PASADENA (Aug. 28, 2019) – Caltech volleyball took another big statistical step forward in 2018, but the Beavers are now hoping they have all the necessary ingredients to translate that success into the win column when the 2019 season kicks off this weekend.
One season ago, the Beavers improved their kills per set (9.9) by nearly two full points and generally played in longer matches as illustrated by improvement in digs per set (15.4). After winning its first SCIAC match in program history back in 2017, Caltech went on to take sets from conference opponents on three different occasions in 2018.
This year, the hope is that the Beavers' talent, tenacity and added depth for the 2019 season will translate into wins. Head Coach Tom Gardner feels this year's team has learned from its experiences, both positive and negative and that there is a sense of urgency about this group as it pertains to winning games.
"Statistical trends are a great way to measure progress and they will always be a resource for ways we can improve," Gardner said. "At some point, that growth ultimately has to lead to wins. This year's schedule resembles last year's somewhat and we feel there are some winnable matches in front of us, but we really need to start coming out on top. It's hard to say what a successful season will look like for us as the ebbs and flows of the season occur, but there might not be the same level of satisfaction as there may have been in years past if the statistics improve again and the wins don't start to fall."
Caltech will regain two of its key players from the 2017 team this fall. Junior Krystyna Maruszko (Redondo Beach, Calif. / Marymount) has made a successful recovery from injury and is once again expected to function as one of the team's most versatile players. Maruszko paced the Beavers in assists as a freshman, led the way in service aces by a significant margin and finished second on the team in kills. Gardner and his staff will also be pleased to regain senior Alexa Lauinger (Ortonville, Mich. / Brandon). Lauinger set the single-season kills record as a sophomore and while classmate Lauren Li (Bellaire, Texas / Bellaire) rebroke the record this past season, Lauinger figures to return to being a primary offensive threat on this year's squad.
Despite the layoff, both players have quickly rounded into form and will be necessary components as the Beavers look to put forth their winningest season to date.
"Krystyna has looked really good," Gardner said. "We're trying to bring her back at a pace that allows her to get stronger and stronger without wearing her down, but her hands look great and she looks to be as mobile as she has ever been. Alexa is coming back into form too. It's easy to see the smart player she was when she was last with us, whether it's hitting shots, finding a way to put the ball down or being competitive at all costs. We're excited to have them both back."
The Beavers are also adding two talented freshmen to this year's group. Canadian Charley Lafayette (Toronto, Ontario, Can. / Branksome Hall) will bring some quickness to the middle blocker position and has a great deal of playing experience, with her teams winning two bronze medals, a silver and, most recently, a gold at the Canadian National Championships. Her mobility for the position will keep the opposition guessing with or without the ball. Arizona's Dallas Taylor (Phoenix, Ariz. / Saguaro) adds some needed size at outside hitter, though she also has the ability to play all three attacking positions. Like Lafayette, Taylor also has some extensive competitive experience, playing four years at both the high school and club levels. The arrival of both players has also allowed the Beavers' strong off-court leadership to come into focus as each of the new arrivals are integrated into the team culture.
"Both Charley and Dallas are blending in well," Gardner said. "Both are very different from each other personality wise but both have already clicked with our returners on the court. Our returners have done a great job of reaching out and making them feel like they're part of the team and trying to get to the bottom of any needs or questions they might have being new to the team."
Caltech is expected to receive further contributions from its wide array of sophomores, juniors and seniors. Li will look to go out on an even higher note after becoming the single-season kills leader last year. The senior is just 132 kills away from claiming the career record and will be likely to add it to her resume barring any missed time. Sophomore Alison Noyes (Falmouth, Maine / Falmouth) really turned it on at the end of her freshman season and became an offensive weapon for the Beavers. Her 148 kills and .198 attacking percentage were both good for second on the team. One of the tallest players on the team at 6-foot-1, Noyes could take another leap as a sophomore with even more talent around her. Classmate Sydney Richardson (Granite Bay, Calif. / Roseville) also checks in at 6-foot-1 and will be making the move from middle blocker to outside hitter this year.
The Beavers are also returning seniors Ellie Walker (Minneapolis, Minn. / Blake School) and Helena Shield (Mercer Island, Wash. / Mercer Island). Walker has more assists than any active player over the last three seasons (709) while Shield's leadership on and off the court has been instrumental to the strings of success the volleyball team has seen in recent years. Caltech will additionally be getting back attacking options such as sophomore Hannah Fan (Saratoga, Calif. / Saratoga) and junior Christine Yu (Fremont, Calif. / Mission San Jose), as well as sophomore Alexandra Klipfel (Agua Dulce, Calif. / Saugus) who carved out a role on the team after making a successful recovery from injury midway through her rookie season.
Defensively, no player meant more to the Beavers in 2018 than Megan Wang (Henderson, Nev. / Advanced Technologies Academy). Now a sophomore, Wang smashed the single-season digs record with 425 and became the first player in program history to ever put up multiple 30-dig games in a season. The libero's current dig count puts her second among active players and sixth on the all-time list with three years of volleyball in front of her. Junior Allessandra Mondello (Kinnelon, N.J. / Villa Walsh Acad.) will also see time at libero and finished among the Beavers' dig leaders as a freshman.
As talented and deep as this year's team is expected to be, in order to reach the next level as a program, Gardner and his staff are looking for players to contribute more in a leadership facet, and such contributions could come from any of the 14 women on this year's roster.
"We're looking for players to step up as leaders on the court who can motivate and lead their teammates through the adversity that inevitably happens in a match, particularly as it pertains to five-setters," Gardner said. "In talking with the players we think could step into those roles, they recognize the on-court leadership has been lacking and are eager to address it this season. Generally, I think if we're a cohesive unit who stays together and plays at a high level in any situation against any opponent then I think the results will be positive, one way or another."
Gardner and the Beavers will first take the floor on Friday, Aug. 28 when they host a tri-match with Providence Christian College and Life Pacific University beginning at 9:30 a.m.