MAC Women's Volleyball Team Capsules

Women’s volleyball in the MAC is coming off quite a peak in 2011. The conference had a best-ever four bids to the NCAA tournament. But Ball State, Central Michigan, Northern Illinois and Western Michigan were unable to advance past the first round, winning a combined two sets, and the question for 2012 is whether the MAC can earn at-large bids again.

While most of the power in 2011 came from the West division, Ohio, winners of seven of the past nine MAC tournaments, will likely be a strong contender. The East appears to be the more experienced of the two divisions in 2012, which may balance out an interdivisional battle that had skewed westward of late.

Here is a look at each women’s volleyball team:

EAST DIVISION

AkronAkron_medium

Last Season: 4-25, 1-15 MAC

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 58.8/74.1/77.7

Impact Newcomer: Ashley Holder. Will be learning behind senior setter Morgan Kuhn, but Holder will be called upon if Kuhn has any trouble

Things bottomed out for the Zips in 2011. Fourth-year coach Ron Arenz has yet to surpass .500 in a season during his tenure at Akron, but the team had at least achieved double-digit victories in the years prior to 2011. The Zips should have a more experienced lineup, with senior leadership at middle blocker, outside hitter and setter. Junior Jill Paluch will be in her second season as libero after shifting to the defensive specialist position last year. There’s really nowhere for the Zips to go but up.

Bowling GreenBowlinggreen_medium

Last Season: 19-12, 6-10 MAC

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 83.4/93.2/81.8

Impact Newcomer: Coach Danijela Tomic, three-time Sun Belt Coach of the Year at FIU

Replacing a legend like all-time winningest MAC women’s volleyball coach Denise Van De Walle can’t be easy. But since Van De Walle left the cupboard full for new coach Tomic, this should be a smooth transition. The Falcons lost only one starter from last season, and the only newcomer is Tomic, as the team lacks a single freshman. (Concerns about the 2015 season can wait.) With all the returning firepower and a successful coach being replaced by another successful coach, the Falcons may challenge the Bobcats for the East title.

Buffalo Buffalo_medium

Last Season: 11-19, 4-12 MAC

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 68.7/92.2/60.4

Impact Newcomer: Outside hitter Megan Lipski, a Gatorade National Player of the Year nominee

The Bulls are dealing with the opposite situation of the Falcons. While Bowling Green has zero freshmen, Buffalo has zero seniors. Even so, this is still an experienced bunch, with six juniors on the roster, including libero Kelly Svoboda and setter Dani Reinert. With the defensive expertise returning, scoring points against the Bulls may be a battle of attrition. Buffalo will look for an improved record in 2012, but its real sights may be on 2013.

Kent State Kentstate_medium

Last Season: 12-19, 5-11 MAC

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 66.6/61.9/86.2

Impact Newcomers: A trio of freshmen -- Morgan Semmelhack, Kelly Hutchison and Haley Schneider -- will compete for a starting spot at outside hitter

The Golden Flashes bring another new coach into the conference, Don Gromala. He was a coach at Ohio for four years (two years as graduate assistant and two as assistant coach) from 2004-2007 and spent the past four as an assistant at Ohio State. While Kent State still has questions on the outside, middle blocker Kathy Krupa will be the centerpiece of the team’s attack. Krupa led the team in three categories last year and was second in four more.

Miami Miami_medium

Last Season: 16-16, 7-9 MAC

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 48.1/80.8/49.4

Impact Newcomer: Redshirt freshman Jenny Ingle, the tallest player in program history

The RedHawks’ season fell apart in October, as they didn’t win for more than a month during an eight-match losing streak. They turned around to close the regular season by winning four straight but were knocked out by Ohio in the MAC tournament quarterfinals. Miami will have to replace its top three attackers from last season as well. Ingle will likely be looked to as one piece of the new Miami attack. 2012 may be a rebuilding effort in Oxford.

Ohio Ohio_medium

Last Season: 23-10, 13-3 MAC

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 74.2/76/49.2

Impact Newcomer: Transfer Hannah Burkle (Eastern Kentucky). Named to the Ohio Valley Conference All-Newcomer Team while leading the team in blocks

Year after year, Ohio has been the constant in the MAC, representing the conference in the NCAA tournament nine of the past 10 seasons. 2011 was the only block in that tournament run, as a MAC East title wasn’t enough to get the Bobcats in the Dance again. Stumbles in the nonconference and an upset loss to eventual MAC tournament champion Central Michigan ruined another solid campaign. The Bobcats look to be strong again this season, with a starting lineup that should have plenty of experience and will be led by All-MAC First Team selection Kelly Lamberti.

