Bears v-ball seeks to defend national title

| Sports Editor

Washington University is back and poised to defend the national title.

It will not be an easy task to retain the title as the Bears, ranked second in the Association of Volleyball Coaches top 25 poll, will face eight teams ranked in the preseason top 25 poll during the weeks to come.

Key players from the 2007 team, Lindsay Schuessler, Kathy Leeper, Haleigh Spencer and Ellen Bruegge, all graduated in May. Bruegge scored the national championship-winning point last November against the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, and Spencer was named to the NCAA Championship All-Tournament Team.

“Losing several of our starters was a concern for several of the upperclassmen as we entered the preseason, but after only a day of practice, we were put at ease to see how strong our team this year is,” co-captain and senior Audra Janak said.

According to Head Coach Rich Luenemann, this season’s squad is the largest and has the most depth he’s ever had.

“We have a strong core coming back, the other returning players in the fight [for a spot] and a talented freshmen class,” Luenemann said.

That strong core includes several offensive powerhouses such as seniors Nikki Morrison and Janak and junior Erin Albers. Albers received All-America honors last season, while senior Alli Alberts was the Most Valuable Player in the NCAA Championship. Junior Laura Brazeal, who was 10 digs shy of the single-season school record, also returns to anchor the defensive line.

Other returnees who have played key roles include senior Ali Crouch, juniors Vicki Blood, Jennee Montijo and sophomores Ali Hoffman, Nicole Penwill, Marya Kaminski and Jennifer Varriano. Varriano will be able to play for the first time in her collegiate career, after recovering from last season’s injury.

Seven freshmen joined the squad this season and will help attempt to improve upon the program’s nine national titles, a Division III record.

“The freshman class is very strong and will have a great impact on the success of this team,” Janak said.

The Bears also look to continue their academic success. The squad received a Team Academic Award from the American Volleyball Coaches Association for maintaining a team cumulative grade point average of at least 3.30, while nine players received University Athletic Association All-Academic honors, the most in any school in the UAA. “We’re pleased that the Bears can excel in the classroom and on the court,” Luenemann said.

The Red and Green start the season with the WU Invitational on Saturday against Lawrence University at 5:15 p.m. in the Field House. The Bears will also face Simpson College, Cardinal Stritch University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire as they prepare for the Teri Clemens Invitational and the showdown with rival and preseason No. 1 Juniata College.

“Preseason rankings don’t mean that much to our team,” Janak said. “It’s all about who ends up on top at the end.”