Firedogs set to dig, spike, kill their NESCAC competition

Of course, players lost to graduation always affect the team, but the Firedogs are determined to adapt to the roster changes quickly. The toughest shoes to fill will be those of setter Annie Hoeksma ’05. Hoeksma ran the team’s offense for three years and had 3,507 career assists and earned All-NESCAC honors three times. “We will have a new setter, which will change the pace of the team and the dynamic as well,” said tri-captain outside hitter Kate Raddock ’06. It is uncertain who will assume Hoeksma’s role. For at least the beginning of the season, several different players will get a chance to set.

Meanwhile, it will be up to senior tri-captains outside hitter Natalie Soud, middle hitter Sara Bruggeman and Raddock to step up and lead the team. Soud has been a solid contributor to the team throughout her career, and Bruggeman has been a consistent force with 144 kills and 61 blocks last season. Raddock paced the team last season with 342 digs on the defensive end.

While the Firedogs have lost some great talent due to the graduation of Hoeksma and her classmates, Amherst returns many outstanding juniors in addition to the tri-captains. Most notably, outside hitter Kristin Quinn ’07, who received First Team All-NESCAC honors last season and NESCAC Rookie of the Year accolades as a first-year, will continue to play a key offensive role for the Firedogs. She led the NESCAC and the team with 1.44 blocks per game and a hitting percentage of 0.426 last season. Quinn’s 3.73 kills per game in 2004 was good enough for eighth in the NESCAC. Outside hitter Megan Ingraham ’07 will help out offensively as well. Junior liberos Laura Golden and Mikela Yarawamai will be defensive players and will likely fill the role of setter for many games.

Many Firedogs will be returning to the court with the benefits of their first year of college play under their belts. As a rookie, outside hitter Jaclyn DeMais ’08 accumulated 224 kills, averaging 2.95 per game, right behind Quinn. Libero and outside hitter Julie Berkley ’08 racked up an impressive 298 digs in her debut season. In addition, outside hitter Sara Nelson ’08 and libero Robyn Pront ’08 will also look to make an impact on the court this season.

Completing this year’s roster will be seven new players. With six rookie first-years and a sophomore transfer from New York University, the team’s depth should help it succeed. Two of these new players are setters and will likely have opportunities to show their skills as the team tries to fill that crucial position.

The Firedogs made their 12th consecutive appearance in the NESCAC Championship Tournament last year. They entered the postseason seeded third in the tournament, where they blanked the sixth-seeded Bates College Bobcats, 3-0, but suffered a heart-breaking 3-2 loss at the hands of the Tufts University Jumbos in the semifinals. The Firedogs hope to improve on last season’s stellar overall record with the ultimate goal of winning the NESCAC Championships this year. “It would be amazing to win NESCACs,” said Raddock. “I personally would like that to be a goal.” How close to that goal the Firedogs will get this season will depend greatly on the leadership ability of the captains and cohesiveness of the new team. “Expectations are high in terms of attitude and hustle, which easily can make or break any volleyball team,” added Raddock. Overall, with many experienced returnees and several promising first-years, the Firedogs have every reason to be fired up for this season.

Amherst has breezed through its early season schedule in recent seasons. Last year the Firedogs won 11 straight matches and were 17-2 going into mid-October. This year should be no exception. The Firedogs will start their season with a trip to the Western New England College Invitational next Friday, Sept. 9. Their first home match will be played against Keene State University on Sept. 14 in LeFrak Gymnasium at 7 p.m.