Volleyball looks forward to another strong year

The U women’s volleyball team recently wrapped up its set of spring exhibition games, and with just two weeks of spring practice left for next year’s group, the team looks ready to fill the void of its senior graduates.

Senior All-American Kim Turner, a two-time co-Conference Player of the Year, and senior Jackie Morrill were the impact players of last year’s group that will no longer be with the team next fall. Turner dominated the middle with strikes and blocks, while Morrill dished out nearly half of the team’s passes.

Head coach Beth Launiere is cognizant of the impact the loss of Turner and Morrill will have on the team, but remains confident that her team will be just fine without them.

“Kim (Turner) dominated for so many years,” Launiere said. “She was always there when it was crunch time, and now other players will have to fill that responsibility.”

“And we’re really going to miss Jackie Morrill,” Launiere continued. “She did a lot of ball control for us, and she made probably 50 percent of the team’s passes. Passing is a critical part of the game and we’re going to be really young in that department as a team.”

“The team is coming along really well, though,” Launiere said enthusiastically. She explained that next year’s group will feature several experienced players, including Kelsie Kartchner, Tracy Neumeier and Lyndsey Henderson-all of whom will be seniors next year, and all of whom will be relied to step up their leadership on the team.

“The biggest thing our players learned this spring is that new people have to step up,” Launiere said. “We’ve been focusing on defining new leadership roles, and the players have really responded.”

Next year’s squad will also feature Shelly Sommerfeldt, who is the same age as next year’s seniors, but will be in only her third year of eligibility due to a redshirt freshman year.

Launiere believes that Sommerfeldt will be one of the impact players on next year’s squad who will take on the added pressure of being a team leader.

“Shelly is willing to accept the added responsibility,” Launier said.

“She did a really nice job during this spring in stepping up and filling the leadership role,” Launier continued. “Somebody has to be there to make the kills and get the blocks now that Kim (Turner) is gone, and it looks like Shelly is ready to do that.”

Along with the three seniors and Sommerfeldt, Launiere is adding to next year’s group a star junior college player in Liana Bortolo, who will be in her final year of eligibility, and an unnamed returning Mormon missionary, who will also be playing out her final year of eligibility.

With a core group of veterans, Launiere expects her team to get over the loss of Turner and Morrill by running a faster-paced offense.

“We’ve been speeding up our offense,” Launier said. “We have two senior setters that will be very experienced, and the team will have five seniors in the starting lineup. So we should have plenty of leadership to run a fast-paced style of offense.”

Launiere is also excited about the impending arrival of Emillie Toone, a 6-foot-7-inch high schooler who is described by the U coach as “one of the top players in the country” at her level.

Stacked with the athletes to overcome the loss of two of the finest players in the history of the U’s volleyball program, Launiere described her team’s chances of making next year’s NCAA Tournament as “good.”

“We have a very strong schedule next year,” Launier said. “And we’re going to play some good teams at home.

So as long as we finish in the top three in the Mountain West Conference and win some of our big nonconference games, like we’ve done in the past, we should be able to get a very high seed in the NCAA Tournament.”

“We’ll be ready,” she added.

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