Fort Lewis College volleyball coach Shelly Aaland succinctly summed up the ups and downs of a young team in one line.
“You can’t fake experience,” she said. “You can fake a whole lot of other things, but that one is tough.”
As young as the Skyhawks were last year, boasting only two seniors, they’re even younger this year, boasting four juniors and no seniors. But they’re seemingly making some progress despite that fact, having gone 4-4 in the early stages of 2012 after winning just five games a season ago.
Still, it’s a matter of finding consistency for FLC as the Skyhawks look to make themselves a factor again in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
“We have to find that consistency; we have to find our own identity, and with a younger group, you know, it’s trying to force that maturity to happen a little quicker than they naturally will give it to you,” Aaland said.
Having a crew of players step up and hold teammates accountable is a start. Junior libero Jenna Kinzer and sophomore setter Ciara Krening have assumed captain’s roles, while junior outside hitter Hannah Starbuck and junior blocker Kristin Stephan have added fire and a lead-by-example attitude that the Skyhawks hope translates into steady improvement in 2012.
“All of us have fallen into little leadership (roles), and we all are leaders in very different ways,” Kinzer said.
Such leadership is necessary as several true freshmen have worked their way into playing time. Ashley Ellis leads the team with 15 total blocks, while Lindley Gallegos has added 47 digs to help a back line led by Kinzer’s 138 digs.
Sophomore Ashley Wells leads the offense with 90 kills, while Stephan and Stephani Sonka have 49 apiece.
Aaland said Starbuck, who leads the team with nine service aces, will do a bit of everything, and junior blocker Taylor Frederking and freshman Alexa Moser should factor into the attack, as well.
Kinzer, as one might expect given the position she plays, said the depth on defense should help FLC vastly improve this season.
“We’ve got depth in all the defensive positions ... we’re very scrappy,” she said.
A young team’s biggest worry often is lulls in focus or confidence, and Aaland called coaching a “four-year mission” to keep her players hungry and on task. With 107 wins to her credit, she’s accomplished that more often than not. Doesn’t mean she’s any less hungry or focused, though.
“My quote that was put on my 100 wins little award was, ‘You haven’t done anything yet,’” Aaland said. “I am that coach who’s not satisfied. It doesn’t matter what’s happening on the other side. I want that feel; I want that intensity.”