MONMOUTH, Ill. – Monmouth College volleyball coach Kari Shimmin’s optimism is high for her team this fall, as eight Fighting Scots who had significant playing time last season are on her roster. Also, a key cog from the 2016 squad is back after a rehab stint last fall.
“We’ve got eight juniors and sophomores this year who gained a lot of experience last season,” reported Shimmin. “The core group has gotten older and more experienced. They’ve played together for two or three years and that familiarity helps with consistency and knowing where everyone is going to be when they’re supposed to be there. The freshmen are making a good transition into the college game and picking up on the increased speed of the game.”
One veteran player getting up to speed is senior Ali Gustafson (Kewanee, Ill./Kewanee). The 5-foot-10 outside hitter is back after missing her junior season due to injury. The high-flying Gustafson threw down nearly 200 kills as a sophomore and appears to be ready to reclaim her dominance at the net.
“Ali’s return helps with more than just at the net,” said Shimmin. “She’s a great defender and will help our team ball control. Then there’s her leadership ability. She’s a consistent player who brings a calming presence to the court. I can’t tell you how important it is to have her back in the lineup.”
Brooke Decker (Muscatine, Iowa/Muscatine) – a 6-foot middle hitter – joins Gustafson as the lone seniors on the squad. Decker slammed over 100 kills last fall and added nearly 40 blocks.
“Brooke worked extremely hard in the off season and is probably in the best shape of her life,” praised Shimmin. “We’re expecting a lot of good things from her, too.”
The Scots also have firepower in the junior class, where Ashley Farris (Flanagan, Ill./Flanagan-Cornell) and Lauren Sperry (Alexis, Ill./United) return after a season in which they were No. 1 and 3 on the Scots’ kill list.
“We’re better at the net as a group than a year ago, and a year before that,” said Shimmin. “That gets back to being a year older, stronger and more experienced. It should help, too, that Lauren will be able to settle into one hitting spot this year. She filled in at a variety of positions last year due to a rash of injuries. Ashley was a force at the net last year and we expect that great play to continue. We’re also seeing an improvement in her serves and ball control.”
Monmouth’s attack mode won’t be limited to just the junior and senior class as 6-foot sophomore Riley Cook (Dunlap, Ill./Dunlap) enters her second campaign after hitting more than 100 winners in her rookie season.
“Riley really grew into college ball last season,” reported Shimmin. “She jumps really well and plays high above the net.”
For the third straight season, serving up the attacks will be Laura Dulee (Bloomington, Ill./U-High). The junior setter delivered nearly 650 assists last season, averaging almost six assists per set. She’ll be backed up by freshman Karlie Drish (Milan, Ill./Rockridge).
“Laura is stronger than ever and in great shape, which is what a setter needs,” said Shimmin. “Her experience is something that can’t be substituted. By now she knows our hitters really well and that helps. Karlie is learning the college game is a lot faster, but she’s adjusting well. She’s eager to learn and taking our direction to run the offense.”
On the defensive side, Shimmin has a pair of liberos at her disposal: junior Carly Bergerhouse (Fulton, Ill./Fulton) and sophomore Renee Rude (Washington, Ill./Washington). Bergerhouse led the team with more than 500 digs a year ago and Rude was third (260), just behind Dulee (291).
“Carly and Renee give us that experience in the back row,” said Shimmin. “Of course, we have Ali back and she’s an excellent defender as well. We feel like we’ll be set in back row defense.”
Shimmin will also have a good stable of newcomers to work into the lineup. Outside hitters Madeline Fellhauer (Jacksonville, Ill./Routt) and Hannah Jones (Davenport, Iowa/West) are just two of the group of freshmen who could see game action sooner rather than later.
“We expect some freshmen to get court time, especially on those long tournament weekends,” said Shimmin. “We’ve really been pleased with Hannah, especially her serve and ability to play multiple positions. Madeline has a lot of potential and a very high ceiling.”
Shimmin is also counting on the team’s experience to raise the roof, and win totals, after dropping eight of the team’s 10 five-set matches a season ago.
“We just have to make sure it doesn’t go five sets,” chuckled Shimmin in response to the keys for the season. “Really, we’ve got the experience that can make the difference…and we have Ali back. When we lost her last year, we not only lost some offense, we lost a consistent, smart player and a leader on the floor. She’s back and we feel like the entire team has been reunited. They play really well together and that goes back to the familiarity they’ve built with each other over the last couple of years. That’s really important in our sport and something that may go unnoticed by the fan.
“We won’t be a one-horse show,” Shimmin continued. “We’ll need to spread the ball around for the team to be successful. Our personnel should allow us to get back to our faster, more aggressive style of play that served us well in the past.”
The Scots open the season with their home invitational on Sept. 1 and will play nearly a full month’s worth of matches before opening Midwest Conference play at home against Cornell on Sept. 26. Shimmin is expecting a change in fortunes for 2018 in order to return to the MWC playoffs.
“We need to challenge ourselves in practice and carry that into the games,” said Shimmin of the road to success. “Our team is young but very experienced and there’s no substitute for experience. Experience can help turn those five-set losses into wins. Barring injuries, which is something we battled last season, we expect to have a consistent lineup. Experience, a consistent lineup and getting Ali back are all key components for our success.”