By Chris Mackowiak
The report card series continues with women’s volleyball. Below, we list out a few team awards and then give a final take on the overall 2016 campaign. Let us know what you think in the comments or on Twitter with @suflyer.
Freshman of the Year: freshman setter Rachel Dubbs
As a freshman in the first couple matches, Dubbs had to prove herself to SU Head Coach Justin Turco and the rest of her team that she deserved a key role in the mission this season. Dubbs did just that and more, playing well beyond her years at times this season. The freshman led the team in assists with 637, averaging 8.97 per set. Added to the mix were 132 digs to keep the play alive in even more situations.
Despite not playing much until nine matches into the season, she was able to put up these numbers and play an integral part in the run. From then on, Dubbs recorded at least 25 assists in all matches except two. The run included 35 tallied in the Capital Athletic Conference Semifinals.
Senior of the Year: senior middle hitter Jordan Lawson
While Stouffer gets a lot of the attention among the hitters, there is a wide array of talent filling the team especially in this senior class. Alongside sophomore outside hitter Nicole Venturelli and junior middle hitter Sydney Davis, Lawson was always up at the net, sending the ball back over. She was one of three Sea Gulls (Stouffer, Venturelli) that claimed all-conference honors this season.
The senior finished fourth on the team in kills with 131, while also accumulating a hitting percentage of 22.4. On the defensive side, Lawson added in 48 total blocks, third best on the team.
Defensive Player of the Year: senior defensive specialist Shannon Russell
If there is one player always displaying ‘hustle’ out on the court, it is Russell. She is the player diving towards the corners in the back, bailing her team out in key situations. In each of the last three seasons, Russell has accumulated over 240 digs. This season, she put up a career-high 434 digs, averaging 4.38 per set.
Towards the end of the season, Russell surpassed the one thousand career digs mark, finishing with 1,029 in her career. She is another player that brought consistency to the court and will continue to through freshman defensive specialist Hailey Dougherty for the next few seasons. Dougherty is the lone remaining defensive specialist on the roster after three leave for graduation this offseason.
Offensive Player of the Year & MVP: senior outside hitter Katie Stouffer
The senior class rolls on in the awards with the player most synonymous with this class. Stouffer has spiked the ball over the net since day one as a Sea Gull. She has tallied over 330 kills and 110 digs in all four of her seasons in the maroon and gold. Her 1,747 career kills is now the best in program history. This season Stouffer accumulated 444 kills, averaging 4.48 per set.
Stouffer brought much more than record-breaking stats to Salisbury. She brought energy and momentum to Maggs on stale nights. Maggs is known to ‘rock and roll’ during basketball season in the winter, but Stouffer’s talent made people want to come to the gymnasium in the fall. The CAC Semifinal match against Christopher Newport was a testament to that. Now Salisbury will move past the Stouffer-era and adjust into the 2017 season behind some already reliable players.
2016 Season Takeaway: Met expectations, almost exceeded
The season started a little shaky for the Sea Gulls in their first three tournaments. The team went 2-2 at Gettysburg and 1-3 at Franklin & Marshall, but they turned things around with undefeated 4-0 records at the Gallaudet Tournament and their own Sea Gull Classic. From there, Salisbury rode the momentum wave into conference play, only losing once to Mary Washington (advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight in Oshkosh, Wi.).
Six of their conference wins were in straight sets. Highlighting the season was an unprecedented 3-1 win at Christopher Newport, a volleyball power that SU had not beaten in over a decade. CNU possessed a 138 regular season match winning streak dating back to 2006. In the match, SU came back from 1-0 to win the next three sets.
Finishing second in the CAC at 8-1, the Sea Gulls were flying high into the conference semifinals. Salisbury drew Christopher Newport in their match-up, making for another chapter in the two schools’ rivalry.
It was 2-1 in favor of CNU after the third set with most of the momentum with the Captains. Salisbury had their backs up against the wall in the fourth set multiple times. Each team lived and died by each point. There are those incredible moments in sports where the venue has its own heartbeat. The SU fans came out strong that night.
Somehow someway, Salisbury prevailed through to a fifth set with an elongated 28-26 win in the fourth. The nail-biter continued from there until CNU took the match 15-12, moving on to the CAC Championship. Salisbury finished with an overall record of 20-8.
While tears were shed that night following the loss, the Sea Gulls have plenty to be proud of, especially this senior class. In the individual awards, I went through many of the talented seniors. The largest challenge for Coach Turco is replacing this class, but the roster will hold up to the task.
The accomplishments and unity of the team had fans dreaming of the CAC Championship all season. The regular season win against CNU was a big moment for this program, sending a message that SU volleyball is not going anywhere.
In 2017, the top storyline will be who takes over as the No. 1 hitter as Stouffer leaves. Venturelli and Davis are the most notable hitters returning to the squad to lead the charge. Davis is a defensive force as a middle hitter, leading the team with 77 total blocks.
At setter, Salisbury is very deep headed into 2017. Juniors Rachel Pierson and Alexis Howatt both return for their senior campaigns, while Dubbs will come back as a sophomore.
Another big loss is at defensive specialist with the departure of Russell alongside fellow seniors Gina Fischetti and Krista Pecenka. The task will fall upon Dougherty and sophomore Madison Lim, who both saw many reps this season.
While this strong senior class departs, there is nothing to indicate that fans should expect anything less next season. The team will be up there competing for a CAC Championship, but it will take some upsets along the way. The Sea Gulls almost got there this season, but the bracket did not fall their way.
Players like Stouffer and Russell only come along every so often, but maybe the next Salisbury star player is waiting in the wings today.