After winning a record 14 conference games, having its second 20-win season (22-8) since 1999 and hosting the quarterfinals of the MIAA tournament, the Northwest volleyball team is aiming for another accolade-filled season.
Heading into her eighth season at the helm of the Bearcats, Amy Woerth believes that while they had an early exit from the MIAA Tournament last year, they can build from the experience.
“We need to continue to focus on the process and doing the things we need to do,” Woerth said. “We did everything right from the standpoint of hosting and having the tournament at our place; we just have to get over the hump. I believe in our system, I believe in the process of what we do, and I believe in our players.”
The Bearcats are graduated four seniors last spring, including offensive stars Sophia Schleppenbach and Maddy Bruder. The defensive side also took a blow with losing two defensive specialists.
“When you take a look at those four being gone, it’s unfair to put that on anybody on our team. I’m not going to sit there and say who’s going to fill Maddy Bruder’s shoes,” Woerth said. “I’m looking for capable people on our team and make them as good as they can be. It’s not anyone’s story but theirs.”
Woerth has brought in six new players hoping to replace the firepower of the graduated seniors. One of these players is sophomore Hannah Koechl, a transfer from Boise State.
“We jumped on the transfer portal and made contact with her coach,” Woerth said. “She’s an international player, so I wanted to get some background on where she played. I got to know her well over email and phone calls, and I was impressed with her.”
Two incoming freshmen have impressed Woerth. Freshman Alyssa Rezac has proven she can keep her poise and handle tough situations. She came in as the only setter due to concussion injuries to others in her position. Freshman Jaden Ferguson has brought a different play style to the left side and has a wide skill set for being so young.
This year’s captains, junior Hallie Sidney and senior Jordyn Musselman, are looking to use their leadership skills to help the team.
“I’m focusing on being the best teammate I can be,” Sidney said. “I want to create relationships and be trusted on by them.”
Another returning player that is looking to make a huge impact is junior Morgan Lewis.
“She played some minutes last year after she came back from surgery,” Woerth said. “We want her to step up and start being the production that Sophia Schleppenbach did last year. She has the ability level to achieve that step up.”
Northwest has already participated in a scrimmage against Lindenwood, a team they played last year in the regular season. The Bearcats won five of the six sets and got to show off the young talent the team presents.
Northwest’s team motto this year is “brick by brick.” The Bearcats view every week as a new foundation being laid down. To remind the players of this, the team had a bonding moment where they built a physical brick wall in the locker room. Sidney believes the team activities have created a nice mold on the team.
“We did a ropes course at Mozingo. For me, it was really terrifying, so it was awesome to know I could lean on my teammates,” Sidney said. “Bringing what we learned from the ropes course onto the volleyball court shows us how we can be there and how we can help each other.”
Woerth stepped in to compliment the group she has this upcoming season.
“They’re a great character group. They’re really good teammates and talented,” Woerth said. “We’re excited to see as the season goes that junior and senior class. The seniors haven’t played a ton, but I’m not worried about that because they understand their roles and understand they need to get better every day.”
Northwest enters the season being ranked fifth in the MIAA preseason Volleyball Coaches Poll and received 26 votes in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 Poll. These rankings do not affect Woerth.
“I don’t pay attention to it,” Woerth said. “I’m just so much into the process. This is a new team and a new year. I try not to carry anything from last year into this year other than knowing the players and knowing their abilities.”
The season begins with a tournament at the Washburn Invitational in Topeka, Kansas. Sept. 6-7. The Bearcats will face Central Washington and Quincy Sept. 6. William Jewell and Drury will be played Sept. 7.
As the season inches closer, the expectations of the players are focused on what they can control.
“Our overall goal is to play the best we can throughout the season. We’re looking to get better in practice and get better every day,” Sidney said. “We’re also focusing on the connections with each other. It changes every year but it’s exciting bringing new people into the culture. We want the team chemistry that championship teams have.”