March 26, 2014
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Navy volleyball team has started its five-week spring season, one that will include a mix of several practices a week along with four days of competition.
"We are a program that is evolving," said Navy head coach Larry Bock, on the importance of the spring season. "We can choose to evolve in whatever direction we want. This spring will be a little bit of a test to see how satisfied we may be with our current state of the program. We are looking real closely at those people who will help us evolve fastest and want to improve at a steady and fast rate. We have a long way to go. We are better than we were, but we are not as good as we need to be. We have to eliminate any sense of satisfaction out there."
The Mids posted a 9-7 record in the Patriot League during the 2013 fall season to notch Navy's first winning league campaign since 2007. Additionally, the squad compiled 13 wins in all this fall, which were the most by a Navy team since 2008. Navy ended the Patriot League season in fifth place in the league standings, which left it one spot out of advancing to the league tournament for a second year in a row.
"We are tending to look at 2013 as a springboard," said Bock. "There is so much we have learned about our team since the end of the fall, and the data and observations we have compiled will help us with our spring practices. We are doing our best as coaches to just add on from the fall. There is a lot of work to be done, which is a good thing.
"Obviously our first contacts -- both digs and blocking -- weren`t as good as we need them to be. They improved this fall, but were still spotty. We really have to shore those up. We were a good blocking team in a traditional sense. But because this team is not one with great altitude right now, we need to employ other blocking techniques such as swing blocking to help us gain a little bit more time in our opponents' air space."
Navy's 2014 team will include all but one of its 2013 starters, but that missing one is four-year starter Erin Fortner
(Sr., Villa Hills, Ky.) who amassed over 1,000 kills in her career and earned First-Team All-Patriot League honors as both a junior and senior. Her 341 kills accounted for almost 30 percent of Navy's kills during the 2013 season, while she also led the team's non-defensive players in digs (252), ranked third in aces (22) and stood fourth in blocks (47).
Another absence from the fall Navy will have to start accounting for this spring is that of Caroline Jacobs (Arnold, Md.). In addition to her reserve middle blocker role on the court, she aided team captain Fortner in providing key leadership for a 2013 team that included 14 freshmen or sophomores on the 18-player roster.
"We have two vacuums to fill," said Bock. "There is the leadership vacuum Caroline provided; she is just a solid individual who made our team better in so many ways. How do we fill that? And on the court, how do we fill a lot of kills with the loss of Erin?
"There is a balance issue. One person is not going to accomplish everything we are going to miss from both Caroline and Erin. This spring, we are going to set the ball to the right people to replace Erin's on-the-court presence, and make great requests on the whole team in an effort to make up for Caroline's contributions."
The brief spring block -- which is four months after the end of the 2013 fall season and four months away from the start of the 2014 training camp -- provides an important opportunity for players to further their development through the practices and competitions. This is especially important for a youthful team such as the Mids.
"There were a number of players who have made great strides in a lot of different areas," said Bock. "One that we like a lot, and have forever but is emerging more and more, is Star Steele (So., Tampa, Fla.). Star has great commitment to the Navy volleyball program and the Naval Academy as an institution. There is no question of her heart, but now her athleticism is starting to emerge. Another person we are going to look to real hard at this spring is Carmen Sturdifen (Fr., Chase City, Va.). She saw very little court time in the fall, but she is playing at 10 feet and is really athletic. Now she is learning the game. She has to own the spring. We need her to get a lot of match reps and good practices reps over this five weeks."
Navy will play in tournaments this spring at Penn, at Temple and at a USA Volleyball event, while also facing UMBC.