Jackrabbits volleyball eyes bounce back in 2012

Spencer Chase

If the Jackrabbit volleyball team hopes to improve on their 13-20 performance from last season, they will have to rely on the leadership of their strong group of seniors.

The Jacks 2011 campaign was highlighted by multiple losing streaks of six or more games. Head coach Phil McDaniel said that the subpar season helped prepare this year’s team for this season.

“I thought we started out strong, but then we hit a few rough patches,” McDaniel said. “We learned how to battle through tough moments, and I think that made us better. Already this spring, we’re looking better.”

After losing Ellyce Youngren and Emily Palmer to graduation, six seniors will highlight the Jackrabbit roster in their redemption campaign this season.

“Those six seniors have a big responsibility for us. We’re going to need them to perform at a high level for us both on the court and in the classroom if we really want to be successful this year,” McDaniel said.

Among the returning seniors are standouts Shay Birath and Kelli Fiegen. Birath is only the sixth player in SDSU history to join the 1,000 dig club as a junior and has been a consistent contributor in her three previous years, including playing in every set her sophomore and junior seasons. McDaniel says that Birath’s back line presence will be counted on in the 2012 campaign.

“Shay is our anchor on defense. We’ve always been able to count on her, and we’ll look for her to provide leadership and consistent play on our back line,” McDaniel said.

As important as Birath is on the back line, Fiegen is every bit as crucial as the Jacks premier offensive weapon. McDaniel said that in order for the Jacks to be an offensively successful team Fiegen will have to “put the offense on her shoulders.” Fiegen was also selected to work with the U.S. National A2 Team as part of its team consisting of top collegiate players from across the country.

“It will be great for Kelli to get some competition against a number of high quality athletes. I know she’ll come back ready to compete for (SDSU) and have a highly productive senior season,” McDaniel said.

The Jacks can also expect to see contributions from senior Kaitlin Klingemann, who is second on the team to Fiegen in attacks and blocks among active players, Kelly Herrmann, a versatile player that is among team leaders in both attacks and sets, and Lexi Fowler, the team leader in sets last season.

In McDaniel’s second season at the helm of the Jackrabbit volleyball program, he hopes to install a system of reloading instead of rebuilding.

“We have a lot of seniors on this team, and we want them to provide leadership to push everyone on this team, because we don’t want a huge drop-off when they leave. We want to build our program so we’re getting better and better every year,” McDaniel said.