Volleyball continues winning ways
The Dartmouth women's volleyball team is on a mission to be one point better this season than last.
That one point in the final game of the final match of the season-ending Ivy League Championships was the difference between finishing as the 1997 Ivy League champion and just being another runner-up in the fine print of the record book.
With last year's final-round loss still lurking in their memories, the team members can't help but be optimistic about their chances for the 1998 season. In its fifth year as a fully-funded varsity sport, the team finished with a record 24 wins on the year, improving upon 18 wins in 1996 and 17 wins in 1995.
Despite the continuing improvement, the mid-November Ivy League Championship is the icing on the cake that continues to elude the Big Green.
"We're very proud of what we accomplished last season," Anne Murray '00 said. "It sets our goals for this season a lot higher and we want to get there again."
"Winning the tournament is the main overarching goal of our season," co-Captain Felicity Kolp '99 said. "We have smaller goals as well, but they all lead up to the Ivy Championship."
As evidenced by last night's five-game victory over the University of New Hampshire (3-9), the team is well on its way to achieving those "smaller goals."
Wednesday night's battle royale featured a team-high 18 kills and 14 digs from Janna Merryfield '00 and an astronomical .429 hitting percentage from Jessica Wirth '01. Kolp tallied 56 assists en route to the 15-13, 14-16, 15-11, 17-19, 15-13 win, which garnered Dartmouth the Granite State Championship.
In pursuit of consistency, the Big Green are still playing with lineups and strategies.
"We're adjusting a lot of different things on offense and defense but we're still able to win," Murray said. "There is still a lot of room for improvement."
Playing consistently well during the regular season will give the Big Green(5-2) momentum to take to the Championship, but a winning record in their seven Ivy League matches will provide the all-important high seeding for the tournament.
The Big Green's preparation for those Ivy League matches began with a road trip two weeks ago for non-league matches against University of California at San Diego, Cal Poly Pomona, and University of California at Irvine.
Dartmouth exited the Golden State with just one win, but Larese believes that the team's experience will be beneficial in the long run.
"We played against teams that are well seasoned and very strong," fifth-year head coach Ann Marie Larese said of the team's matches in California. "It was a good challenge for us in the beginning of the season."
Dartmouth returned to action this past weekend at the Army Invitational, winning all three of its matches against Hartford, Air Force, and Farleigh Dickenson.
"We came focused and ready to play," Kolp said.
Dartmouth figures its early season road experience can't do anything but help the team as the season wears on. The Big Green will play five of its seven Ivy League matches this year on the road.
"One of our goals was to develop a road management strategy," Larese said. "We need to be able to play after sitting on a bus for a few hours or eating at a restaurant that we're not familiar with."
With its eye focused on the Ivy League Championship, the team emphasized off-season weight training to boost its advantage at the net.
"We're hoping it'll help with our jump," Larese said. "We already have a height advantage in our league, so improving our jump will be big."
Dartmouth returns 10 players and with the addition of three freshmen, Larese feels the team is without a weak link.
Leading the team are senior co-captains Kolp and Emily Hallenbeck. The potent Dartmouth offense looks to the setter Kolp as the catalyst of the offense. Kolp is a two-time All-Ivy and Academic All-Ivy selection.
Hallenbeck enters her fourth year as a starter from the outside hitter position. Last year, Hallenbeck's play highlighted a 3-0 upset win over Yale that earned her Ivy League player of the week honors.
"Both of them are very different people and they have very different strengths," Larese said. "They are both very strong leaders and are good examples for our team in general."
Complimenting the co-captains in the starting offense are middle blocker Danra Kazenski '99, with Merryfield lining up on the outside and Murray on the right side.
Bringing new blood to the Big Green are freshmen outside hitter Ashley Dean, right side player Jennifer Madsen, and defensive specialist Erin Naipo. Larese is counting on the freshmen to quickly learn the new offense and defense as well as adjust to the speedier pace of play of college volleyball.
The newcomers are realizing success early in the season: Naipo served up the final two points in Wednesday's 15-13 game one victory over the Wildcats, while Dean hit .400 for the night.
Ranked 10th in District 1 of the NCAA Division 1 rankings, the Big Green open up their home season in the friendly confines of Leede Arena Friday night at 7 p.m. against Central Connecticut State, followed by Saturday matches against Providence College and the University of Vermont.