WEST DIVISION

Ball State Ballstate_medium

Last Season: 25-8, 12-4 MAC; lost in first round of NCAA tournament to Louisville

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 49.5/68.7/48.7

Impact Newcomer: Transfer Lisa Scott (Maryland). Led the Terrapins in blocks her junior year

With four first-team All-MAC honorees, the Cardinals advanced to the NCAA tournament in coach Steve Shondell’s second season at the collegiate level. Two of the four are gone (Jennifer Boyd and Kelsey Brandl), and Scott will be called on to fill one of those middle blocker roles. Junior setter Jacqui Seidel will be back following an ACL tear. The expectations will mount for the Cardinals in 2012, and if players can step up to fill the holes in the lineup, another 20-win season is in sight.

Central Michigan Centralmichigan_medium

Last Season: 19-14, 8-8 MAC (Tournament champions); lost in first round of NCAA tournament to Illinois

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 80.3/91.1/77.2

Impact Newcomer: Middle blocker Kalle Mulford, a top-250 recruit from California

In a season with multiple at-large contenders from the MAC, Central Michigan played spoiler in the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed. The Chippewas were swept in their first NCAA appearance, but the experience should carry over into 2012. Central Michigan will miss four-time All-MAC selection Kaitlyn Schultz, but the rest of the starting lineup returns as the team looks to improve upon a fifth-place MAC West finish from the regular season.

Eastern Michigan Easternmichigan_medium

Last Season: 21-11, 9-7 MAC

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 89.9/41.8/89.2

Impact Newcomers: Freshmen liberos Sierra Reed and Corynne Smith

The Eagles return their attackers. The big question is who will be getting them the ball. All-MAC First Team setter Ashley Mason and libero Haley Stein graduated. None of the replacements have much experience, but redshirt junior Kim Hildreth will likely take the setter spot, with three years of backing up Mason to draw upon. Libero is much more of a concern. Coach Kim Berrington is still unsure who will start between Reed and Smith, and the duo may trade duties in the early part of the season.

Northern Illinois Northern_illinois_medium

Last Season: 28-7, 14-2 MAC; lost in first round of NCAA tournament to Miami (Fla.)

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 43.3/51.4/71.7

Impact Newcomer: Setter Alexis Gonzalez -- one of two freshmen on the team and the more likely to see significant playing time in 2012

One does not simply replace the two-time MAC Player of the Year. Lauren Wicinski threw off the balance of power in the conference when she decided to transfer to Michigan State in the offseason. The Huskies have the pieces to replace her over time, but it’s hard to see them not missing Wicinski’s talent in 2012.

Toledo Toledo_medium

Last Season: 10-18, 5-11 MAC

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 86.1/48.5/81.6

Impact Newcomer: Freshman setter Alex Hines

From the bottom looking up in the MAC West, the Rockets are in a similar place to the Eagles. They have depth and experience on the attack but holes at defense and setting. The biggest problem is at setter, where Hines and junior Adria Pryor will compete to replace Kassie Kadera. Pryor has seen action in only two matches in her career, so both setters have basically no collegiate experience. If a solution isn’t found quickly, it could be another tough season for a team that didn’t win back-to-back matches after August last year.

Western Michigan Westernmichigan_medium

Last Season: 24-9, 12-4 MAC; lost in first round of NCAA tournament to Washington

Returning Kills %/Digs %/Blocks %: 81.6/84.6/72.7

Impact Newcomers: Freshmen middle blockers Ava Stout and Stephenee Yancy

The most successful squad returning the most pieces, Western Michigan could be the early favorite to win the MAC this season. If the team’s lone senior, middle blocker Jessica Brown, can bring along Stout or Yancy quickly, the Broncos will look much like the team of last year. Western Michigan will look to avoid a late-season stumble -- losing the final two regular-season conference matches and in the MAC tourney quarterfinal to Central Michigan -- that cost the team a MAC West title.

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