POTSDAM – Last year could be summed up as a season of firsts for the Clarkson University Volleyball team.
The Golden Knights claimed their first Liberty League Championship, were selected for their first NCAA Tournament appearance, had their first-ever All-American picked, and had the best winning percentage in program history.
Though significant obstacles await in 2010, such as another difficult and challenging schedule, and question marks regarding how to replace All-Region setter Jenna Stock, as well as a dominant middle in MacKenzie Cook and a fiery back-row competitor in Davanna Chetney, the Green and Gold are ready for seconds.
Led by fifth-year head coach Johan Dulfer and second-year assistant Alesia Vaccari, the Golden Knights went 28-7 overall for an .800 winning percentage in 2009, a mark that the team would be hard-pressed to repeat even with an entirely veteran lineup. However, the coaching staff knows that last year wasn’t a “one-and-done” event, and the team should rank among the conference elite and could make another run at a second consecutive NCAA appearance if the newcomers gel quickly with the battle-tested upperclassmen.
“Obviously, the 2009 campaign was extremely successful, but our focus now is on continuing on our path to becoming a dominant volleyball program in our region,” head coach Johan Dulfer said. “No one is interested in being a one-day fly; we want to prove that Clarkson has arrived as a perennial contender.”
Contending year-in, year-out can be a difficult goal, especially in a league in which all five teams posted winning records overall, but the Knights are set up for a solid run.
An impressive mix of talent is positioned all around the court, starting with junior outside hitter Sara Artus (St. Regis Falls). Gaining AVCA All-American Honorable Mention status, Artus crushed the competition with 506 kills, easily the best figure in the Liberty League while ranking 17th in the nation.
Along with her All-American status, she gained All-Region and Liberty League First-Team All-Star status. Artus teamed with classmate Megan Mahon (Irvine, Calif.), who ranked in the top seven in the Liberty League in kills for the second consecutive season, creating a formidable one-two punch. Mahon gained all-conference status for the second straight year and came within 10 kills of having the highest two-year total in Clarkson history. The duo is poised to make a run at 1,000 career kills in only their third collegiate seasons this year, a feat that has been accomplished only once before in the program’s history.
Sophomore Courtney Haines (Crestview, Fla.), who played as an outside hitter last season, made considerable progress as the lone newcomer to the team last year and saved her best performance of the season for the NCAA Tournament, recording 12 kills. Despite playing in about 75 percent of Clarkson’s sets, she recorded 136 kills, ranking fourth on the team. Haines will likely vie for more court time in her second season, giving Clarkson ample depth up front.
Joining the three outsides in the front row are classmates Rachel Simons (Webster) and Nicole Edwards (Weiser, Idaho). Simons, an enthusiastic leader on the net, ranked second in the conference in blocks per set (0.91), while Edwards also produced 0.53 blocks per set.
A great deal of Clarkson’s success stemmed from their astounding defensive play, which began with senior back row specialists Alison Schroeder (Webster), Amanda Rankin (Horseheads), and Jessica Agnew (Queensbury). Schroeder, a two-time conference all-star, led the team with over 600 digs in a more shared role than years past.
The all-time digs leader for Clarkson with more than 2,000 already, Schroeder will certainly have company in the school’s 1,000-dig club in 2010. Amanda Rankin produced 273 digs last season and needs just three more to reach quadruple digits for her career, becoming only the third player in Clarkson history with both 1,000 digs and 1,000 assists in the process.
Utility player Jessica Agnew spent most of last year sidelined with an injury, but she has served as a valuable player in numerous spots on the court. After her first year at Clarkson, Agnew set a single-season mark for kills and also produced the second most aces in a season. If she is completely recovered from injury, her versatility will certainly be an asset for the Knights.
A key loss for the Knights is the graduation of four-year setter Jenna Stock, but the Green and Gold brought in a pair of talented freshmen setters to take the reins. Lani Durio (Austin, Texas) and Erika Chin (Katy, Texax) each ran highly successful high school and club teams and will create a new dynamic offense with plenty of options. Along with the pair of incoming setters, the Clarkson coaching staff brought in two more impressive freshmen in Holly McDaniel (Hacienda Heights, Calif.) and Kim Duck (Marcellus). McDaniel is a talented defensive specialist, while Duck is similar to Agnew in that she provides Clarkson with many options as a utility player.
Overall, the Golden Knights possess a solid mix and should compete for another conference championship.
“The majority of our offense returns from last year and everyone took a step forward in spring practice,” coach Dulfer remarked. “Add to that two setters who should be able to run a very dynamic offense at a very high level along with added ball control and versatility, and we should be able to scare a lot of teams this season.”