POTSDAM -- A repeat trip to the NCAA Quarterfinals, a program-record 19-match winning streak, and a nearly unblemished mark in the Liberty League were highlights of a 36-7 season for the Clarkson University Volleyball team in 2013.
The Golden Knights lose three key members from that squad for the 2014 version of the team, but with three conference all-stars returning and a veteran-laden roster with plenty of big-game experience, the Green and Gold should be among the top programs in the region once again.
The AVCA pollsters agreed in mid-August when the team was ranked 20th in the nation in the pre-season poll, the top spot among teams in the New York Region, which isn't surprising since the team lost a total of six sets in 35 matches against regional opponents and just one in 14 matches versus conference foes. It marked the second straight year that Clarkson received a spot in the pre-season poll, and the spot is just two below where the team finished 2013.
"It's great to have earned some recognition in the league, the region and now also nationally, but we will never take that for granted," head coach Johan Dulfer said. I've been very impressed with this team's drive to continue to prove themselves. They talk about being 'hungry but humble.'"
That hunger will be evident for three seniors who have never missed an NCAA Tournament in their first few seasons as collegians. Senior Adrienne Walker (Centennial, CO), a three-time conference all-star and former Liberty League Rookie of the Year, had some of the most significant offensive performances for the Knights in 2013 and will anchor the middle of the court.
Her .359 hitting percentage ranked 29th in the country and was second in the Liberty League behind only graduated teammate Xiao Liang. Walker has also emerged when it mattered most in the past, gaining NCAA NY Regional Most Outstanding Player honors in 2012.
Fellow middle hitter Brooke Butkovsky (Monroe, CT) has been a key member of the team the past two years and has an infectious and vocal personality that has helped form the Knights into the regional juggernaut they have become. Kristen Orlandini (Fairport, NY), the final senior member of the Knights in 2014, has accumulated 586 digs and 69 service aces in her three years in the back row for Clarkson as a defensive specialist, and her steadying influence on defense has long been a key part of the Green and Gold's success.
As good as the senior class has been, the juniors have enjoyed the highest winning percentage of any two-year stretch in program history (.819 with a record of 69-14). Outside hitters Aishvina Arasu (Brea, CA) and Victoria Kirkemo (Englewood, CO) have both received plenty of all-star recognitions in their first two seasons, and the pair, as well as Walker, have their eyes on surpassing the 1,000-kill mark by the midway mark of the season. Arasu and Kirkemo have two of the four highest kills-per-set marks in the history of Clarkson Volleyball, Kirkemo is already among the active leaders in total aces thanks to the third-highest figure in all of Division III (96) in 2013.
Rightside Lauren Hutchinson (Spring, TX) has often saved her best performances for the toughest opponents, crushing 15 kills against 11th-ranked Mount Union and 14 more kills versus 15th-ranked University of Chicago, giving Clarkson yet another weapon to count on for offense. Middle hitter Danielle Farabee (Katy, TX) is an excellent blocker who also ranked in the top 10 in hitting percentage (.253) as a freshman.
Setter Kirstie Shurie (LaCanada, CA) has performed as both the quarterback of the offense and as a defensive specialist the last two years and her playmaking ability will make the offense run smoothly despite the departure of two-time AVCA All-American Lani Durio.
With such a dynamic group of upperclassmen last season, the newcomers didn't see a lot of time, but three sophomores will get the chance to show what they've got in 2014. Sierra Rhodes (Poway, CA) is a solid two-way player with a good swing from the outside, and rightside Katrina Lane (Seattle, WA) had an outstanding hitting percentage of .353 in 14 matches. With All-American Erika Chin in front of her, Hannah Jones (Lake Arrowhead, CA) didn't get a lot of time as a freshman, but she will vie for time in the back row this year.
Also competing for time as libero/defensive specialists are a pair of freshmen who have traveled far to play for the Golden Knights. Hayley Elliott (Belvidere, IL) and Evanne Jimenez (Ventura, CA) are two more players who could wear the off-colored jersey in 2014 and both are polished defenders. The final freshman in the group is Rachael Aird (East Syracuse, NY), a lanky six-footer with tons of offensive potential that could emerge as a standout sooner rather than later.
"We feel we have tremendous potential but it'll probably take some time to develop our identity," coach Dulfer said. "Losing three very important seniors means we will have to learn who we are and what our style will be. I can't wait to see this team figure that out."