The Northern Kentucky University volleyball team is bringing back every starter from last year’s 20-win squad, and expectations are high for the group.
“We work extremely hard and push each other to become better players on and off the court because we want to be the best,” senior outside hitter Noelle Peterson said.
NKU posted a 20-14 record last year and earned a berth in the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Norse did not lose any key players to graduation, which will help them in their quest to make this year’s tournament.
The Norse have four returning 2010 all-conference selections. Junior middle hitter Shelby Buschur returns, leading the team last year with 402 kills, resulting in a Great Lakes Valley Conference first-team selection.
Junior setter Jenna Schreiver, Peterson and senior outside hitter Sarah Drennen were second-team conference selections. Schreiver was second in the conference last year in assists per set (10.68).
Also returning to the team after red-shirting last year due to an injury is Kim Nemcek. In 2009, she led NKU in kills (455), blocks (95) and hitting percentage (.317). Head coach Liz Holmes said Nemcek is a leader and role model to the younger players off the court and an all-around player on the court.
The team has been working to improve the areas of the game where they have had difficulties in the past.
“This season we are making blocking a major priority, because in the past seasons we have not focused on that and have struggled,” Peterson said. “Another team goal is having the most digs in the conference because I think we have the best defense within our region.”
The conference will feature two divisions. The top four teams from each side and two wild cards will earn a berth to the 10-team GLVC Tournament held Nov. 11-13. The GLVC Tournament will be hosted by the team with the best conference record.
In the GLVC preseason poll, the Norse was picked to finish third in the east division, behind Lewis University and the University of Indianapolis. According to Holmes, the east is loaded with talent.
NKU opened its season by playing four games at the UIndy Invitational on Sept. 3-4. The Norse finished the tournament undefeated without dropping a set.
As a result, the Norse entered the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division II poll at No. 24. Peterson credits the team’s chemistry as the main reason for the fast start.
“We are playing more as a team than ever,” Peterson said. “In the past, we were more concerned about individualistic goals rather than team goals; and I think once you see us play, you will notice a huge difference.”
Holmes said the team has a “mental toughness to battle back to win sets.”
NKU will play its first home game Sept. 7 against the University of Charleston (W.Va.) in Regents Hall. The Norse begin GLVC play Sept. 9, hosting Saint Joseph’s College.