Gorloks aim to reclaim SLIAC championship
Prior to last year, the Webster University volleyball team hadn’t lost more than three conference matches in a season since 2003. And with Merry Graf at the helm, the volleyball program had never completed a season with an overall record of .500 or below.
But that all changed last season. The Gorloks lost the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship match to Greenville College 3-0. Webster finished the season 17-17 overall and 12-4 in conference play. Not a bad season for most teams, but not good enough for a program with a tradition as rich as Webster’s.
Graf enters her 11th season as coach and has compiled a 196-105 overall record and a 123-20 SLIAC record for her career. Her goal for the upcoming season is simple and straightforward.
“We want that conference title back,” Graf said. “We want to be hosting the conference tournament and going to the NCAA tournament. We’ve done it previously, and it was quite a bummer not to do it last year. Let me tell you, with six seniors, I know they’re all hungry for that.”
Those six seniors are Lindsay Morris, Kelly McClure, Elizabeth Linck, Jennifer Hoerber, Caroline Kargus and Gretchen Rieger. Graf said their experience should help the Gorloks’ younger players.
“The upperclassmen do a really great job in our program of taking the underclassmen under their wing,” Graf said. “They’ve been doing a lot of bonding on their own, which is excellent.”
Rieger, an outside hitter, led Webster in kills (216) a year ago. As a transfer student from Lincoln College, she wasn’t a member of the 2008 and 2009 Webster teams that went undefeated in SLIAC play (16-0) and qualified for the NCAA tournament. Rieger would like nothing more than to help the 2011 team reach that level.
“Every day at practice, it keeps getting better and better,” Rieger said. “We have some really strong incoming freshmen. We lost a lot of good seniors, but I think the freshman group is really good. Everyone’s been working really hard and fighting for positions.”
Kargus, a middle hitter, was also a key member of last season’s team. She recorded 110 kills and a team-high 86 blocks last year, and was named an All-Conference honorable mention.
Even though the Gorloks have solid players returning from last year, the team will have to find a way to replace graduated players Mary Jo Schweitzer, Jackie Novak and Sarah Bailey.
Schweitzer and Novak were named to the 2010 All-Conference first team, while Bailey was selected as the SLIAC’s defensive player of the year. But with 12 returning players from last season’s roster and a talented group of freshmen, Graf thinks the Gorloks will be just fine.
“Out of the new crop, it’s very exciting to watch them,” Graf said. “We have six freshmen coming in, and I think all of them can contribute on the varsity level. It’s just very exciting as the girls are working really hard in practice and competing for starting positions.”
Webster opens its season with a Sept. 1 match against Benedictine University in Springfield, Illinois. The Gorloks’ first home match is a Sept. 2 tilt with Carroll University at 7 p.m. in the Grant Gymnasium.