Bright future instore for NKU Volleyball

The Northern Kentucky University volleyball team is ranked 20th in the nation in the AVCA/NCAA Division II preseason poll that was just released.

NKU went 28-5 last year and gained 194 points in the voting poll. The Norse women ended the year ranked 17th in the country, while seizing their 5th straight Great Lakes Valley Conference championship in 2001.

The Norse women volleyball team will start the season on the road against No. 4 Tampa, Fla.. NKU will also play two more teams on the road. They are 5th-ranked Truman State on Sept. 6 while still in Florida and the University of North Florida on Sept. 7, which is ranked No. 16 in NKU’s division.

Even though NKU lost four critical players from last year’s team that went 28-5 the Norse women are predicted to best last season’s record on the volleyball court.

The Norse lost Great Lakes Valley Conference Player of the Year Bethany Gastright, second team All-GLVC performer Luisa Gomez, and four-year letter winners Julie Hathorn and Denise Barhorst. NKU head coach Carlos Chia was faced with the insurmountable challenge of replenishing a highly skillful arsenal to his women’s volleyball team.

“It’s unfortunate but we only have so many athletes coming into the program and we see them go every four years,” said Chia. “I know it’s a new venture for a girl coming back and incoming freshmen. Nonetheless, if you’ve got experience and you’re coming back, plus year after year we try to get students better than they were the previous year.”

To combat this obstacle coach Chia has brought in seven new lady volleyball players, which includes two battle proven recruits from Brazil and two outstanding transfer students as the Norse try to make it to their sixth straight NCAA Division II Tournament.

“I feel very confident and optimistic that we will be competing for a trip to the Elite Eight,” said Chia. “Our region is one of the best in the nation with teams like Grand Valley State, Findlay, Northwood and Northern Michigan.”

Coach Chia notices that practices are finally starting to pay off and new players are blending in. “We’re already noticing that our game is at a faster pace than we have ever played before and that’s do to the fact that our setter is a third-year starter. And because of that experience she knows the system much better,” Chia said.

Even though Chia has been awarded GLVC Coach of the Year honors, he said he never ceases to learn from those around him. “I’ve had great coaches in the past,” Chia said. “With the girls that come in year in and year out there’s always nuances and new tricks and new things that you learn. You also pick up a lot of new things from other coaches,” said Chia. “The more you know the better off you are.”

Chia said he feels very confident about the upcoming season. “The transfer players are already showing signs of leadership skills, which is a requirement.”

When Chia became part of the NKU women’s volleyball team in 1994, he has taken part in six GLVC championship teams. In 1998, NKU attained the Great Lakes Region title and appeared in the NCAA Division II Elite Eight for the first time in the school’s history. In 1999, NKU made it to the NCAA Division II Final Four and was ranked number two in the country. It was the highest ranking in the history of NKU’s volleyball program.

He is confident in this year’s talent. “I feel that we have a good combination of veteran players and newcomers who can get us to the Elite Eight,” said Chia.

Of all the returning players to this year’s team, Cammi Welter stands out the most. Welter had 374 kills last season. Welter also led the team with 388 digs and 40 service aces. Her mind-set is as strong as her strategy for dominating the game of volleyball. “We pretty much use the same strategy every year,” she said. “We use our defense and our offense in combination with quick passes. Rather than put height on the ball we keep it straight and low to our setter.”

Welter plans to play next year too. Welter saw action in all 33 matches last season. She has a .252 hitting percentage. It is felt that Welter might be able to challenge for all-GLVC commendations.

Another player crucial to the Norse’s success is junior setter Sara Taylor, who had 1,122 assists in 2001 and was named second team all-GLVC last year.

Sophmore defensive specialist Amber Timmons attained second team all-GLVC accommodations last year because of her 224 digs and 31 aces.

Sophmore middle hitter Maggie Pugh contributes to the team with a .407 hitting percentage last year.

Stacia Stroer, a defensive specialist and a junior, will provide depth this year as a defender. Stroer lettered last year. Her strategy has kept her at the top of her game since she has been a part of the team. “We play ‘quick balls’- pass quick, hit quick,” said Stroer. “That’s what basically gives us our wins.”

Kristin Koralewski, a 5’8″ hitter from Northern Michigan, had a team-leading 354 kills in 2000 and earned Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conferencce Freshman of the Year honors. She also led Northern Michigan in service aces and 351 digs as a freshman. Koralewski is new but is learning the ropes. “The game style is different here. It’s much faster than Northern Michigan, so it will be a big change for me, but I’m enjoying the change already,” said Koralewski.

“Kristin brings a great deal of experience to our program, and she is an outstanding volleyball player,” said Chia. “We’ve played against her and know how good she is, and it will be nice to have her on our side this season. She was Northern Michigan’s go-to player as a freshman, and she will fit in very well here with the type of offense we run,” continued Chia.

Another transfer player who may have a big impact on the team is Nicole Salisbury, who attained second team all-GLIAC accolades playing at Wayne State University a year ago. The junior outside hitter led Wayne State with 267 kills last year.

Coach Chia has also obtained such talent as 6’2″ middle hitter Kaliana Kalache, who was born in Campo, Brazil. Kalache will give the team a strong hitter and blocker at the net. Kalache was named the most valuable player at the South American Tournament last season.

Freshmen, Mara Castillo, Julie Lewis, Jessica Kassens and Lynne Fischesser are all expected to have a big impact on the team this year.