Volleyball Looks to Spread The Wealth This Season
After finishing third in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association and 23rd in national rankings in 2018, the University of Central Oklahoma volleyball team will look to build on a 14-4 MIAA record and 27-7 overall record.
“It’s [a] new year, no doubt about it,” said head volleyball coach Edgar Miraku. “We’re a lot younger, we have one senior which is [Dominque] Lipari. So definitely you can just tell from there what the average youth would be for the team, which is for what I’m pretty sure is below average in the conference.”
UCO ranks in the bottom half of the 11 teams in the MIAA in number of juniors and seniors on the 2019 roster. UCO will return six players who qualify as a junior or senior; only four other teams in the MIAA have a similar situation. Pittsburg State University will enter as the youngest team with just one returning junior and senior each.
Dominique Lipari, a 5-foot-1-inch libero from Kansas City, Mo., will enter her fourth year as a starter; in three seasons she has played in 99 of 103 matches. Lipari’s 1678 digs ranks her fourth in all-time digs for UCO. She has recorded 20 or more digs 13 times and has had five matches with at least 30.
Along with lone senior Lipari, the Bronchos will return five juniors but will have to replace five players, including three-time all-American Taylor Bevis, who ranks third all-time in kills at UCO with 1752.
“We’re going to miss all of them, especially Taylor and Jordan [Spence]; [they] brought a lot more production, efficiency [and] carried a lot more weight bottom line,” Miraku said. “Now I think while we’ll miss both of them, I think it’s going to also force us to redistribute and redesign the offense in such a way that everybody is sharing the burden [on] a lot more equal or somewhat equal basis.”
Of the five returning juniors, they each had appearances and four started in matches throughout the 2019 season.
Defensive specialist and setter Ericka Scholl led UCO last year with 655 assists while splitting the load at main setter. She also had a team-high 41 aces.
Middle blocker Malia Kaaiohelo, one of only three players to start all 34 games last season, recorded a .297 hitting percentage, which was eighth in the conference.
Defensive specialist Jordan Cramer played in 26 of UCO’s 34 matches, finishing with 121 digs, 16 assists and eight service aces. Cramer had four matches with 10 or more digs.
Outside hitter Haley Deschenes earned honorable mention All-MIAA recognition after she finished with 275 kills, second on the team behind Bevis who had 412, and a .238 hitting percentage. She was also 15th in the league in kills per set with 2.7 as she recorded double digit kills in 10 matches.
Defensive specialist Callie Bangasser appeared in 32 of 34 matches and finished the season with 128 digs, 39 assists and 16 service aces. Bangasser had four matches with 10-plus digs.
This season, Miraku was able to double his recruitment for the 2019 season with eight freshmen, compared to last year’s four.
“You could look at it that way in terms of math, yes, but the match and the game is never an exact science,” Miraku said. “It’s a combination of that, an art and all those things combined, but I don’t think we need to get caught in the numbers…we’re going to be a lot younger, that cannot change, that is not math, that’s pretty simple.”
Miraku said in order for the team to be successful, the team will have to harvest IQ for the game. He said some players may not be able to do certain things physically yet, so IQ will help counter that, especially in the MIAA conference.
“Nationwide, [the MIAA] is number one or number two conference in the nation,” Miraku said. “But I think what you could do if you have good IQ is placement of the ball, smart plays, not as high risk choices on your plays and over the course of a longer period of time, not just one match but 10, 15, 20 matches that could make a difference on how some of those chips fall at the end of matches, we could get some more wins.”
Miraku has a 182-55 record over his seven years at UCO. He has coached the Bronchos to over 25 wins each season for the last five seasons; in 2013 UCO just missed the mark with 24 wins. The trend started in 2014 as the Bronchos won 28, 31 in 2015, 30 in 2016, 29 in 2017 and 27 in 2018.