Following their appearance at the NCAA Tournament last season, the Coyote Volleyball team is looking to continue their success with a re-tooled roster.
Last year the team finished 21-10 (13-3 CONF) en route to their first-ever Summit League Tournament championship. Leanne Williamson, entering her sixth season as head coach, said she hopes the team can pick up right where they left off.
“Building off last year is important,” Williamson said. “With success comes confidence, so we felt pretty good about where our team was coming in at.”
Looking forward into this season, USD looks to acclimate three transfers and five freshmen to the team. The Coyotes lost five letterwinners, including two starters, to graduation following last season.
“Eight of our 16 rostered players are new,” Williamson said. “A lot of it was about blending, figuring out how to put everything together, and trying to figure out how we’re going to create this team’s style of volleyball.”
Williamson said the team’s exhibition game, a 3-0 win against Minnesota State on Saturday, will help figure out the starting lineups and game plans for this year.
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“For us to be able to try some things is important,” Williamson said. “We have not figured out exactly what we’re going to do with the lineup yet, what players we’d want to see. If we’re in a really good spot with the line with that first lineup we put out there we might make some changes.”
One returner from last year is senior defensive specialist and reigning Summit League Defensive Player of the Year Anne Rasmussen. Rasmussen, who led the Summit League in total digs (604) and digs per set (5.44), said the newcomers have eased in and offer a level of competition to the returning players.
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“Everyone that has come in, from transfers to freshmen, have really bought into the system and our way of playing,” Rasmussen said. “They’re very eager to get out on the court and are very competitive.”
Fellow defensive specialist Mehana Fonseca, transfer setter Pamela Zuluaga and outside hitter Elizabeth Loschen round out the quartet of seniors on the team.
Zuluaga, a transfer from University of Arkansas at Little Rock, enters as one of two setters on the roster. The other, sophomore Madison Jurgens, said the competition for herself and within the team will help the team continue to improve.
“I think it’s always good to have someone pushing you,” Jurgens said. “We have a ton of depth and having somebody to step into a role in case somebody’s not having the best game will definitely help us compete against the higher-level teams.”
USD was picked to finish runner-up in the conference by the Summit League Volleyball Preseason Coaches’ Poll. In addition, three Coyotes were named as Players to Watch: Rasmussen, Jurgens and junior outside hitter Sami Slaughter.
Transferring in from Nebraska, Slaughter brings big-match experience to the squad as the Cornhuskers made consecutive trips to the NCAA Division-I National Title match, winning it all her freshman season. Within her short time in the program, Slaughter has already seen potential with the Coyotes, she said.
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“I feel like the girls here are really determined and I feel like they play with a lot of passion, which is awesome,” Slaughter said. “Just playing with heart and never letting the ball drop, with that I feel like we can win a lot of games.”
While the team may look different this year, Williamson said the goals remain the same.
“We expect to win when we step on the floor regardless of who’s on the other side,” Williamson said. “We expect to challenge ourselves on any given day. We expect to hold ourselves to our standard.”
The Coyotes begin their season in Indianapolis to face Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis on the first day of the IUPUI Invitational on Friday.