LANCASTER, Pa. – Franklin & Marshall's run of success continued in 2011 with an 18-11 record and a trip to the Centennial Conference (CC) semifinals, and its ninth winning season in the past 10 years. With 13 returning players, including seven seniors, the expectations are high for 10th-year coach Mary Kate Boland's volleyball squad. The Diplomats enter the season ranked second in the CC Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll and were one of only two teams to receive first-place votes.
"Our number one goal is to recapture the Centennial Conference Championship and advance to the NCAA's," said Boland. "If we can take the season one day at a time and make steady improvements with our technique, we will be tough to beat this year."
The path back to CC dominance will not be an easy one for the Diplomats as they must overcome several key losses, including defensive specialist's Katy May and Lis Power. Named the Team Defensive MVP in 2011, May led F&M in both digs (407) and service aces (54). Power tallied 247 digs during her senior season, which was good for third on the team.
Stepping up to fill the void on defense will be senior Caitlin Krutsick, who ranked second on the team in both assists (235) and digs (292) a season ago. Joining her on the unit is Kerry Rom, who finished third on the team in kills with 139 in addition to tallying 189 digs. Rom, a team captain, will be looked at as one of the leaders of the defensive group this season.
Also returning at defensive specialist is junior Kelsey Beveridge, who saw limited action during her sophomore campaign and will look to compete for playing time this fall.
After an outstanding freshman season, sophomore Julie Harvey returns to the middle hitter position for the Diplomats.
Her first year on campus was a decorated one as Harvey collected AVCA All-American Honorable Mention, AVCA Mid-Atlantic Region Freshman of the Year, AVCA Mid-Atlantic Region First Team, ECAC South All-Star, CC Co-Player of the Year, and First Team All-CC honors. Playing in 101 games, she led the team in blocks (56) and kills (358) and was named both the Team and Offensive MVP for F&M in 2011.
Also looking to build on a successful freshman campaign will be sophomore Caroline Hubbard, who returns to the Diplomats at the setter position after earning Honorable Mention All-CC honors in 2011. Hubbard led the team with 698 assists, which ranked 14th all-time in school single-season history.
"My two returning sophomores (Harvey and Hubbard) are both All-Conference players and I expect them to have continued success this season," said Boland.
Leading the way for the upcoming senior class will be middle hitter Sydney Seydel, who finished second on the team with 237 kills and added 46 blocks. A 2010 First Team All-CC selection, Seydel is one of the most dangerous players in the CC.
Letzkus' 2011 season was productive as she finished second on the team in blocks with 53. Benabou participated in seven games, recording nine kills and five blocks.
Candice Tussing returns on the right side and is being counted on to be a major component of the Diplomats' offense after tallying 102 kills as a junior.
Returning for her third season is setter Meghan Hubert, who is expected to take on a larger leadership role this year.
The outside hitter position will be among the most experienced group to take the floor for the Diplomats in 2012, as two seniors and a junior are welcomed back into the mix.
Gilchrist's time on the court was limited in 2011, appearing in five games. She will be expected to take on a leadership role in 2012 after being named as one of two team captains. Lipowcan appeared in 56 games during her junior campaign, and looks to play an important defensive role this year.
The high expectations are not limited to the returners as the incoming freshmen class is expected to make significant contributions to the team. Alyssa Sanchez and Kelsey Morgan will compete for playing time at defensive specialist, Rosalie Frank and Erin Dancy will contribute at outside hitter and Katie Foreman and Kelsey Michenko have the versatility to play anywhere at the net.
"I am very excited about our freshmen class," said Boland. "They are a talented group of players who bring a lot of skill to the team. All six of them have the capability to play at a high level and I look forward to seeing how they develop and contribute to this team."
In addition to an already tough CC schedule, the Diplomats face a demanding non-conference slate that includes matchups with perennial Division III powerhouse Juniata, 2011 NCAA Final Four participant Eastern University and regional powers Lebanon Valley, Elizabethtown, Susquehanna and Richard Stockton.
"Our most important matches are the ones we play in conference so our non-conference schedule will be great preparation for that," said Boland.
F&M opens the season Friday, August 31st at home against Lancaster Bible. The contest starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be the first of 12 consecutive non-conference matches to kick off the season.
The Diplomats' CC opener is Wednesday, September 19th on the road at McDaniel.