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Before entering her fourth season as volleyball coach at St. Catharine College, Juanita Mangan had one priority over the summer. That main order of business was to find a setter to run the new offense the Patriots will employ. That mission was accomplished but it wasn’t the only productive part of Mangan’s summer.
“I was invited to coach in Hawaii at the Club USA High School National Tournament,” said the Patriot coach. “The experience allowed me to work with some amazing kids. I was also able to spend two weeks with a coach who has three members on the Olympic team. Exchanging knowledge with him has allowed me to approach the game in a much different way from the past and that could be one of the biggest changes to our program.”
Along with finding that setter, of course. That player is Taylor Malott who comes to SCC from Boone County High School. “We had to find someone to run the 5-1 offense that we need to be competitive in the Mid-South Conference,” added Mangan. “Taylor not only has a high volleyball IQ but she also has experience playing against tough competition.”
Although half of the 16-player roster will be freshmen, and only two players are above the sophomore level, Mangan cites experience as a big plus for her team this season. “Almost every newcomer to the program has played club ball for multiple years and knows what it is like to compete at the top level. The energy they have brought to the gym is something that could not have been expected. I believe our offense has been upgraded a lot from what was on the court in the past.”
Now Mangan says her challenge is to get her team to believe that they can compete against a rigorous schedule. Last year 15 of the Patriots’ opponents were ranked in the top 25 and Mangan expects the opposition to be no easier this year. “Our freshmen are trying to learn a new offense and gain confidence,” she said. “And while our returners have worked hard to improve their skills they still have the memory of that long 2008 season. Hopefully those memories will lead to motivation.”
The Patriots looked both motivated and improved in the offseason when two Spring Quad matches resulted in victories over Brescia, Oakland City, Kentucky Wesleyan and Cincinnati Christian. Mangan is hoping that the mixture of experienced returners with talented freshmen will add up to the program’s first winning season. “Things to this point are much better than at this time last year. The returners are more comfortable on campus and know what is expected of them. They have done a great job in helping the freshmen get on board.”
Once the position of setter was secured, Mangan said the next spot to fill was that of the middle hitter. “Last year we had to move a lot of players out of their natural positions so there was never a real flow to the offense. But this year we have Kristina Brown from Richmond, Indiana to fill the middle hitter position which will allow the offense to flow much better.”
A nine-player rotation will join Brown and Malott in the Patriot lineup. Sam Gehler, a sophomore who last year was honorable mention all-conference, will be the right hitter while freshman Lauren Bowling will be a hitter on the left side. Sophomore Jordan Boyle will return as a left hitter and Brittini Schmidt, also a sophomore, will add experience at the middle hitter spot. Shay Mangan, the team’s only senior is one of three defensive specialists. She will be joined at that position by sophomore Mandy Gray and freshman Laura Ross.
The Patriots hit the court for the first time Saturday as they jump right in to Mid-South Conference action at Rio Grande University. They will not open the home season until September 7th when they host Georgetown College.