MORRISVILLE, N.Y. – The Morrisville State College women's volleyball program had a historical season just a year ago, compiling a program best 21-11 overall record, while smashing their way to a semi-final appearance in the conference championship tournament behind an 11-2 conference stint. Despite the success on the court in 2016, the Mustangs are concentrating on the quickly approaching 2017 season that kicks off Friday afternoon as they host non-conference opponent Alfred State.
"Last year we finished with a bunch of 'firsts'," said head coach Fred Wallace. "However, going into the new season with all that is behind us from last year, we are concentrating on how to take that next step."
That next step, according to Wallace comes from a variety of sources, including the addition of four very strong incoming players, who will round out "by far the most versatile and deep team" Morrisville State has ever had, combined with a tough non-conference schedule.
Morrisville State returns nine to its lineup this season, including three all-conference selections in junior Helena Hanes (St. Marys, Pa.), and sophomores Sam Wolf (Liverpool, N.Y.) and Megyan Merrill (Millport, N.Y.).
Hanes, a first team selection in 2016, averaged just short of a triple double for the Mustangs a year ago, posting nearly double digits in assists, kills and digs each outing. She returns alongside fellow setter Kimberly Dunkleman (Williamsville, N.Y.), who combined for 933 assists and 391 digs. Both will be serving as captains for Morrisville State this season.
Not afraid to throw down the ball, Merrill returns to the outside after compiling a team best 296 kills as a freshman. Hanes also put up big numbers as she swung away, collecting 232 kills on the season.
The Mustangs had a breakthrough season defensively in 2016, adding then-newcomer Wolf to their lineup. Wolf, defensive specialist and reigning conference Defensive Player of the Year, had a record breaking season with 552 defensive digs, while Lindsey Sunderlage (Kingston, Ill.) and Hanes put up a fierce wall at the net, combining for 122 total blocks.
"Every single position has depth," Wallace stated. "No one will have an easy route to the floor on game day."
The transition to the college game can prove difficult for some, but Wallace in the off-season added a pair of newcomers Margaret Kianka (Marcellus, N.Y.) and Anna Salamino (Liverpool, N.Y.) who are quite familiar in playing together in their time with the Onondaga Volleyball Club, but also with current Mustang Sam Wolf as well.
Alongside Salamino and Kianka, the other newcomers to the Morrisville State lineup may resemble one another in style and play, but also in appearance. Opponents will have to do a double-take as twins Morgan and Kirsten Florio (Wellsboro, Pa.) will be making their debut on the court this fall.
"All four freshmen will have a shot to be on the floor right away," Wallace commented. "They will have a huge impact on our overall ability."
"Our practices will be extremely competitive every single day, which in turn should make us that much better when we get rolling with outside competition," Wallace said.
"We will be facing some of the very best teams in the country on a weekly basis," he continued. "But despite last year's success, we need to make some improvements. We need to win the serve receive battle, and also need to start strong."
Morrisville State, who reached the North Eastern Athletic Conference (NEAC) semi-finals before falling to eventual champion Gallaudet University in a 3-2 match battle, expects to be in control of their season.
"Our expectations are always high in every area: academics, socially and on the court, and every season they get a little higher," Wallace commented. "The team worked very hard all year and in our sport an inch or two can make a huge difference."
"One of the things I look forward too is seeing how much we've improved and who is going to be that 'surprise' player coming out of preseason."
"We have 13 volleyball family members, and I can honestly say, that any of the 13 could be that 'surprise' player."
Morrisville State will get the season underway on Friday, September 1st, hosting Alfred State College in a non-conference battle. First serve is scheduled for 4 p.m.
Hosting a slew of games across the weekend that includes competition from Oswego, Norwich, MIT and Penn St. Behrend, the Mustangs will use that as a tune-up for a NEAC opener with Route 20 Rival, Cazenovia College, on the 6th.
They hit the road for three straight, two at Penn College on the 9th where they meet the Wildcats before facing Misericordia, and following up with Elmira College on the 12th.
Morrisville State and Gallaudet will meet in a rematch of last year's semifinal on Friday the 15th at Morrisville-Eaton's High School, hosting the tri-match that also features SUNY Geneseo.
A bout with Oneonta on the road on the 19th will lead the Mustangs to another conference battle, this time at Wells College on the 23rd, where they will also face Hamilton College.
Taking to the road for three straight to round out September's action, Morrisville State will head down to SUNY Delhi on the 27th, before facing Utica and Southern Vermont on the 30th.
October kicks off with a road contest at SUNY Polytechnic on the 3rd, before Morrisville State returns to their home court to host Keuka College on the 5th.
Gallaudet plays host to conference play on the 14th where the Mustangs will meet Penn St. Abington and Wilson College.
Hartwick rolls into town on the 19th, before Morrisville State again hits the road for a battle in Pennsylvania with opponents Wilkes University, Keystone College and Kean University on the 20th, following with Moravian on the 21st.
Cobleskill will serve as the Mustangs home finale on the 25th, before they wrap up action at nearly Hamilton College on the 28th.
A complete roster and schedule is available on the college's athletic web site at www.morrisvillestateathletics.com.
Morrisville State College's curricula are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology and has been lauded for its exemplary, innovative and effective community service programs.
The college was ranked among the Best Regional Colleges in the North by U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges 2016 issue and was also recognized in the Top Public Schools, Regional Colleges North in the 2016 Best Colleges rankings. For more information about Morrisville State College, visit www.morrisville.edu.