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Preview: All-American Jalin Yoder returns for senior season at Embry-Riddle

College Volleyball

Embry-Riddle senior All-American Jalin Yoder works on her game at practice Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Prescott. The Eagles are coming off a 30-5 season that saw the program reach the NAIA Volleyball National Championship Tournament for the first time in program history. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Embry-Riddle senior All-American Jalin Yoder works on her game at practice Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Prescott. The Eagles are coming off a 30-5 season that saw the program reach the NAIA Volleyball National Championship Tournament for the first time in program history. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Record-setting season not enough, Eagles want more in 2018

PRESCOTT — Coming off the best season in program history in 2017, Embry-Riddle volleyball is hoping for more than just a repeat this fall.

They want more.

The Eagles finished with 30 wins (30-5 overall) a year ago … a program first.

They finished with a perfect 14-0 Cal Pac record during the regular season … a program first.

Then they beat UC-Merced 3-2 in the Cal Pac Tournament finals to claim a conference championship … a program first.

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Embry-Riddle head coach Jill Blasczyk talks with a few players during practice Thursday, Aug. 9, 2018, in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

After claiming the title, Embry-Riddle hosted a national tournament match in Prescott after just missing out on a first-round bye, defeating the University of Mobile 3-1 and advancing to pool play at nationals … also a program first.

Notice a pattern?

The Eagles are hoping to continue that success in 2018, and with eight returners coming back this fall, they just might do it.

Embry-Riddle head coach Jill Blasczyk said the Eagles will accomplish their goals this season by playing a “tougher” schedule, which begins today against Northwest University at the Hope International Tournament in Fullerton, California.

Northwest finished ranked No. 21 in the country in the final NAIA postseason poll released Dec. 6, 2017.

“We have to play against tougher competition before our conference schedule begins to prepare for these same teams at nationals,” Blasczyk said. “The more we see ranked opponents, the more we recognize our ability to compete with them and win.”

With that, the Eagles have scheduled 15 straight matches in four different tournaments to begin the 2018 campaign. Embry-Riddle hosts their first non-tournament match against Cal Pac foe La Sierra on Sept. 14, the conference opener.

The Eagles will also see the College of Idaho this week, which finished No. 7 in the national rankings a season ago, and Montana Tech. in the University of Providence Tournament on Sept. 7. Montana Tech made it into the round of 32 bracket play at nationals, losing to Missouri Baptist.

2018 Embry-Riddle Volleyball

Affiliation: NAIA

Conference: California Pacific

2017 Record: 30-5 (14-0 Cal Pac)

2017 Playoffs: Defeated UC-Merced 3-2 for Cal Pac title; Defeated Mobile 3-1 (In Prescott) in first round NAIA National Volleyball Tournament; Finished 1-2 in pool play and did not advance to bracket round.

Coach: Jill Blasczyk, 7th season

2018 Players to Watch: OH Jalin Yoder, Sr. (All-American in 2017); OH Lyndsey Weiler, Sr.; S Audrey Baldwin, Jr.;

2018 Schedule:

Date Opponent Time

8/15 vs. Northwest Univ.^ 8 a.m.

8/15 vs. College of Idaho^ 2 p.m.

8/16 vs. Warner Pacific^ 8 a.m.

8/16 vs. Vanguard^ 2 p.m.

8/24 vs. Hope Inter.# 4 p.m.

8/24 vs. Hope Inter.# 6 p.m.

8/25 vs. Arizona Christian# 6 p.m.

8/31 vs. SAGU-American! 5 p.m.

8/31 vs. Saint Katherine! 7 p.m.

9/1 vs. Ottawa-Arizona! Noon

9/1 vs. Arizona Christian! 2 p.m.

9/7 vs. Montana Tech.% 10 a.m.

9/7 vs. Providence% 6 p.m.

9/8 vs. Lewis-Clark% 9 a.m.

9/8 vs. Carroll College% 3 p.m.

9/14 La Sierra* 2 p.m.

9/15 Marymount* 2 p.m.

