SKYHAWK VOLLEYBALL EQUIPPED TO RISE UPWARDS IN 2016
August 23, 2016
MARTIN, Tenn. – When rebuilding an athletic program from the ground up, trust is often one of the most prevailing themes. Even the most talented roster cannot succeed in the long run without the trust and respect from its coaches and teammates.
Second-year University of Tennessee at Martin head volleyball coach Jaclynn Yocum believes the Skyhawks will soon thrive due in large part to a rejuvenated product that will take the floor in 2016.
“There is no doubt you will see a very different team this year,” said Yocum, whose Skyhawk squad finished just one win out of the Ohio Valley Conference tournament picture in 2015. “We met some resistance last season as we tried to change the culture and turn around a program that had not won in years. This year, we have a lot of new faces and they’re all pulling in the same direction. It’s exciting to have a gym full of girls who are willing to learn and show up ready to work.”
A key ingredient to UT Martin’s potential success this season was the team’s development this spring, which was the first time that Yocum has been able to implement her own conditioning program.
“We’ve been able to make up some ground in the last year and it has been exciting to get players here who enhance our vision for our volleyball program,” Yocum said. “This spring was critical with the returning players – not just from a skills standpoint but we were able to use the time to build better relationships. We are fortunate to have a group of unselfish players whose sole focus this season is on the entirety of the team.”
Yocum believes that the strength of the 2016 Skyhawks will be their ball control and the team’s stingy competitiveness.
“We know we’re not going to be the biggest team on the floor so it’s very important for us to be able to handle the ball better than our opponents,” Yocum said. “Our on- and off-the-court team chemistry has developed in a short period of time and I’m anxious to see that chemistry continue to grow.”
UT Martin will look for leadership from its three seniors in 2016, as the trio of Madison Wessling, Colleen Larson and Alisha Erves are all four-year members of the program. Wessling and Larson each saw time in all 125 sets last season while Erves has logged 75 career starts during her Skyhawk career.
Wessling is coming off a junior campaign where she spiked down 310 kills, upping her career total to 693. The outside hitter out of Louisville, Ky. also amassed 205 digs last season after scooping 152 combined digs in her first two seasons. She stepped up big down the stretch in 2015 with seven double-doubles in the final 11 matches of the year against OVC foes.
“Madison is the type of player that every coach wants on her team,” Yocum said. “Her experience and leadership will provide our team with both a calm and consistent strength on the court, both offensively and defensively.”
A libero/defensive specialist, Larson paced the Skyhawks in service aces (25) while also ranking second on the squad with 290 digs last year. The Naperville, Ill. native has tallied 758 digs in her three seasons at UT Martin.
“Simply put, Colleen gets the job done,” Yocum said. “She is confident in her skill set and very rarely do you see her get rattled. She, too, will bring leadership and experience to the court and we expect to see her use these strengths to help keep our players comfortable in tough situations.”
Erves has been limited during fall camp because of a nagging injury but her career production speaks for itself. The middle blocker from Tyrone, Ga. has swatted away 185 blocks in 83 matches as a Skyhawk.
“Alisha is still battling through an injury from last season but there is no denying her athleticism,” Yocum said. “She has the ability to be a dominant force for us offensively if she continues to improve her consistency.”
Rachel Noffsinger, Jamie Scherb and Sarah Shaw make up the remaining returners for UT Martin. Noffsinger enters her junior season after showing flashes of brilliance at middle blocker in 2015. Scherb (217 digs in all 125 sets last year) and Shaw (eight sets played last year) are sophomores who will push for expanded roles this fall.
“Rachel found her voice this year and is becoming a better leader and one of our best communicators,” Yocum said. “She has a strong work ethic and continues to establish a strong level of trust among her teammates through her on-court presence. Jamie is one of our most aggressive servers and is a very vocal defender in the backcourt. She had a lot of floor time as a freshman and we will look to use that experience in a couple different positions this season. Sarah is the best natural athlete we have on the team and it was obvious she worked hard all summer to come into preseason in tip top shape. She brings a much calmer demeanor to the court this season and will be a force at the net both offensively and defensively.”
Four of the team’s six newcomers join UT Martin out of the junior college ranks and are expected to vie for a spot in the starting lineup.
Jemima Idemudia was a first team All-American at Scottsdale Community College after leading her conference in hitting percentage (.372) and blocks per set (1.42) in 2015. She will be joined at middle blocker by Macy Reigelsperger, who was her conference’s Player of the Year after ranking first in the nation with 758.5 points (including 623 kills last year).
“Jemima has the ability to be one of the strongest middles in the conference if she continues to work hard to improve her blocking and her connection offensively,” Yocum said. “She plays higher than anyone else we have in the gym and will be a fun player to watch. Macy has impressive physicality and I have no doubt she will become a dominant six-rotation player. She is a great team player and is no stranger to handling high-pressure situations.”
Yocum also added a pair of impact juniors from Parkland College, who went 57-0 en route to the NJCAA Division-II national championship last season. Kelly Lean will take over setting duties for the Skyhawks after handing out 578 assists in a 6-2 Parkland offense that offered co-setters. Hayley Gray also joins UT Martin after dialing up a .291 hitting percentage and 98 blocks as a right side hitter at Parkland in 2015.
“We will lean heavily on Kelly this year for on-court leadership,” Yocum said. “She has commanded the court from Day One and has worked to develop a connection and trust with her teammates, which is imperative for our team chemistry. Hayley is the smartest player in the gym – she consistently finds a way to score and makes great reads defensively at the net blocking. Both of those players know how to win and that is invaluable.”
Two players will also contend for playing time as true freshmen, as libero/defensive specialist Macy Catlett and outside hitter Hannah Phillips look to make an impact in 2016. Catlett amassed over 1,000 digs over her final three seasons at Westminster Christian (Mo.) High School while Phillips slammed down 1,000 career kills and was conference Player of the Year at Westfall (Ohio) High School.
“Macy is the quickest girl in the gym,” Yocum said. “We’re working to find her voice on the court but her speed allows her to cover a lot of court space and pursue balls others cannot get to. Hannah is very coachable and eager to learn – we have already seen a lot of development in her skills and her volleyball IQ since she stepped on campus. She posts a strong block and continually embraces the challenges we throw her way as we’re currently cross training her in multiple positions offensively.”
Yocum believes the solid blend of veterans and newcomers will lead to a vast improvement in the year-end OVC standings.
“I’m pleased with this team’s determination to improve every time we step in the gym,” Yocum said. “We have a lot of room for improvement in every aspect of our game but there is not a doubt in my mind this group will doggedly work and that each player on this roster will make a positive impact this season. I love their attitude and it’s exciting to watch them compete.”