FRANKLIN – After missing out on postseason play in 2016, the Franklin volleyball program enters the 2017 campaign with not only a bulk of their starting lineup back, but a major chip on their shoulder.
The Grizzlies completed their third straight winning season a year ago, going 15-12 while rotating six underclassmen into their daily lineup. With just one starting position to replace, and a talented and athletic recruiting class, expectations are high as the team prepares to hit the court.
"The last three years we've had some talented teams but this may be the most talented one yet," Head coach Mary Johnston said. "Not only that but they feel like they have some unfinished business to take care of. We have some pretty high expectations as coaches and our players have set the expectations high for themselves after getting shut out of the conference tournament last year."
As it has been in years past, the Grizzlies are expected to be one of the top defensive teams in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference (HCAC). Franklin led the HCAC in digs per set a season ago with 19, and the team finished third in the league in both blocks (190.5) and opponent hitting percentage (0.134).
Junior libero Libby Stahl topped the team with 488 digs in 2016, ranking fifth in the league with 5.36 digs per set. She'll patrol the back line once again and she'll be joined by seniors Carrigan Peak and Sarah Labra as well as freshman DS Kylie Paul.
The front of the net will be patrolled by three-year starter and 2016 First Team All-HCAC selection Amanda Lelivelt, who ranked third in the HCAC with 1.07 blocks per set and fourth in total blocks with 102.
But no matter who is on the floor, the Grizzlies' will expect their defense to set the table for their attack time after time.
"I've always told our team defense is an attitude and they have taken that to heart," Johnston added. "We've been successful with our defensive specialists getting to the ball and our blockers protecting the net. We expect them to make things difficult for opposing offenses once again this year."
Offensively, the Griz will have their top three attackers back in Lelivelt and outside hitters Brooke Harvey and Kennedy Surface, the latter fresh of a season that landed her on the HCAC All-Freshman Team. Gab Arthur and Jenna Spini each hit the 100-kill mark a year ago and will join a slew of freshman both on the pins and in the middle that will push the returning Grizzlies for playing time.
Running the offense this year will be tasked to sophomore Nico Morris and freshmen Mackenzie Waldran and Jourdan Worthington as they look to fill the void at setter left by Ashley Bazier. The three may be young in terms of experience, but their talent gives their head coach confidence in all three to take over running the Franklin attack.
"Nico had a great spring running the offense," Johnston continued. "We have confidence in her to take on a bigger role this year and she's going to be pushed by our two freshmen setters. We also wanted to add lots of depth in the middle and on the outside and we expect our freshmen to make an impact in those areas immediately. Up and down our lineup, we feel we have plenty of strong options and that's big for us."
The Griz will be tested early and often in 2017, traveling to three different tournaments in the first month before opening HCAC play. The first of those tournament opens on Friday, Sept. 1, when the Griz battle Wellesley at the Brandeis Invitational in Waltham, Mass. First serve is set for 8:00 p.m.