The 2016 Amherst College women's volleyball team begins its quest for an 18th consecutive NESCAC Championship tournament appearance, and a second straight bid to the NCAA Division III Championship, on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9-10 at the Johnson & Wales University Invitational in Providence, R.I.
Entering the season with a squad that features 10 returners from last year's team that finished a superb 23-5 overall, 8-2 in NESCAC play, the 2016 edition of the Purple & White welcomes five new players to the mix. Amherst head coach Sue Everden will rely on the leadership of her four senior captains – Kate Bres, Maggie Danner, Nicole Gould, and Kelci Keeno – as the Purple & White takes aim at the program's fourth conference title, and first since 2006.
"The four seniors have tremendous leadership," said Everden. "This is a very calm, deliberate, and centered senior class."
For the third straight season, Amherst captured the third seed in the NESCAC postseason tournament and defeated the sixth seed to advance to the semifinal round of the tournament, before falling to the second seed. Despite suffering a hard-fought, 3-2 loss, the Purple & White gained an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament – their first since 2010 – and defeated Johnson & Wales, 3-0 in first round action. Another 3-2 setback, this time to MIT in the NCAA Second Round, closed out a terrific season for the 2015 Amherst women's volleyball squad.
What remains from that team, in addition to the four senior captains, are four juniors and two sophomores who are poised to make another deep run in 2016.
MEET THE PLAYERS
Despite the loss of graduated seniors Lizzie Ahern, Nicole Carter, Samantha Newby and Katie Warshaw following last year's campaign, Amherst welcomes back an abundance of talent led by three-time All-NESCAC outside hitter Danner.
"It goes without saying, she packs a punch," Everden said of the Newport Beach, Calif. native. "She's probably one of the more illustrious players we've had come through the program."
Named First Team All-NESCAC in each of her first two seasons, Danner posted a 3.06 kills per set average and finished with 107 kills en route to a .274 hitting percentage against league foes as a junior and subsequently earned Second Team All-NESCAC honors.
She will be joined by fellow quad-captain Gould, and Lauren Reppert '19. Gould enjoyed a productive junior season downing 273 kills (averaging 2.73 per set) as both marks ranked second on the squad. Reppert will look to build on her debut campaign, while first-year Emily Kolsky will look to provide an impact in her first collegiate season.
"Having the two senior pin-hitters in Danner and Gould, along with Lauren [Reppert] and Emily [Kolsky] gives us a lot of depth," explained Everden. "I think we can really give people some different looks."
At the net, Marialexa Natsis '18 is poised to once again make a stellar impact. In 2015, the Los Angeles, Calif. native downed 203 kills and provided 46 total blocks which was tied for second on the team. She will be joined by classmate Annika Reczek and newcomer Claire Dennis '20.
"Mia is one of the top middles in the NESCAC," Everden said of the Los Angeles, Calif. junior. "We moved Annika [Reczek] from the right side, and she should add some blocking expertise. First-year Claire Dennis is also good in that position."
A seasoned veteran at the setter position, quad-captain Bres will also see action as an opposite hitter. She will be flanked by a pair of first-years – Adelaide Shunk and Charlotte Duran – who will also serve as setters and opposite hitters for Amherst this season. Bres dished out 120 assists in 2015 averaging 4.80 helpers per set, following a sophomore campaign that saw her distribute 310 assists.
"KB is going to be valuable to us not only setting, but in helping the two first-year setters in terms of negotiating collegiate volleyball," Everden stated. "The two first-year setters have great hands, and I think that the future looks very bright for us."
Walker finished second on the team in digs a year ago with 233 (2.35 per set), and served up a team-best 40 aces, while Keeno finished third on the team with 24 service aces and contributed 195 digs. Honea made an immediate impact in her rookie season amassing 225 digs (2.50 per frame), 33 assists, and 21 service aces, and will look to build on that output in 2016. Antion and Candace Chung '20 will look to provide depth to a highly talented backrow this season.
"We have a good nucleus of players in the back row and we can use them all," Everden said. "They all have their strengths and it will be exciting to see how the season progresses.
"We're solid in all aspects of the game," Everden continued. "We have a great deal of depth and I think that will serve us well this season."
The 2016 season begins on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 9-10 at the Johnson & Wales Invitational. Amherst will square off against the host Wildcats on Friday at 5 p.m., before taking on Bridgewater State University and Gordon College at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. respectively on Saturday.
The Purple & White then welcomes Western New England University to LeFrak Gymnasium for its home-opener on Sept. 14, before taking to the road to open NESCAC play at Bowdoin College (Sept. 16) and Tufts University (Sept. 17).
Following a midweek non-conference clash with Colby-Sawyer College (Sept. 21) at LeFrak Gymnasium, Amherst welcomes archrival Williams College to the Pioneer Valley for its NESCAC home-opener on Sept. 23. A non-league tri-match with Babson College and Clark University is slated for Sept. 24, before the Purple & White hosts Colby College and Bates College on Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 respectively.
October 7 sees Amherst travel to Conn. College for a NESCAC tilt with the Camels, before the team travels to Springfield College for the Tom Hay Invitational the next day. The Purple & White will take on Endicott College at 1 p.m. and the host Pride at 3 p.m. Amherst stays on the road for Friday and Saturday conference action at Middlebury College and Hamilton College on Oct. 14 and 15 before closing out the regular season with seven straight home matches.
Amherst will host Regis College (Oct. 20) before kicking off Hall of Fame Invitational action on Friday, Oct. 21 against Bridgewater State. Hall of Fame action continues the following day with matches against SUNY Canton and UMass-Boston, before the Purple & White take on Springfield on Oct. 26. The team will then host Trinity College (Oct. 28) and Wesleyan University (Oct. 29) in the regular season finale.
Not yet a member of the Friends of Amherst Women's Volleyball for the 2016-17 year? Become a first-time member of or renew your membership in the FAA and support Coach Everden and the women's volleyball program. Make a gift ahead of the team's season opener at the Johnson & Wales Invitational in Providence, R.I. on Friday, September 9 at 5 p.m. Go Amherst!