May 30, 2014
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Navy volleyball team recently completed a successful spring season featuring a mixture of practices several days a week and three days of tournaments.
"The operative words to summarize our spring season are `upward trajectory,'" said head coach Larry Bock. "From the first day of spring practices to the last day of competition, we just got better. That is the idea of every practice, match and season, but it doesn't always happen. This young group was competing real well by mid-April and it was neat to see."
Navy's spring squad returned all but two starters and five players from its 2013 fall team that posted a 9-7 record in Patriot League matches. However, that list of returnees included just one rising senior. This meant the spring season was important for the team dominated by players in their underclass years to continue the maturation process it began during the fall.
"Our ability to attack at the antennas was more efficient this spring than it was in the fall," said Bock. "Our passing also continued to develop in terms of consistency and precision. And we certainly saw that we are deep at the setter position. The whole defensive frontier is still scary for us, though. We are good strike-zone defenders, but extending that range is an immediate challenge. We also know we can serve much better than we have. There is more potential for improvement in our serving than in any other aspect."
Taking advantage of new opportunities presented to her this spring was rising sophomore Carmen Sturdifen (Chase City, Va.). The outside hitter appeared in just four sets as a freshman in the fall, but improved throughout the spring season in matches for the Mids against Lehigh, La Salle, Villanova, Temple, Delaware and Penn, as well as several USAV club teams.
"One of the players we wanted to provide playing time to this spring was Carmen, and she seized the chances we presented her," said Bock. "She went from having a negative hitting percentage in the first tournament of the spring to putting together a healthy .250 percentage in the last one."
With the Class of 2014 now commissioned as officers in the Navy and Marine Corps, and the Class of 2018 due to arrive on The Yard for the start of Plebe Summer in just a few weeks time, it won't be long before the volleyball team reassembles on August 8 to begin its fall campaign. That impending date and the need to be prepared for it was in the minds of the Navy coaches and players as they completed the spring season.
"Summer is definitely a challenge for midshipmen as a whole," said Bock, "and it is made even busier for those who are competing in athletics, especially fall sports. It is important that our players use the summer months to take advantage of the opportunities presented to them through the Naval Academy to learn about their future professional options, attend summer school if needed and have time with their families. We have worked with each returning player on their overall plan for the summer and any opportunities to train for volleyball that do not negatively impact the other important aspects of the next few months.
"We want to continue that upward trajectory of the volleyball program in the fall, but to do so the players will need to follow a course that includes time for playing and conditioning. How good a team we will be in the fall depends largely on how dedicated the players are to their individual development and to each other over the summer. If they follow the plan they have each set for themselves, they will have had an all-around profitable summer and we could be a very good team."
Missed on the court for the Mids this spring were Erin Fortner (Villa Hills, Ky.) and Caroline Jacobs (Arnold, Md.), who completed their volleyball careers this past fall and graduated from the USNA on May 23. Fortner was commissioned as an Ensign in the Navy (surface warfare) while Jacobs became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Marine Corps (ground).
"There is no question our recent graduates will be assets to the Navy and Marine Corps, to their chosen fields and to society as a whole," said Bock. "The Naval Academy is a special and unique institution and graduates such as Erin and Caroline truly reflect that. We know what each of them invested in attaining this amazing degree, and it was such an honor for myself and (assistant coach) Kait Kozak to have been a small part of their lives over the last three years.
"They also will be sorely missed on the volleyball court, as they helped to accelerate the improvement of the program. Now, it is up to the rest of us to build on the foundation they provided."
Navy will open its 2014 fall season by playing host to the Kristen Dickmann Invitational Aug. 29-30 in the Wesley A. Brown Field House.