GALESBURG—After graduating six players from last year’s team, the Carl Sandburg College volleyball team has plenty of new faces this season.
“We have nine new faces, to be exact,” Chargers coach Todd Winkler said. “I’m excited about teaching the kids the speed of the college game. That’s definitely the biggest thing.”
With a roster that includes 10 freshmen and three returning sophomores, Sandburg, which hosts Knox College JV in a scrimmage at 7 p.m. Friday at John Lewis Gymnasium and opens the season at St. Ambrose University JV on Tuesday, will put its youth to the test right away.
“The returning sophomores are used to playing at a high level, and that’s going to be a challenge to get the freshmen to play at that high level,” Winkler said. “You’ve got to come out and play every night. I describe it as, high school you play like you’re driving 30 on the interstate. In college you need to go about 95.”
The Chargers finished last season 29-11 overall and 9-3 in the Arrowhead Conference, and they came up one win shy of reaching their first national tournament after losing to Kishwaukee in the championship of the Region IV tournament. Sandburg will look toward its three sophomores to build off that success.
“We had a lot of success the last two years, and those three returners want to get back to where we were plus one step more to nationals,” Winkler said. “I think we have the talent.”
Leading the way is sophomore middle hitter Caitlyn Godfrey, who averaged 1.76 kills per game in addition to earning all-Arrowhead Conference and all-Region IV tournament team honors as a freshman.
“She’s got a long way to go upward,” Winkler said. “She will play at the next level and be all-region again, I’m sure of that. She’s in much better shape than she was and understands the game a lot better.”
Defensive specialist Dani Lessard and outside hitter Mercedes Sazone also are expected to make big contributions in their second season at Sandburg.
“The one I’m really surprised at is Mercedes Sazone,” Winkler said. “She’s come in in so much better shape than she was last year. Last year she played exclusively back row for us. She’s going to play back row and front row for us this year.”
Key newcomers include setter Lexa Mahr and 6-foot middle hitter Caitlin McVay. Winkler said he believes the Chargers’ inexperience at the start of the season will eventually lead to a bright future.
“I would describe our team as the Energizer Bunny,” Winkler said. “I think just going to keep going and going and going. I think at first we’re going to be a little reckless, but by the end I think we’ll just basically dominate people at the end of the season.”
Members of the 2012 Carl Sandburg College volleyball team are: Ally Cordle, Alyssa Gibson, Caitlyn Godfrey, Erika Hibberd, Courtney Learned, Dani Lessard, Lexa Mahr, Caitlin McVay, Lorren Newingham, Ashley Rupert, Mercedes Sazone, Sadie Van Norman, Ashlynn Winkler.