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Cougar coach excited for 2009 volleyball season

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Sometimes numbers do lie, and in the case of the University of Minnesota, Morris volleyball team, they obscure what looks to be a much improved team this season.

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In 2008, the volleyball team went 9-17 overall with a 4-10 conference record, good for sixth place in the UMAC, up from a 7-25 campaign the year before. What those figures don't tell you is that the team went to five sets nine times during the year, including a valiant loss to Northwestern College, who was the eventual UMAC champ. UMM was the only conference team to take Northwestern to five sets.

Hidden figures like that give second-year head coach Chad Braegelmann a great deal of excitement for the coming year. With long-time UMM coach, Heather Pennie, at his side, Braegelmann welcomes a training camp with seven returning players, nine freshmen, and three junior college transfers.

Seven, nine and three. When it comes to team sports, numbers like that pose many questions. Braegelmann and Pennie anticipate the answers.

"It will be a very different dynamic this year with so much turnover and so many new faces on the team," they say. "What's the culture in the gym going to be? How willing will they be to work hard and accept change? We need to know if players are willing to accept new roles for the greater good of the team."

With camp opening Monday, they'll soon have their answers.

Key Returners

The Cougars will look to seven returners to provide leadership during the 2009 season.

Versatile sophomore Natalie Thomas played setter and outside hitter for the Cougars in 2008, but Braegelmann says she'll spend more time as a setter this season, which should help her consistency of play. Thomas, the leading returning hitter from 2008, ranked third on the team in kills (123) with a 91 percent serve.

Setting duties will also land on the shoulders of UMAC academic all-conference player Sam Pfannenstein, who led the team with 679 sets last year, averaging 7.15 per game. Pfannenstein, who played in all 95 games last year, sets mostly in a 6-2 offense but is also effective in a 5-1.

"Sam's very consistent. She does all the little things we need on the court. She has a steady demeanor, good defense and an aggressive serve," Braegelmann said.

Minnewaska native, Shannon Bosek, returns for a second year where she'll resume duties on the front line. The 5-foot, 10-inch Bosek played 76 games in her first year for the Cougars, recording 84 kills, good for hitting .141. This season, Braegelmann says, Bosek may move to the right side, which he hopes will improve her versatility and attacking.

Junior Lacey Albers started at middle hitter every game during the 2008 season. Braegelmann says the 5-11 front liner had a great spring, improving her offense by mixing up her shots and changing up speeds. Albers recorded 95 kills last season and led the team in blocks with 42.

Tanya Marthaler from Osakis showed tremendous versatility last season, according to Braegelmann, playing multiple positions on the court. This season, Marthaler will also see action at different spots and may get more time in the front where she can use the improved topspin of her attacking shots.

Playing libero, Colleen Hermes is the emotional leader of the team--talkative, intense and aggressive on the court.

"Colleen is our best defensive player," says Braegelmann. "She has very high expectations for herself and her teammates."

In 2008, the 5-3 Hermes led the team in digs (348), good for a 3.74 per game average. The junior from White Bear Lake also recorded a team-high 31 service aces.

During spring workouts, junior Malinda Prisinger worked at many positions. Braegelmann says her versatility as a blocker and smart offensive player make it difficult to confine to one position. However, in 2009, the 5-6 junior from Milbank, S.D. will contribute mostly from the front row as a middle or outside hitter.

Schedule

Many coaches believe you can only improve by improving the caliber of your competition.

The Cougars open their non-conference schedule against Macalester from the MIAC, which Braegelmann calls "one of the best division three conferences in the country."

Two weeks later, the Cougar volleyball team travels to the St. Benedict tournament which will feature four additional MIAC opponents (Hamline, St. Kate's, St. Olaf's, and St. Benedict's).

In between, UMM will play in the Wisconsin Lutheran tournament and take on some NAIA schools (Valley City State, York College, Mount Marty College).

Conference play begins mid-September as the Cougars host 2008 conference champion Northwestern.

The UMAC conference tournament rounds out the year during the first two weeks of November.

Impact recruits

Braegelmann and Pennie worked tirelessly in the off-season to find recruits who could begin playing right away.

Providing a wealth of experience for the 2009 class are three junior college transfers: Lindsey Jacobson, Jordan Olerud, and Megan Theis.

Jacobson, a 5-7 opposite hitter, has been in five-straight state tournaments for volleyball. She was an All-Region and Northern All-Division player for Hibbing High. She also helped Hibbing Community College to the NJCAA DIII 2008 National Tournament and a third-place finish.

Olerud is a 5-8 outside hitter who helped lead Ridgewater Community College to back-to-back runner-up finishes at the NJCAA DIII National Championships. She was also a two-time All-Conference performer for Redwood Falls High School.

The 5-11 Theis plays middle hitter and led the North Dakota State College of Science Wildcats in hitting efficiency during her sophomore year and during her sophomore season she helped her team reach the national tournament. At Shakopee High School, Theis was a two-time All-Conference performer.

"We are ecstatic to bring in this strong group of junior college transfers," says Braegelmann. "We get some much needed depth and experience in the front row with this group. All three of these women are very talented players and will get a chance to get on the court and exhibit their volleyball skills and experience."

A fourth transfer, Jennifer Bissell, came to UMM for spring semester 2008. She has already taken part in spring practices with the team. Braegelmann says Bissell could play either libero or outside hitter this season.

Several freshmen may contribute right away. Michele Hanson (DS/libero; Benson), Justine Banken (middle; Breckenridge), Stephanie Schmiesing (middle; Melrose), and the Humphrey twins (Brita and Allie; OH/M; Minnetonka) all figure to see significant minutes in 2009.

The volleyball team kicks off its season at home against Macalester on Sept. 2 at the P.E. Center in Morris at 7 p.m.

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