Rookies prove young 'Dogs can learn new tricks

The major story of the tournament for Amherst was the strong play of the team’s bevy of first-years, particularly setter Sara Heller, who earned all-tournament honors by racking up an eye-popping 127 assists, 15 kills and 11 aces. First-years will occupy nearly half of the team’s roster spots this season, so their play will be critical to the Firedogs’ season. Head Coach Sue Everden was quick to voice her confidence in the youngsters, and particularly extolled their desire to improve.

“It will be a building process,” Everden said. “But I think we’ll get increasingly better with each match. This is a phenomenal group of young women and their talent will carry us.”

The team’s talent was certainly in evidence in their first three matches. On Friday, the ‘Dogs came away with a victory over the Westfield State Owls in straight games-30-17, 30-16 and 30-17. Later that night, the women went on to defeat Plymouth State, 30-27, 32-30, 30-22. The strong play continued on Saturday, as the Firedogs beat Framingham State in a similar fashion, 30-11, 30-19, 30-15.

In the finals of the tournament the Firedogs faced a rematch against the same Plymouth State team Amherst had defeated in straight games just 24 hours earlier. The team’s inexperience seemed to catch up with them a bit, however, as Amherst struggled to match its earlier performance. Heller did manage a stellar 47 assists in the final, while the trio of middle/outside hitter Kristin Quinn ’07, outside hitter Whitney Kouvaris ’08 and outside hitter Jaclyn DeMais ’08 combined to tally 46 kills. The squad fell short nonetheless, losing 3-1, 30-25, 30-26, 15-30, 30-28.

The Firedogs are not discouraged however, as they realize that due to their inexperience, it will take some time to develop the chemistry and teamwork that are essential in volleyball.

“What was really exciting was that we didn’t come out with nothing to work on,” said Everden. “We’re a very young team.”

Fortunately, the younger players will be able to look to the strong leadership of senior tri-captains outside hitter Natalie Soud, middle/outside hitter Sara Bruggeman and defensive specialist Kate Raddock, as well as several experienced upperclassmen, to help them become more comfortable on the court as they begin to find their niche on the team.

Middle hitter Claire Holton-Basaldua ’09 agreed that the team’s cohesion is a key element to its success. “This team looks really promising, and I hope we can continue to play well together as a team and get even closer and even better as the season progresses,” she said.

The ‘Dogs will face a major challenge this week with only two days of practice between their last game and their face-off with Keene State College at 7 p.m. tonight in LeFrak Gymnasium. Everden expressed more anticipation, however, about this weekend, when the team plays Bowdoin and Colby Colleges at the NESCAC Quad Meet hosted by Colby.

“This weekend is the first major road trip,” said Everden. “These are the first big conference games that count, and it will be interesting to see how the younger players react to the pressure.”

Everden is confident that her young team will continue the Firedog tradition of strong in-conference performance; the team has advanced to at least the NESCAC semifinals since 1997.

“I think we’ll be like we have been for the past 12 years,” said Everden. “I think we’ll be in serious contention for the NESCAC Championship title.”