2018-19 Season Outlook

The volleyball program has had great success over the years and this season should prove to be no different. The Trolls, who have competed in a national tournament for the past eight years, are coming off a season in which they advanced to the NAIA National Tournament Opening Round as the regular season conference co-champions. While they have a couple of positions to fill in their starting line-up, the 2018 team has the talent, experience, and desire to get back to the  national tournament.

“We barely missed out on advancing to the final site of the NAIA national tournament a year ago and we are hungry to get there,” said 12th year head coach Bill Schepel. “We are capable of that level of play and are ready to compete for that opportunity.”

With the national tournament appearance and a conference record of 16-1 a year ago, the Trolls, who finished the 2017 season with a 27-13 overall record, are receiving some national attention as they enter the season in the receiving votes category of the NAIA Preseason Coaches’ Poll.  They should be in contention to defend their conference title with a core group of their roster returning. The team returns 13 players, including experience in key positions and the majority of their starters. With a large roster of 20 athletes, there is plenty of talent to call on to fill needed positions and to provide depth.

“We will be very solid offensively and be able to provide a balanced attack,” said Schepel. “We will make some adjustments to the line-up to accommodate for the players lost from last year, but it should not affect our ability at the net. The key to our season and how effective our offense is will be our ball control.”

Much of the Trolls’ offensive will focus around senior Kacie Stoll (Lombard, Illinois), the 2017 CCAC Player of the Year. The right side hitter provides leadership and will be the go-to person as she led the team and the conference with a 3.66 kill average a year ago. At the net she is also a force in blocking with 102 blocks last season. She also provides all-around play as she averaged 2.79 digs and had 29 aces a year ago.

With opponents keying on Stoll, the Trolls will have to spread their attack out. It is not a concern as they have a variety of options. At middle hitter the team has a few returners. Christa Veenstra (Tracy, Iowa). The senior middle hitter earned Second-Team All-Conference honors last season. Her prowess a year ago was in blocking as she led the team and the conference with a 1.06 block average. She will become more involved in the offensive attack this season. Also filling the middle hitter position will be sophomore Britta Heggeland (Wheaton, Illinois), who gained experience last year and will be effective in the block and attack. Senior Alysia Folkersma (Buckley, Michigan) can also fill in at the middle with her ability to block and hit.

A couple of newcomers will also factor into the middle hitting position. Madysen Zula (Pella, Iowa), a sophomore transfer from Upper Iowa University, has strong potential to find the starting line-up. Her 6-1 frame will provide a presence at the net and can help the team’s blocking ability. Freshman Nicole Belcher (Shelbyville, Kentucky) also gives the team height and options in the middle.

The attack from the outside hitting position can come from a number of players. Sophomore Anna Maatman (Lynwood, Illinois) and junior Ana Lambros (Oak Forest, Illinois) are two returners who will fill the position. They both provide all-around play and will be utilized as an outside hitter and for their passing. Maatman was a starter a year ago and averaged 1.88 kills per set as well as 2.04 digs. She also was consistent with a .942 serving percentage and .956 reception percentage. Lambros came on strong during the latter part of last season. She averaged 1.30 kills and 2.03 digs and posted a .958 reception percentage. The experience gained by these two players should translate to more prominent roles.  

Freshman Sarah Kiwan (Worth, Illinois) looks promising in the outside hitting position. She has the ability to put the ball away and will contend for court time. Others outside attackers are sophomore Amber Ryan (Chicago Ridge, Illinois), who can also play defensive specialist, and freshmen Sarah Hernandez (Lynwood, Illinois), and Sara York (Zeeland, Michigan). Providing depth on the right side attack are sophomore Danielle Zander (Thornton, Illinois), and freshman Julia Belcher (Shelbyville, Kentucky),

Much of the effectiveness of the attack will depend on the ability of the passing and setting. Returning as setter is junior Dani Van Laten (Westmont, Illinois), who earned all-conference honors a year ago. Last season she posted a total of 1,387 assists for a 10.1 average. She was led the team with 61 ace serves and averaged. 2.82 digs per set. She will be responsible for distributing the ball and finding the correct balance for the attack. Backing her up will be junior Juliana Dykstra (Holland, Michigan) and freshman Jessica Eckberg (Oakfield, Wisconsin).

In addition to the all-around players already mentioned the back row responsibility will fall on the defensive specialists. Leading that charge is sophomore Brianna Figueroa (Hammond, Indiana), who started at libero last year. She led the team with 4.93 digs per set and accumulated a total of 681 digs. She has the ability to control the ball and is effective in service reception and serving. Senior Maggie Tolsma (Rockford, Michigan) also brings experience to the back row and can step in to help with ball control or at the service line where she was .954 percent accurate last season. Providing additional depth is junior Courtney Sullivan (Riverside, California).

The Trolls’ schedule is packed full of strong competition in both the conference and non-conference matches. The team will face a number of NAIA Top 25 teams, many of which they play in their four weekend tournaments. Those tournaments include the season opening home Saint Xavier/Trinity Crossover on August 24-25, and invitationals at Viterbo University on September 7-8, Olivet Nazarene University on September 28-29, and Grand View University on October 12-13.  Also making the schedule challenging is the large number of matches on the road. The team will spend the majority of October away from their home court with only one match at home that month.  

“We will have our hands full with our tough schedule,” comments Schepel. “The competition will challenge us and also season us for post-season play. The hope is that we will be ready to go for the level of play of post-season opponents.”

The conference schedule will consist of ten single matches against teams in the South Division and two CCAC Crossover Tournaments in which the Trolls will face the North Division schools.  The team opens their conference play on September 6 in a home contest with Governors State University. The crossover tournaments for Trinity will be on October 5-6 at Trinity International University and on October 26-27 at Saint Xavier University. The final regular season conference match is on November 1 and the conference tournament begins on November 6. Trinity will challenge for the top position in the conference standings. Other top CCAC teams will be Saint Xavier University, Olivet Nazarene University, and the University of St. Francis. There are also a number of teams that are getting stronger and will make the conference more balanced in competition.