Roughriders eye return to national tournament in 2016
PRESCOTT – Fresh off the program’s first NJCAA national tournament bid in 2015, the Yavapai College volleyball team is looking for more this fall than just an early first-round exit on a national stage.
But with only two returning starters and 11 freshman making up this season’s roster, fourth-year head coach Zach Shaver will have his hands full.
“For as little time as we’ve been together, I’m very satisfied with where they are. But there’s definitely a few inconsistencies, and a few things we need to work out,” Shaver said after last week’s scrimmage against cross-town rival Embry-Riddle.
“There are a few things [the players] are learning at this level that they didn’t have to do as high school players,” Shaver said, adding that the Roughriders piqued “a little too early” in 2015.
With that, Shaver started practice later than usual to try and “conserve” his squad’s energy for a late-season push.
“Obviously we were great in the district championships, but we ran out of gas a little bit heading into nationals,” Shaver said. “In the first few matches … we don’t need to be excellent, we just need to be improving. Hopefully we’ll hit our stride by our home tournament.”
Ranked No. 20 in the preseason NJCAA poll, Yavapai (22-8, 14-2 ACCAC in 2015) will lean heavily on its two returning starters, sophomores Jordan Tilley and Iva Alebic, along with returning sophomores BreiAnna Grunig and Kassidy Pomeroy, this season.
Alebic, the reigning ACCAC Player of the Year and NJCAA second-team All-American, said despite having 11 new freshman, she feels the team is still in a “good position” to begin the season today in Mesa.
“We will keep working on the things that we’re not too good at, and we’ll keep working on our execution,” Alebic said. “We prepare for every match. Every game, every match, we do our best. Our goal is back-to-back league championships, and we’ll get there with a lot of hard work, energy and execution.”
Led by 6-foot-2 Fullerton, California,-native Kaytlin Yost, the Roughriders have an impressive group of freshman ready to take the program to the next level.
Yost, an El Dorado High School graduate, said at first, her transition to the college game was a “little rough” with so many practices, but she’s adjusted well.
“I’m managing to get through it,” Yost said with a smile, adding that as a whole, the team should continue to do better.
“We have to practice it up, work on the bits and pieces and get ready,” Yost said. “All we have to do is prepare and we’ll be ready to go.”
Other newcomer standouts include 6-foot-2 middle blocker Maddie McKeown, libero Hannah Semon, Buckeye-native Hailey Welch and former Prescott High School volleyball standout Bailey Anderson.
Shaver said with Alebic and Tilley on the floor, their leadership will help the 11 newcomers.
“Their court experience is helping right now. … That court experience and having played at a high level, there’s little things that they will point out to the freshman on the court,” Shaver said. “It’s beneficial to have experience out there.”
Yavapai (0-0, 0-0 ACCAC) opens the 2016 campaign with a road match against Mesa Community College tonight at 7 p.m.
The Roughriders will play a four-match tournament in Las Vegas called the Coyote Classic this weekend before returning home to host Eastern Arizona College on Thursday, Sept. 1. Official start time is scheduled for 7 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.