Aug 19, 2013
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The 2013 Navy volleyball roster features a squad comprised of a significant number of returning contributors from last season along with a noticeable amount of youthful players.
Five starters and 11 players return from Navy's 2012 team that placed fifth in the Patriot League with a 7-7 record. Both the league placement and win total were the highest by the Mids since 2007. Looking to build upon last season's marks is this season's 18-player roster that includes 14 players who are either freshmen or sophomores.
"Obviously this is a freshman and sophomore-dominated group," said third-year head coach Larry Bock, "but there clearly is a trend on the team toward players who know how to win and have experienced the trajectory of what it will take for our team to get to where we want to go."
A pair of 2012 league honorees in Alex Karika (So., Cranberry Township, Pa.) and Erin Fortner (Sr., Villa Hills, Ky.) highlight the returning Mids. Karika, who was tabbed as the league's rookie of the year in 2012, is one of three sophomore setters on the team. She averaged nearly 10 assists a set last season to become the first Mid to earn the top freshman accolade since 2003. With Karika taking the majority of the snaps as Navy's "quarterback" last season, classmates Eleanor Derouin (Raleigh, N.C.) and Star Steele (Tampa, Fla.) combined to appear in 26 sets a year ago.
New to the setter's position this season is Sofia Luczak (Fr., Aiea, Hawaii), who last year as a senior at St. Andrews Priory School was selected as her division's player of the year.
Fortner spent her freshman and sophomore campaigns dividing her time between the setter and right-side hitter positions. Karika's arrival meant Fortner could solely work as the right-side hitter last season. Fortner would rank second in the league in kills per set last season to earn First-Team All-Patriot League accolades.
Another returning wing hitter who saw significant playing time last season is Olivia Yeager (So., Lutz, Fla.). She averaged nearly two kills per set in her 77 sets played. Rounding out the trio of returning players on the outside is Mallory Shelton (So., Fort Scott, Kan.), who averaged one kill per set a year ago.
Four newcomers begin the season looking for playing time on the outside. This foursome of freshmen is comprised by McKenzie Bailey (Dublin, Ohio), Raena Borcuk (Twin Peaks, Calif.), Gaby Smith (Virginia Beach, Va.) and Carmen Sturdifen (Chase City, Va.). Bailey's Dublin Coffman High School volleyball team won its league and district title in each of her four years, while she herself earned all-conference and all-district accolades as a senior. Borcuk was a member of Rim of the World High School teams that won three league titles while placing second in the CIF twice and winning it once. She earned four all-league honors and was the CIF Player of the Year as a senior. Smith earned a trio of all-state honors while at Princess Anne High School and was selected as the region's co-player of the year once. Sturdifen earned three all-district honors at Bluestone High School, was a two-time district player of the year, was the 2012 region player of the year and earned second-team all-state honors as a senior.
The Mids had a strong one-two punch in the middle last season with Alex Cassel (Jr., Sandy, Utah) and Katie Sylakowski (So., Escondido, Calif.). Both players averaged nearly two kills per set last year while hitting in the upper .200's, with Cassel also averaging almost one block per set played a year ago. Also back for Navy in the middle is Caroline Jacobs (Sr., Arnold, Md.), a player Bock has previously singled out among returning players for both her leadership and strong training dedication in the offseason.
Isabel Krause (Fr., Naples, Italy) is the lone newcomer in the middle for the Mids. A graduate of Naples American High School, she was a member of a pair of volleyball teams that won the European Championship (for military forces) while she herself earned two First-Team All-European honors.
Pacing the returning defensive players for Navy is J.B. Loomis (Jr., Havertown, Pa.), who averaged 1.80 digs per set last season. Also returning to the backrow is Maeve Drummey (So., Silver Spring, Md.), who averaged one dig per set last year.
In addition to being listed among the outside hitters, Borcuk also is being seen as a potential defensive specialist this year. Joining her among the passers is classmate Alli Graf (Annapolis, Md.), who was a part of two state title-winning teams at Broadneck High School. Individually, Graf received three first-team all-county honors and was selected as the county player of the year as a senior.
"We have a strength this season at setter and at the right antenna," said Bock. "Speed dominates our left side and our middle hitters can score if we have command of the ball for the first and second contacts. I also like the trend we are taking defensively, but that is a work that always will be in progress."
Navy will open its 2013 season by playing host to the Kristen Dickmann Invitational Aug. 30-31 in the Wesley A. Brown Field House. That currently places the Mids at pretty much the midpoint of their fall training camp. With youth dominating the composition of the team, Bock plans on continuing to work through the basics between now and the opening weekend of the season.
"We are in a `keep it simple' way of operating right now," said Bock. "We are trying to capitalize tactically on this group's more obvious technical strengths."