Eagles eye return to Cal-Pac title game in 2016
Embry-Riddle possesses tools to succeed with 9 returners this fall
PRESCOTT — Suffering a 3-0 sweep at the hands of La Sierra University in the Cal-Pac tournament championship match last season has given players within the Embry-Riddle volleyball program a sense of motivational “fire.”
And with nine players returning from a 2015 campaign (20-10, 8-2 Cal-Pac) that ranks best in club history, the Eagles want more.
“Coming back with such a big returning group, we already have that connection and we have lots of confidence going in,” senior outside hitter and three-time letterwinner Jordan Jones said. “And with our new additions, it’s a good group of girls and we’re ready to take on Cal-Pac.”
Jones, along with senior middle blocker Madison Fancher and senior setter Hannah Mercurio, will lead the Eagles this season.
“We all have a fire coming in. The seniors, Hannah, Maddy and I, we’ve been wanting to win the Cal-Pac since we were freshman,” Jones said. “This year, we’re in a better position than last year.”
Embry-Riddle head coach Jill Blasczyk, entering her fourth year at the helm for the Eagles, said she thinks her squad is in pretty good shape with nine returners and all the experience that comes with them, but her senior class is “special.”
“They are my first four-year class, so they have a special place in my heart,” Blasczyk said. “They have played since their freshman year, they’ve been on the court, they got those reps, and now that’s paying off. … They bring that leadership and experience.”
Junior opposite hitter Katie Powell, junior libero Megan Riley and junior outside hitter Kaitlin Shroll also return in 2016.
Add 5-foot-10 outside hitter Jalin Yoder, Cal-Pac Freshman of the Year in 2015, to the mix, and Embry-Riddle possibly has the tools to compete with anyone.
The Eagles have four new players on the roster that are expected to contribute immediately this fall.
Lyndsey Weiler is a sophomore transfer from the University of Albany-Suny, but has Arizona ties as a 2014 graduate of Thunderbird High School in Phoenix.
As for the three freshman, 5-foot-6 Windsor High School product Sabrina Nunn is a defensive specialist, setter Audrey Baldwin is from Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, California, and former Prescott High School standout Veronica Norkus is a middle hitter.
Norkus, who led the Badgers to a 28-15 overall record and state playoff appearance in 2015, said she’s enjoying her time playing at the college level, adding that she fit right in.
“Within the first couple days, it was like we had known each other for years. It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, let’s beat up on the freshman.’ … We’re all like best friends at this point,” Norkus said.
Blasczyk said one of the first things she noticed about her newcomers during the first week of practice was their confidence.
“We put in all 13 players in at the scrimmage, and there wasn’t a change in level when we made those substitutions,” Blasczyk said. “That’s nice for me, because I’m confident in my bench. It will be meaningful later as we go through the season and into the Cal-Pac tournament.”
After a successful scrimmage against Yavapai College on Tuesday, the Eagles open the 2016 campaign at the Johnson & Wales Wildcat Classic in Denver, taking on Loyola University on Friday.
Embry-Riddle will return from Denver and host Arizona Christian University in their 2016 home opener Saturday, Aug. 27.
Official start time is set for 3 p.m.
Brian M. Bergner Jr. is a sports writer and columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Reach him by phone at 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.