Ready for a new season

Fredonia State women’s volleyball had a large freshmen class in 2012. Yet it would be inaccurate to say they had a rebuilding season.

More accurately, the youthful Blue Devils were gaining invaluable experience – including two post-season games – while attaining a 19-16 record. It was the 10th straight season the Blue Devils have qualified for the SUNYAC Tournament.

Six of last year’s freshmen have returned for the 2013 season, which begins Friday when the Blue Devils face Baruch at 3 p.m. in the Cortland Red Dragon Classic. The current roster also includes four freshmen and three senior tri-captains upon whom head coach Geoff Braun will rely on for leadership of a still-young team.

“We have a young roster but our sophomore class is an experienced one,” Braun said. “Many contributed a great deal last year. We returned a lot of talent and the freshmen class fits right in.”

Two of the returning sophomores earned 2012 SUNYAC awards. Lauren Hokaj and Kelly Edinger were selected Second Team West Division. Hokaj, a libero, also made the SUNYAC All-Tournament team. She led the Blue Devils with 423 digs, while Edinger had a team-leading 995 assists, the ninth highest single-season total in program history.

Sophomore opposite Paulina Rein filled the season-long statistical sheet in several categories. She was first on the team in service aces, tied for first in service receptions, second in assists and digs, and fifth in kills. In addition, middle blocker Jessica DiChristopher was fourth in kills and third in blocks.

The sophomore class also consists of Brianne Paganello and Brittney Kelly. Both are outside hitters and liberos, and both saw duty as reserves last season.

Three seniors will serve as 2013 tri-captains. They are libero Lauren O’Hara, outside hitter Kaitlin Orcutt and outside hitter-middle blocker Hannah Manning. All three have extensive playing experience of their own.

Manning received her first all-conference recognition last season when she was chosen All SUNYAC First Year West Division. She was joined on that list by last year’s only senior, Lindsey Olson, who graduated among the Top 10 career leaders in kills (seventh) and attack attempts (fifth).

Olson has remained with the program as a student assistant. Ryan Maloney and Jerry Olmeda return to the Braun’s staff as assistant coach and student assistant, respectively.

Manning received one other honor after the 2012 season. A Biology major who plans on attending veterinarian school after next May, Manning was cited as the SUNYAC Chancellor’s Award winner in women’s volleyball for attaining the highest grade-point average among members of the All SUNYAC team.

Orcutt added her name to the list of team single-match record holders with 12 service aces against Keystone last season, while O’Hara has seen her playing time increase in each of her three previous seasons. She appeared in 115 of 121 matches as a junior.

The freshmen quartet is tall and has been prepping to help at the net: 5-9 outside hitter Sara Madison, 5-10 middle blocker Liza Beardsley, 5-10 opposite/outside hitter Megan Collins and 6-2 opposite/middle blocker Saverina Chicka.

In addition to their opening match Friday vs. Baruch (the first official event of Fredonia State’s 2013-14 athletic season), the Blue Devils have a 7 p.m. match vs. Juniata and two more matches Saturday. Those are the first of 18 straight out-of-town matches before the Blue Devils finally have a home match – Oct. 4 vs. Hilbert as part of the two-day Blue Devil Invitational in Dods Hall.

Among the first 18 matches is the first of three SUNYAC weekends -Sept. 27-28 at Brockport, Oct. 11-12 at Potsdam and Oct. 25-26 at Geneseo. The conference has changed its structure from East and West divisions to one 10-team league in which each team plays the other nine teams once.

The top six teams advance to the SUNYAC Tournament, scheduled for Nov. 8-10 at the home court of the No. 1 seed.

The Blue Devils defeated Potsdam before falling to No. 18 Cortland in last year’s tournament at Buffalo State.

“We have high expectations every year and this year is no different,” said Braun, who is entering his 15th season – all at Fredonia State – with a career coaching record of 310-184. “We play a tough schedule which will better prepare us for postseason play in November.”