Photo by Danny Karnik

After graduating four seniors that contributed significant statistics and playing time on the court, the Jackets are pulling in yet another phenomenal freshman class. The seniors were Ashley Askin (outside hitter), Gabby Benda (setter), Gabriela Stavnetchei (outside hitter) and Sydney Wilson (middle blocker). Each of the women were key players in different positions and led by setting an example of what a Tech volleyball player should strive to be.

Rising fourth-years Lauren Frerking (middle blocker) and Coral Kazaroff (libero) are alone in age, but the team has enough experience and leadership under its belt to build on the momentum created from last year’s tumultuous season, which saw wins and losses at near random intervals. Kazaroff transferred from the University of Virginia before last season, but has been able to train and help the other liberos, Sam Knapp and Emily Becker, prepare for the competition that she will also hope to personally face this year.

Head coach Michelle Collier, who began coaching the Jackets in March 2014, along with help from the assistant coaches was able to recruit an incoming class which was nationally recognized by PrepVolleyball.com with highest honorable mention. For each senior that departed, two talented freshmen come to add value in their absence. The eight women consist of Mariana Brambilla (outside hitter), Gabi Dolan (outside hitter), Lexi Dorn (setter), Mikaila Dowd (outside hitter), Kayla Kaiser (outside hitter/middle blocker), Matti McKissock (setter), Breland Morrissette (middle blocker), and Maddie Tippett (libero/defensive specialist).Those that play the position of outside hitter, including the eleven returning women, will be asked to step into the shoes of the two seniors that graduated. Similarly, there are spaces to fill for both the position of setter that Benda left behind, as well as Wilson’s middle blocking position, the latter of which will be easy to fill with either Frerking or junior Kodie Comby.

Brambilla hails from Brazil, just as Collier and Stavnetchei do, bringing vast international competitive experience that will make the transition to collegiate athletics not as much of a challenge. Dolan is from just down the street in Marietta, where she attended The Westminster School and assisted her team to a state championship during her four years at the varsity level. Dorn is unique as a transfer from Purdue University. She has collegiate experience, as well as international experience as a competitor for Croatia during her junior year of high school.

Dowd came to Tech as an early enrollee in January, so she had the chance to form relationships with the women that will be by her side for the next few years. She honed the opportunity to work out with her fellow teammates and train at a higher level. Kaiser has quite a few awards to her name, including Kentucky’s 2017 Ms. Volleyball by the Kentucky Volleyball Coaches Association, as well as several state championships and Region Player of the Year. From her stats alone, it appears that Kaiser will be a heavy contribution to the Jackets, especially with the outside hitter position being short two experienced players at this point in time.

McKissock played at The First Academy in Orlando, finishing up her time there as a captain and receiving the most outstanding player award during her senior year. Morrissette is another middle blocker who brings significant talent to the table, highlighted by her membership of the AAU National Championship 17s squad in 2017. Maddie Tippett served as a varsity player at Saint Pius High School for all four years, while capping off her high school years by serving as a captain.

From the awards and accomplishments that are easy to study as statistics, it is clear that the incoming freshmen class deserves the recognition that they have received thus far. It will be intriguing to see which women step up to the plate during their first year of collegiate athletics. Each player brings her own unique set of talents, but it will be up to the coaches to position the team to provide the best scenarios.

Collier released the schedule for the upcoming season on July 10. The season opens with the annual Gold and White scrimmage, but the first official match will take place at the Hyatt Regency Invitational in late August. Numerous matches will take place on the Jackets territory, giving the team a home court advantage that will serve them well and hopefully result in a record-setting season.