Niagara Gazette

Niagara U.

August 26, 2010

Defending championship is daily grind for NU volleyball team

LEWISTON — When you reach the top of the mountain, is there anywhere else to go but downhill?

The Niagara women’s volleyball team is hoping to continue its ascent by instilling the mindset that they’re starting from the bottom again.

In 2008, coach Susan Clements set forth on a three-year with the youngest roster in all of Division I. She knew the team would take its lumps in the first year, but she expected to be competitive the next season, and be ready to win a conference championship in year three.

The Purple Eagles went out and accomplished all of their third-stage goals in the second year, winning a school-record 23 games and winning the program’s first Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference title.

All 10 letterwinners are back for more, and Niagara has been picked to win the MAAC again.

The team motto is: “Never settle for anything less than your best.”

“We’re starting fresh,” said junior Michelle James, last year’s MAAC Setter of the Year. “We can’t just come in with the thought that we’re going to win it again like last year.”

“People are chasing us now,” junior libero Sam Morgan said. “We know we have the same people, but it’s going to be a whole new ballgame.”

Clements, who was named 2009 National Coach of the Year by College Volleyball Update, said it will be very difficult to defend the championship than it was to come out of nowhere last season.

“There’s heavy expectations that you feel from winning it and having almost a miracle season,” she said. “We have to keep the perspective that while last year was great, every year is different and we have to be consistent every day.

“You hope the stars align again, that you’re at the peak of your season when it matters, that you’re healthy, that the chemistry is good, and you come out on top.”

The Purple Eagles have already dealt with some adversity that wasn’t present last year, with Clements missing the first two weeks of practice due to an illness in her family.

With the right mindset, Niagara should be in the mix for another title, considering the talent they have. Along with James, MAAC Defensive Player of the Year Hannah Hedrick was a first-team all-conference player, and sophomore Kari Honomichl was a second-team selection. Sophomore Amanda Wilken led the team in hitting percentage a year ago, and seniors Lauren Costello, Rebecca Suchy and Shannon Ryan have all played prominent roles over the past couple seasons.

Clements is expecting freshmen Taylor Scully and Ellen Senf to bolster the offense.

“It gives us a little different look that the team’s aren’t going to be used to,” she said. “That’s always good to have something new and different, because if it’s the same as last year, they’re going to find a way to beat you.”

Niagara opens up at the LaSalle tournament in Philadelphia, taking on Hartford today and meeting LaSalle and Valparaiso on Saturday. The Purple Eagles host Buffalo on Wednesday, when they will hoist they’re MAAC championship banner. Conference play begins Sept. 18 at Marist.

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