COLUMBUS, Ohio -- With a bevy of returners and a strong freshman class, Ohio Dominican's volleyball team looks to take another step forward in the GLIAC ranks as the Panthers begin the 2013 season this weekend.
ODU will play four matches at the Tony Banner Invitational, beginning at 3 p.m. Friday when the Panthers take on Edinboro.
The Panthers return 13 letterwinners from last season's team that finished 13-16 overall and 7-11 in the conference, falling just shy of qualifying for the GLIAC Tournament for the first time since being eligible for postseason play in 2011.
"With so many returners, we haven't had to do as much teaching this preseason," Sandy Rowley said. "We have great leadership from our upperclassmen and we are ready to win. We can't use the excuse that this is a new division and new conference anymore."
The primary focus for the team in the offseason was to improve its ball control after the Panthers committed 224 reception errors a season ago.
"We saw the ball control improve in the spring and throughout the preseason," Rowley said. "We've changed our tactics and the upperclassmen really caught on. That will really help improve our offense, as will having our setters back."
The combination of experience, a deeper roster and high expectations has the Panthers ready to start the season, Rowley said.
"We want to get out to a strong start and establish that we are contenders," she said. "In this conference, you have to come out and be ready to play every day, and we have the experience to do that."
The senior class brings the leadership that Rowley is looking for on and off the court. Bailey Barker (Muncie, Ind.), Emily Post (St. Henry, Ohio) and Tara Winner (Versailles, Ohio) "really set the tone for us and make a big impact that goes beyond the stats," Rowley said.
Barker spent 2012 as the team's libero but will move back to the outside this season. She led the team with 390 digs last season and her experience there will help improve the team's overall defense.
Post is returning from an injury in 2012 and in her career has appeared in 195 sets. A strong defender, Post has 156 career blocks.
Winner also is back from an injury that slowed her in 2012, but she registered 235 kills as a sophomore in 2011 and 167 during her freshman campaign.
ODU has a lot of balance in its junior class, which has a middle hitter in Caitlin Kusan (Westerville, Ohio), two outside hitters in Brianna Reder (Maineville, Ohio) and Lauren Rindler (Rossburg, Ohio), and a setter in Kelsey Snyder (Macomb, Mich.).
"They provide a lot of depth at key positions for us," Rowley said. "They've also had plenty of playing time in the past and can step up when needed."
Kusan, who is coming back from an injury in the spring, led ODU with a .336 hitting percentage last season and picked up all-conference accolades. She tallied 245 kills and also led the Panthers with 80 blocks.
Reder contributed 117 kills last season, while Rindler hit .191 in her playing time. In 2011, Snyder finished with 636 assists.
Thompson, an outside hitter, led ODU with 323 kills and also registered 315 digs and 46 blocks in her rookie campaign. Kraemer stepped into a starting role in the middle and finished with 199 kills while hitting .331, and she also totaled 70 blocks, good for second on the squad.
Slavin, meanwhile, recorded 872 assists (7.93 per set), along with 247 digs and 32 blocks from her setter's position.
Another sophomore, Kelsey Fortney (Lorain, Ohio), had a solid first season as she played in all 110 sets and finished with 189 assists and 226 digs. Courtney Braun (Hilliard, Ohio) also provides depth in the middle as well, while Kelsey Barker (Muncie, Ind.) also returns after notching 152 kills in her freshman campaign.
"This is a strong class and we're really counting on them to continue making an impact," Rowley said. "Lauren and Tory provide a big lift to our offense, Darby fills a key role as our setter and Kelsey brings a lot of energy to the floor."
Six freshmen joined the program for the 2013 season and each has a chance to earn playing time throughout the course of the year.
Defensively, Megan Hendershot (Galloway, Ohio) steps in with a chance to play right away as the libero, while Danielle Fleming (Liberty Township, Ohio) and Heidi Hess (Dayton, Ohio) have also impressed in their first preseason camps.
Contact: Scott Miles