May 16, 2013
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Head coach Larry Bock felt the recently completed slate of spring practices and competitions was a productive one for the Navy volleyball team.
The bulk of the Navy team that during the fall season produced the biggest one season improvement in Patriot League victories in league history (from one win in 2011 to 7 wins in 2012) took part in full team training sessions and tournament play over a six-week span this spring. This NCAA-allowed spring team training period was in addition to the players continuing to play on an informal basis after the conclusion of the 2012 fall campaign in which the Mids missed the playoffs by one position in the league standings.
"The offseason was clearly productive in a learn to play the game kind of sense," said Bock. "That started immediately after the fall season ended with the returning players taking advantage of their available opportunities to play on their own. The informal and formal practices manifested themselves with improved hitting percentages, blocking abilities and overall ball control."
Navy competed in tournaments at Loyola (vs. Coppin State, George Washington, Morgan State), George Mason (vs. American, George Mason, Howard) and Penn State (vs. Juniata, Penn State, Pittsburgh, Syracuse) during the spring season. The Mids also took part in a joint training day alongside the UMBC team.
"In two of our three tournaments," said Bock, "we won more matches than we lost. That is a first for this group. In the Penn State tournament, we saw definite signs of our competitiveness at high levels that had not appeared in recent spring seasons.
"Where we have seen noticeable gains correlates with the overall depth of our roster. Our practice gym is really, really good right now. The competitiveness we saw in our spring tournaments is a clear reflection of the competitiveness we saw in the practices. That is a lot of fun, and will translate into more points in the fall."
Included among the returning players are five starters. The lone rising senior starter of that quintet is Erin Fortner (Villa Hills, Ky.). Fortner began her career by playing the setter / right-side hitter position in Navy's 6-2 lineup as a freshman before starting the 2011 season as Navy's setter and ending it as the right-side hitter. Designated as just the right-side hitter at the start of her junior season, Fortner blossomed into one of the top attackers in the league last fall and became the first Mid to earn First-Team All-Patriot League laurels since 2007.
"Erin had a decorated fall season and enjoyed a healthy spring season in which she developed a more diversified skill set," said Bock. "A healthy Erin is a great predictor for Navy volleyball in the fall."
While Fortner is the lone rising senior starter on the team, three of those five returning starters are rising sophomores. Among this trio is Alex Karika (Cranberry Township, Pa.), who was tabbed as the Patriot League's Rookie of the Year and earned second-team all-league honors this past fall when she became the first Mid since 1998 to lead the league in assist average.
"Our setting situation is enviable as we have three players who can put the ball on a tee for our hitters," said Bock. "Alex is the real deal and continues to improve upon an impressive fall season with location, defense and blocking. It is such a big positive that she is pushed by her teammates in each and every practice."
Navy will open training camp in early August and will open the 2013 season by playing host to the Kristen Dickmann Invitational Aug. 30-31. Even though those matches are three months away, the spring season gave Bock an idea of the identity that the 2013 Mids will recognized for.
"We have a real accurate read on our to-do list for the fall," said Bock, "but we know we will receive terrific leadership from rising seniors Erin and Caroline Jacobs (Arnold, Md.). That is a strength for us.
"Our matches will last awhile this fall. As opposed to being first-swing kill oriented, this will be a team that wins long rallies and has to be good in transition. We saw gains in ball control this spring and a projected 2013 roster leads us to feel we will have an even better ability in that area. Nobody can say what our eventual record will be, but we should be a team with an ability to keep the ball from hitting the floor easily and frustrate our opponents."