The Gustavus Adolphus College volleyball team looks to move back into the top of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference standings after missing the league playoffs in 2007 with an 18-8 overall and 6-5 conference record. Head Coach Kari Eckheart will look to two-time MIAC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Emily Klein and four-year veteran Bridget Burtzel, to lead the way for eight other letterwinners and six incoming first-year players.
Senior libero Emily Klein (Red Wing, Minn.) leads an experienced back row corps that led the MIAC in digs last season with nearly 23 digs per game. Klein became the Gusties’ all-time dig leader last season and will continue to add to her total of 1,665 digs. Andrea Smilanich (Sr., South St. Paul, Minn.) and Jenny Ewert (So., St. James, Minn.) were regular defensive specialists last season and will assist Klein in the back row this year. Junior Tara Kramer (Hayfield, Minn.) and first-year Katie Ness (Excelsior, Minn./Minnetonka) add depth to the scrappy Gustavus defense.
Another strength of Coach Eckheart’s squad is its presence in the middle. Meghan Gehring (Jr., Eau Claire, Wis.) and Britta Bolm (Sr., Alexandria, Minn.) stepped into starting roles last season and established Gustavus as the third-best blocking team in the league. Gehring developed into an all-around middle hitter that finished second on the team in kills (310) and blocks (104). Bolm finished second in the conference in blocks en route to tallying the highest Gustie single-season blocks total since 1999 at 130. Bolm and incoming player Angela Ahrendt (Shoreview, Minn./Roseville Area) could alternate playing time in the middle or on the right side, while Abby Roff (Fy., Plymouth, Minn./Osseo) adds another option on the right.
Veteran setter Bridget Burtzel (Sr., Cold Spring, Minn./ROCORI) will be called on to distribute the ball to young hitters. She amassed 1,094 assists in 2007 and needs only 219 assists to move into third place at Gustavus for career assists. Two other setters, Samantha Broderius (So., Hector, Minn.) and Malea Noennig (Fy., Norwood-Young America, Minn.), will add depth at the setter position.
The biggest challenge for Coach Eckheart is replacing standout outside hitters Andrea Kron and Jennifer Thelemann, both of whom graduated. One option includes moving Nicki Ainsworth (So., Eden Prairie, Minn.) from the right side to the left side, as she can provide hitting consistency and solid defensive play. The other outside hitting spot will go to either sophomore Janey Helland (Mapleton, Minn.) or first-year players Olivia Warren (Goodhue, Minn.) and Courtney Kelzer (Mayer, Minn.).
The schedule will test a young Gustavus team early, as it faces Division I University of North Dakota and four top 25 teams in the first month of the season including St. Thomas, Austin, Concordia, and UW-La Crosse. Tough competition will help the Gusties as they move to the second half of the season and make a push to qualify for the MIAC post-season. The Gusties kick off the 2008 season August 30-31 at the Rhodes Invitational in Memphis, Tenn.