21 victories plus a first-round KCAC Postseason Tournament triumph — it’s time for McPherson College’s volleyball team to move on and create new memories.
Jessica Cleveland was the architect of last year’s amazing turnaround in just her first year as head coach, so she immediately set the bar high for the program. While she must replace a deep-and-talented senior class, she has some quality returning talent and has added some impact newcomers.
Cleveland put the Bulldogs through an intrasquad scrimmage on Saturday at the Sport Center and with the depth of the team, it was no surprise it took five sets to determine a winner.
“The girls came out right away willing to work,” said Cleveland, whose team is picked to finish sixth in the 12-team KCAC. “There were lots of long rallies and hustle plays. Playing best-of-5, we went to five sets. All games were close in points, which shows that my team is competitive regardless who it’s playing. This is comforting as a coach to have depth and confident players.”
The scrimmage capped an extensive first week of practice as Cleveland is preparing her team for the long season.
“The first week was impressive,” she said. “They all passed their fitness test and conditioned over the weekend. Starting Monday, we did 3-a-days that involved middle school volleyball camp, conditioning and regular team practice. It was encouraging to see them mentally work through being sore. I really felt they gave it their all until completely depleted at the end of the day every day. As a seventh-year head coach (overall) this has been by far the easiest and most-smooth preseason I have had. With 11 out of 23 being new, it's always a risk of what the team might look like and the freshmen have come in overly impressive and here to play.”
Cleveland said, as expected, there have been some players who have caught her attention with their play.
“Lexi Kite, our returning first-team and preseason first-team KCAC selection, has done a great job of leading both on and off the court,” Cleveland said. “Junior Leia Seiler really excelled last spring season and she is bringing that to the gym to be our other outside hitter. The freshmen Bradbury twins (Reven and Riley) from Colorado stepped in and raised the level of play in the gym to a new high standard. Our only returning starting freshmen last year, Kaitlyn Heinis, is continuing to lead the offense as a sophomore.”
The Bulldogs head to Missouri this weekend to begin their season with three matches.
“We are ready to test our skill,” Cleveland said. “We are a young varsity team with potentially one senior, four juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen. We are dominate at practice and I'm excited to see how the young talent can translate that into real-pressure game situation. We will get to test our talent in Missouri next weekend and then open up conference against Sterling College on August 30.”