7/28/2012 9:48:00 PM Junior College Yavapai College hopes to recapture magic in 2012 Coach Cohen has solid group of experienced sophomores
Matt Hinshaw, file/The Daily Courier
Yavapai College’s Liz Culhane, right, spikes the ball over the net while Pima College Aztec Kendra Hall tries to block her Sept. 28, 2011 at Yavapai College in Prescott.
Steve Stockmar Special to the Courier
PRESCOTT - For all its good moments, the Yavapai College volleyball team would rather leave the 2011 season in the past.
The program had been on an upward trajectory, hopeful to carve out some Region 1 championship contention after two years of overdue success. In 2009, the team finished 26-15 and advanced to the region's Division 1 playoffs for the seventh time in school history, and even received votes on the NJCAA national poll. The next season, 25 more wins.
Then came 2011.
The Roughriders won four of five matches out of the gate. In just their third Arizona conference meeting of the year, the team opened their match against a mighty Eastern Arizona club with an impressive 25-15 single-game win.
It looked as though the Roughriders' time had arrived.
Just as quickly, time ran out.
First, Yavapai succumbed in that Eastern match, losing the next three games. It would prove prophetic. While Eastern went on to run the table in the Arizona league with a 16-0 region record, the Roughriders took a step back in finishing their sub-.500 season at 14-16.
And even though injuries (Libby Ary suffered a concussion; Jessica Durbin tore her ACL) forced Yavapai to play five freshmen at times, the sudden lineup changes in 2011 figure to pay off in 2012.
"It's kind of a double-edged sword," sixth-year head coach Matt Cohen said Wednesday. "Because of what happened, a lot of our freshmen were forced to play, but now we get to hopefully reap the benefit of having five sophomores who all played probably upwards of 25-30 collegiate matches. In our conference it seems like sophomore-heavy teams are always able to find success."
Yavapai did catch some lightning late. The Roughriders needed just four games to beat an Arizona Western club, which would eventually finish in second place among Division 1 teams, and in late October they even picked up another single-game victory over an Eastern squad that was hitting its stride. Eastern would soon win the Region 1 Championship, top Seminole State (Fla.) in the District round, and win their opening match against eventual national champion Blinn (Texas) College at the NJCAA Tournament in West Plains, Mo.
"We were very competitive against (Eastern). And our conference is tough," Cohen said. "There's good teams top to bottom. I think the thing we're most excited about is that those girls hopefully can speak from experience to our incoming kids that we only have 16 conference matches and we can't take a night off. We had some interesting results last year. ... When we were able to function at a high level, we were pretty good."
The 2012 club will try to recapture some of that magic when the new season opens Aug. 24 at the New Mexico Military Institute Invitational in Roswell, a tournament at which YC won three of four matches to open the season last fall. Yavapai's first regular season home match is a rare Monday night appearance on Sept. 3 against Phoenix College, which finished fourth in the nation in 2011 among Division 2 clubs.
The new team is built around five returning sophomores, and "it all starts with our setter," Cohen noted.
Libby Ary (5-6; Canon City, Colo.) earned the starting spot as a freshman, and has embraced her leadership role on and off the court. Returning all-conference outside hitter Lauren Bevan (5-11; Ventura, Calif.) has hops and a long, lean build. Middle hitter Liz Culhane (6-1; Lake Elsinore, Calif.) will emerge after spending her summer on the beach playing volleyball and working out.
MacKenzie Hamilton (5-9; Spokane Falls, Wash.), outside hitter, at times led the team in kills last year and is always around the ball. And defensive specialist Jordan Lopez (5-7; Honolulu, Hawaii) led the team in digs and is a quality passer.
Interestingly, all five span different positions on the court. The early going in 2012 will be spent finding the right freshman pieces to fit.
Yavapai's big measuring stick early on is a Sept. 5 match against Eastern Arizona at the Storm Center in Prescott.
The team will have to take care of business early in the season. The scheduling gods have slotted their final three matches of the season - against Eastern, Central, and Western, respectively - all on the road in late October, when playoff positioning may still be up for grabs.
The team reports this coming weekend, and will be on the court together for first time inside the gym on Monday, Aug. 6, at 9 a.m.
Joining the Roughrider coaching staff in 2012 is assistant Mandy Mellencamp, 22, who was the Prescott High School Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2007-08. Following her days with the Badgers, Mellencamp played SEC volleyball where she was the first-ever Arizona signee at Mississippi State University. "She's seen great volleyball, she's seen teams who've been in the top five in the nation, she's competed against that," Cohen said. "She had the opportunity to play for two different coaches, so she can bring a couple different perspectives to our meetings. So I just think it's a great fit for us."