Moccasin Volleyball Set To Open Season Looking To Replace Seven Seniors From 2011

Moccasins set to open 2012 season Thursday at Western Oregon Classic.Moccasins set to open 2012 season Thursday at Western Oregon Classic.

Florida Southern Volleyball is set to open its 2012 season this weekend with four matches in Oregon looking to replace seven seniors from last season’s 18-13 squad that advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Division II South Regional.

Despite losing seven seniors from last season, 12th-year Mocassin head coach Jill Stephens is excited about this season.

“We have a strong group of players returning that saw a lot of action last season, plus we’ve added some key newcomers that we’re expecting to contribute this season,” said Stephens, who is 250-124 at the helm of her alma mater. “Our returners are setting the standard for what we expect from our volleyball team here at Florida Southern.”

In the preseason Sunshine State Conference poll, the Mocs, who earned seven votes in the Preseason AVCA D-II Coaches’ Top 25 Poll, were tabbed to finish fourth in one of the premier volleyball conferences in Division II. 

“We were selected right about where I thought we’d be picked in the preseason poll,” Stephens said. “You can’t count out anyone in this league. All nine teams are really good.”

Leading the way for the Mocs this season are senior middle hitter Morgan Kosterlitz (Dunedin, Fla.), senior outside hitter Anne Pietkiewicz (Winter Park, Fla.) and junior setter Ali Skayhan (Beaverton, Ore.). In addition to those three returners, sophomores Gabby Fernandez (Tampa, Fla.) and Kate Stromberg (Lexington, Kent.) also return after each starting a majority of the season in 2011.

Fernandez and Stromberg each earned All-South Region Tournament honors as freshman last season after leading FSC to the second round of the South Regional Tournament. 

“Ann, Morgan and Ali have provided a lot of positive and strong leadership so far this season and we’ll count of them for that leadership and experience this season,” said Stephens, who was a two-time All-American with the Mocs in 1993 and 1994. 

Pietkiewicz is the team’s leading returning offensive player from 2011 as she was second on the team in kills (248) and hit .164 in 31 matches, while Skayhan recorded 953 assists and led the team in digs (359) and was second in aces (25). Fernandez and Stromberg combined for 472 kills and 229 digs a year ago.

Stephens said she has been impressed with how her seven newcomers have stepped up and made a lot of strides this preseason.

“Our newcomers have really done a good job of adjusting to the speed of the college game and learning our system,” the FSC coach added. “A lot of them have played for strong club volleyball programs.”

The newcomers on this season’s roster include junior middle blocker Dominique Hale (Kingman, Ariz.), who is a transfer from South Mountain Community College, along with freshmen middle blocker Kayshia Brady (Crescent City, Fla.), libero Arielle Fernandez (Pacifica, Calif.), setter Kendall Marotti (LaBelle, Fla.), outside hitter Hailey Prescher (Dana Point, Calif.), defensive specialist Lauren Shlemon (Tampa, Fla.) and outside hitter Bridgette Ward (Fort Myers, Fla.).

Another philosophy Stephens has stuck to this season is playing a tough non-conference schedule, which is designed to test the team for the rigors of SSC play.

“Our non-conference schedule is designed to prepare us to perform well in league play and win Regionals,” Stephens added.

Stephens said the strength of her team this season is its ball control and its blocking. 

“I think our offense should be more open this season and I expect our blocking to be strong,” said Stephens, who is the second longest tenured active coach in the SSC.

Some of the keys for this season’s team is staying healthy and being able to side out at a high rate.

“We need to be able to find other ways to score points this year,” Stephens added.

FSC will open its season on Thursday, Aug. 30 with a 12:30 p.m. EST match against Western Washington, who earned 20 votes in the Preseason AVCA poll, at the Western Oregon Classic in Monmouth, Ore. FSC will also play Western Oregon at 10:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, before facing Missouri S&T, who earned 24 votes in the Preseason AVCA poll, on Friday, Aug. 31 at 3 p.m. EST and Cal State-L.A. at 10:30 p.m. EST.

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