9/20 at UC-Merced* 7 p.m.

9/21 at Simpson* 7 p.m.

9/22 at Pacific Union* 8 p.m.

9/28 Providence Christian* 7 p.m.

9/29 Antelope Valley* 2 p.m.

10/6 at Benedictine-Mesa* 5 p.m.

10/10 Ottawa-Arizona 6 p.m.

10/12 at Marymount* 8 p.m.

10/13 at La Sierra* 7:30 p.m.

10/18 Pacific Union* 7 p.m.

10/19 UC-Merced* 7 p.m.

10/20 Simpson* 2 p.m.

10/26 at Antelope Valley* 6 p.m.

10/27 at Providence Chr.* 7 p.m.

11/3 Benedictine-Mesa* 5 p.m.

^ Hope International Tournament, Fullerton, Calif.

# Embry-Riddle Invitational, Prescott

! Arizona Christian Tournament, Phoenix

% Univ. of Providence Tournament, Great Falls, Mont.

* Cal Pac Conference Match

KEY LOSSES

Seniors Leah DeLaurell (middle blocker), Kaitlin Shroll (outside hitter), Katie Powell (outside hitter) and Megan Riley (libero) all graduated in May, but the core of the team remains intact for another run at nationals in 2018.

TOP RETURNERS

Senior Jalin Yoder leads eight returners for the Eagles in 2018. The third-team All-American honoree was the Cal Pac Player of the Year in 2017, and is the first to receive an All-American award in program history.

“She has stepped up as a vocal and dynamic leader on our team,” Blasczyk said of Yoder. “Jalin is doing a great job of integrating our new players into our offensive and defensive systems.”

Yoder said her approach hasn’t changed to how she prepares for a volleyball season, despite the new All-American hardware on her mantle.

“I will lead by example as well as being vocal on and off the court to lead my team where I know that we can go,” Yoder said, adding it’s important to not try and re-invent the wheel and just stick with what works.

“I think what we need to do to make it further this year is sticking to what we know works for us as a team and improving parts of our game that we can control,” Yoder said. “I think that overall team chemistry on the court is something that we need to work hard to achieve because it is a different team. I am confident in this group’s ability to make history this season.”

The Eagles’ outside hitter finished 22nd in the nation in kills with 457, and was second on the team last fall with 394 digs. She also collected 35 ace serves and 30 blocks.

Other seniors returning include libero Nina Egbalic, and outside hitter Lyndsey Weiler, who is expected to crack the starting lineup this season.

Junior middle blocker Veronica Norkus, a former Prescott Badger volleyball standout, junior setter Audrey Baldwin, and sophomores Caylee Robalin (outside hitter) and Sharik Joseph (middle blocker), are also expected to crack the starting lineup this season.

TOP NEWCOMERS

Sophomore transfer Erin Clark (West Texas A&M) is expected to see time at outside hitter this season. The 5-foot-11 Phoenix native attended Horizon.

Also new to campus is three new freshman, including Kat Young, Terra Gordon and Julia Kjenstad. Young is a 5-foot-6 libero expected to start as a freshman for the Eagles this season, while Gordon is a setter from San Antonio, Texas, and Kjenstad is a 6-foot middle blocker from Tacoma, Washington.

“Kat (Young) is a freshman and handling the first couple weeks of training quite well,” Blasczyk said. “She is a competitor and is not stranger to high-level volleyball.”

Blasczyk added that Young plays with a “quiet confidence” and had made a notable difference on the team defensively during practice so far.

“She has helped raise the level of accountability on defense. When our defense is better, we can play longer rallies and really improve our overall game,” Blasczyk said.

OUTLOOK

With a difficult non-conference schedule, Embry-Riddle should be better prepared for their second-straight national tournament appearance in 2018.

“We have the depth and talent to benefit from playing a few more matches this season,” Blasczyk said. “A few more at the beginning hopefully translates to a few more at the end.”

Brian M. Bergner Jr. is sports editor for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Email bbergner@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.