FRANKLIN, Ind. – Youth will be on display for the Franklin College volleyball team in 2018, as the Grizzlies get set to take the court for their season opener this Friday night.
Franklin finished 11-14 a year ago and will feature a smaller roster that features just two true upper-classmen. Although her team is small in numbers and short on collegiate experience, head coach Mary Johnston has been pleased with the mindset and work ethic the entire team has brought to pre-season practices and scrimmages.
"Our kids have come into practice ready and they've been very mindful of what they're doing," Johnston said. "Every drill that we've put in front of them, they've beaten it and that's a credit to their mentality. We're still young and we're a smaller squad this year, but everyone has been dedicated and focused on the small things and that's the thing that has impressed me the most and has led to some very positive practices."
The area the Grizzlies return the most experience is in their group of defensive specialists, where lone senior Libby Stahl is gearing up for her third straight year as the team's starting libero. The Indianapolis, Ind.-native has played in all 76 games over the last three years, and is coming off a 2017 that saw her record 512 digs and finish third in the league with 5.75 digs per set.
Sophomore Kylie Paul is back for her second year with the program and looks to earn more playing time on the Grizzlies' back line in 2018. Junior transfer Madison Scott, freshman Allison Thompson and freshman Maria Hasnerl round out the deep group of defensive specialists.
At the front of the net, the Grizzlies will turn to a trio of players to fill the void left by four-time all-conference selection Amanda Lelivelt. Sophomore Abigail Sewell is the leading candidate to fill those shoes after a breakout freshman campaign in 2017. The Franklin-native finished second on the team with 66 blocks and her .196 hitting percentage ranked second on the team. Sophomore Kyndall Boyll and freshman Timber Falin will push Sewell for playing time at middle blocker.
On the pins, the Grizzlies return one outside hitter in sophomore Lexie Gifford and their lone right side hitter in Jenna Spini. Junior transfer Kyra Harvey brings a bevy of experience from a two-year stint at St. Cloud Tech Community College in her native Minnesota. Joining them on the pins is Hasnerl, who split time between defense and offense during her prep career.
Sophomore Mackenzie Waldran is set to take over as the team's primary setter. The Tanner, Ala.-native appeared in eight contests as a true freshman, and will be tasked with running the offense this fall.
Though the total number of players is small, the team is not short on chemistry. The veterans have made the newcomers feel welcome and like they're a part of something special since day one, and their head coach expects the want to play with each other and for each to play a major role in the team's success this year.
"We're lucky to have a great group of returners back and everyone that's back has done a great job of assuming a leadership role. I think we'll surprise people this year. We were in games last year and we ran into some injury issues that hurt us. We've got some kids that hit hard on the pins and we've got plenty of experience on defense and at the net and I'm excited to see what they can do."
First serve of the 2018 season comes on Friday (Aug. 31) night in Whitewater, Wis. at the UW-Whitewater Invitational. The Grizzlies will play host UW-Whitewater and UW-Platteville at 4:00 and 6:00 p.m., respectively.