First-year coach sees promise in AU women’s volleyball team
ALFRED, NY — First-year Alfred University volleyball coach Elaina Braun knows success as a player, having earned junior college All-American honors after helping lead Alfred State College to a fifth-place finish at the 2007 NJCAA championships. She sees a lot of promise in a veteran AU team that returns all but one letterwinner from a team that went 8-17 in 2011 (1-6 Empire 8).
“It’s very exciting,” Braun said as she prepared for her team to open its 2012 campaign. Her team has but two seniors, but with five juniors who have started since their freshman year, is a seasoned group. “They have knowledge of the game that comes from experience. They have a desire to improve and a desire to succeed. They’re very coachable and willing to do whatever it takes to get better.”
Braun said her task entering the preseason was to establish a faster-paced offense that utilizes the back row in the attack. “We’ve been emphasizing discipline on defense, and they’ve really worked hard at that,” she said. “Our passers are working really hard; our hitters are hitting smarter; and our setters are working hard as well.”
AU has five returning starters, all juniors, from a season ago. Junior outside hitter Chelsea Hall (Grand Island, NY/Grand Island) earned Empire 8 honorable mention in 2011, becoming the Saxons’ first conference all-star in six years. She led the team in kills (238) and service aces (38). “She’s been working hard at finding the block and hitting around it. Her swing is getting way more consistent and she’s getting smarter with it,” Braun said.
Junior outside hitter Paige Jensen (Weiser, ID/Weiser) (190 kills, 49 blocks) has gotten stronger, Braun said, and has worked hard to improve the timing of her swing. “I see her right there with Chelsea as a leading hitter on this team.”
Junior middle hitter Samantha Wood (Newfield, NY/Newfield) led the team in blocks (119) and added 108 kills and 96 digs as a sophomore. “I’m very excited with Samantha,” Braun said. “She can really jump. If a setter finds her, she can put it away. She’s very effective hitting and blocking.”
Other players competing for time up front include junior Kelsey Brand (Elmira, NY/Elmira Free Academy), who had 81 blocks (second on the team in 2011) to go with 88 digs and 107 kills.
Junior Janelle Gallipeau (Rochester, NY/Greece Olympia) started last season and led the team in assists (559) and added 142 digs (fourth on the team). She’ll see plenty of time this year but will be joined in the rotation by junior Tara Barone (Derby, NY/Lake Shore), with whom Gallipeau split time their freshman season of 2010.
“With both, we’ve been teaching going back to basics, emphasizing accuracy and consistency and working in a faster tempo. Both have been effective in adapting to it,” Braun said. “The setter is like the quarterback of our team; they run the offence. Both have jumped leaps and bounds since day one of the preseason.”
Four players ?? junior Brittany Anselment (Baldwinsville, NY/C.W. Baker), sophomore Taylor Kiernan (Patchogue, NY/Patchogue-Medford) and seniors Kellie Hughson (Albion, NY/Charles D’Amico) and Jennifer Miranda (Bronx, NY/Academy of Letters) – will compete for time at libero/defensive specialist. Anselment led the team in digs with 323 and Kiernan had 121. Miranda had 54, while Hughson rejoins the team after taking last season off.
“They’re all competing for that job. They’re all very good passers and they play solid defense,” Braun said. “Right now (in the preseason) they’re all doing so well. (The starter at that position) could change from match to match.”
Juniors Kelly Bly (Waterford, NY/Mechanicville) and Jackie Tomisman (Niskayuna, NY/Niskayuna) will compete for time as right side hitters. “When one of our setters subs out, a right side will come in,” Braun said. “(Bly) is a lefty, which gives her some advantages. She has a very strong swing. (Tomisman) is strong as well and puts up a good block. Both need to work on their consistency, but they’re working really hard and doing a good job.”
Sophomore Laura Brennan (Mansfield, PA/Mansfield) will look to see time, primarily as a right side hitter, although she can play in the middle. Junior Lisa Fyvie (Scotia, NY/Scotia-Glenville) adds depth as a defensive specialist.
A pair of newcomers joins the team: freshman outside hitter Brianna Dudick (Somers, NY/Somers) and sophomore defensive specialist/outside hitter Emily Rechin (Silver Creek, NY/Silver Creek). Both provide depth at their respective positions.
Braun said her team’s goals coming into the season include reversing close losses from a season ago. “We want to beat the teams we lost to in five (games) last year and beat the teams we go to five games this year. We want to finish over .500 and most of all give every team in our conference a fight.”
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