The Metro volleyball team appears as the favorite to dethrone the University of Nebraska at Kearney from the top of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference standings in 2011, as most of UNK’s nucleus graduated.
Kearney has won the regular season RMAC championship every year since 2004, which included being named co-champions in 2006 and 2007. They have also hosted the RMAC tournament in six of the past seven years and beat the Runners for the 2010 championship.
Now that the Lopers have started the rebuilding phase, there is only one thing on Metro’s mind: win the conference tournament for the first time in two years.
“I think our expectations are high,” head coach Debbie Hendricks said. “Ever since the finish of last season, we’ve had our sights set on raising the bar a little bit for ourselves this upcoming year. The fact that our team has been getting to a high level and deep into the conference and regional tournaments the last couple years, we understand what we need to do.”
The Roadrunners have eight returning upperclassmen, highlighted by six seniors. They also have eight underclassmen they can build around in the future, including three freshmen.
Hendricks said Metro successfully recruited players that’ll give the squad more depth than they had last year. Given the circumstances, they desire the conference title this fall.
“We’re going to set goals, [and] we’re going to focus on the details that must occur,” Hendricks said. “We haven’t won the regular season championship in volleyball since 2003, and that burns in my belly.”
Despite her squad’s high expectations for 2011, Hendricks said that one of the worst things a team can do is get too far ahead of itself.
Most of the Roadrunners’ core remains intact, led by outside hitter Bri Morley and defensive specialist Ngoc Phan, preparing to lead the rest of the team on the court.
“We can’t come in thinking that all the teams are going to roll over,” Phan said of the upcoming season.
After seniors Lisa Jones and Anna Mapes graduated, Hendricks addressed her squad’s needs by recruiting three freshmen, two sophomores and one junior. The new players will add depth and reassurance, as well as extra competition.
“You’re always working harder because no position is ever guaranteed,” Morley said. “You always know that if you’re struggling, you can count on your teammate to take that area up.”
Audri Marrs, a 6-foot freshman middle blocker/outside hitter from Chaparral High School in Parker, gives Metro versatility and reassurance at two positions, tallying 117 kills and 110 blocks last season. She played club volleyball for Metro assistant coach Gavin Markovits.
“It brings a different gel to the court,” Marrs said of her versatility. “Everyone works better together and things run more smoothly.”
They filled the right-side hitter spot with Lauren Quijano, a 5-foot-9 right-side hitter from Wildomar, Calif. She is the first left-handed hitter to play for coach Hendricks.
Kaleigh Carroll rounds out the freshman class. Carroll, a 6-foot middle blocker from San Antonio, generated a solid résumé while playing for Ronald Reagan High School’s varsity squad for three seasons, hitting 36.3 percent with 107 blocks in 2010.
To cap off her 2011 class, Hendricks recruited 5-foot-9 setter Vanessa Gemignani and 5-foot-11 outside hitter/right-side hitter Alysa Heath. Gemignani, a 2009 graduate of Colorado Springs’ Doherty High School, transferred from Division I Long Island University.
Heath, a 2009 graduate from Chatfield High School in Littleton, brings Division I experience from her days at Wichita State University. Like Audri Marrs, Heath adds versatility to Metro. She too can play at least two positions.
Hendricks also added 5-foot-9 middle blocker Daleah Whitaker. A sophomore transfer from Laramie County Community College in Wyoming and 2010 Lakewood High School graduate, Whitaker averaged 1.70 kills and .96 blocks with Laramie County C.C. and was second-team all-conference her senior year at LHS. She also played for the Denver Volleyball Club team.
“It’s important for every team to have that variation,” Phan said. “To know that more than one player can play different positions, it gives us more of a sense of completion.”
Following a 25-7 record in 2010, expectations are running high for Metro in 2011.
“I think the team has a lot of talent, a lot of great incoming players [and] personality,” Marrs said. “I think we’ve got great seniors who are going to lead the way.”