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Fort Lewis volleyball embraces talented youth

Fort Lewis will rely on freshmen talent

Pick a Fort Lewis College volleyball player. Odds are they’re under age 20.

The Skyhawks’ 2015 roster features nine freshmen, two of whom redshirted last year.

Add in three true sophomores, and FLC head coach Kelley Rifilato has a lot of teaching to do.

“The wealth of experience in the young ones, I think five of the six (freshmen) were at the national club tournament,” she said. “Just a high volleyball IQ with the young ones, which shows because they can play multiple positions.”

Rifilato got her first extended look at the team Saturday at FLC’s annual alumni game.

The Skyhawks largely cruised in a 3-0 (25-18, 25-18, 25-22) win over a squad relying heavily on last season’s senior class.

Heather Danny, Stephanie Sonka and Ashley Wells all suited up with the alumni one season after playing for the Skyhawks.

“It’s really nice, especially for those freshmen who haven’t played in college yet to get the speed of the game and play against hitters who are actually like really, really talented,” FLC libero Ally Dell’Amico said.

Durango High School graduate and redshirt freshman Bella Bernazzani started along with sophomore Hannah Hargrove and freshman setter Kendra Swackenberg.

Swackenberg and junior college transfer Delaney Scanlan split setting duties in the alumni game, and the competition so far has been a wash.

“We have two really good setters, so it’s definitely competitive,” FLC senior middle blocker Shelby Lehman said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it changes throughout the year.”

The system could change, too.

Instead of running a 5-1 that features one setter in all six rotations, the Skyhawks could go to a 6-2 offense that rotates both setters around and occasionally has both on the floor at the same time.

“I think both of them enjoy being the quarterback of a team and take it to heart and do a good job of connecting with the players,” Rifilato said. “When we play against a big team, a 6-2 isn’t out of the question. It flowed pretty well.”

Regardless of what the Skyhawks look like offensively, the defense appears to be the team’s strength.

Dell’Amico was FLC’s only preseason all-conference performer, and the Skyhawks established a strong block led by Lehman.

“That’s super helpful. When the block’s consistent, I can get up, play around them exactly where I’m supposed to be playing and dig balls,” Dell’Amico said.

Lehman and defensive specialist Lindley Gallegos, also FLC’s student body president, are the only seniors, out of three, who have spent their entire career at FLC.

“(Lehman) creates that stability for the setters because sometimes the setters can’t decide if it’s their error or the hitter’s error since they haven’t played with these guys,” Rifilato said. “With Shelby being consistent in all she does, they can base what they do with the other hitters.”

The Skyhawks will start their season Friday at the Oklahoma Panhandle State Aggies Challenge with four games in two days before heading to the California State University-San Bernardino Coyote Classic the next weekend.

It’s the beginning of a long stretch away from Whalen Gymnasium for FLC, as the Skyhawks won’t play their first home game until Sept. 25.

“It’s definitely like stepping stones. It’s strong play the whole way,” Rifilato said. “I think it’s going to be tough decisions, but we have kids that can impact this program for four years.”


Aug 29, 2015
Fort Lewis women’s soccer hungry for goals
Aug 29, 2015
Fort Lewis College men’s soccer taught a lesson by alumni

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