Incoming freshmen athletes to make immediate impact

| Sports Editor

The women’s volleyball prepares for the season

The women’s volleyball prepares for the season as head coach Rich Luenemann, left, instructs the freshmen through drills.

With well over 1,500 members of the Washington University Class of 2014 looking to make an impact on campus in their own way, one group of freshmen has already hit the ground – or the field, or the court – running.

Freshmen athletes have always found ways to make names for themselves at Wash. U., and this year looks to be no exception.

“While maybe initially they have a modest role in terms of the team, when they stay with it and they develop, then they make a real contribution that results in success,” athletic director John Schael said.

A majority of teams have not finalized their rosters for the season, with the soccer and tennis teams still conducting tryouts. However, several freshmen have already begun practice with the football and volleyball squads, and early indications suggest that they have impressed.

“Every one of them is pushing for significant playing time, and some are pushing for starting time,” volleyball head coach Rich Luenemann said. “We have more depth than we’ve ever had.”

Last year, freshmen across several sports made themselves known across campus for their achievements. Current sophomores Kelly Pang and Marilee Fisher were vital to the volleyball team’s national championship run, while Hannah Buck and Melanie Walsh shined for women’s golf.

“For a freshman to come in, learn the nuances of our offense, execute so well, and be a strong part of our national championship says a lot about [Fisher],” Luenemann said of his setter. “There’s no doubt about it. She did a tremendous job.”

But to coaches, the boost to team chemistry that those contributions provide is just as important as the freshmen’s actions on the field.

“I knew that [Hannah and Melanie] were going to come in and be probably the top two players on the team,” women’s golf coach Sean Curtis said. “On the other hand, I wasn’t sure what kind of effect it would have on the team as a whole, and it was a very positive effect.”

As recruiting efforts continue, the school’s recent successes surely will help attract prospective athletes. Six national championships in the last three school years have drawn significant attention to the athletic program at Wash. U.

The women’s volleyball prepares for the season

“Prospective students are looking for a competitive program, an opportunity to excel and to perhaps win a national championship,” Schael said. “We make the connection between academics and athletics, and they’re looking for both.”

However, coaches maintain that the flexibility of the Wash. U. program will lead to interest regardless of the number of championships won.

“[Recruits] want to enjoy the kind of academic opportunity that the university offers, but yet still compete at a very, very high level,” Luenemann said. “There’s that segment of really strong recruits out there who may have Division 1 potential but say ‘wait a minute, I don’t want volleyball to be a job’.”

While it remains to be seen how successful the Bears will be in the 2010-2011 year, one thing is for sure: between the athletic program and Wash. U. as a whole, more and more talented high school student-athletes will continue to look at St. Louis, Mo., as a four-year destination.

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