November 30, 2020

Freshmen help get volleyball team off to hot start

Webster University volleyball

Webster University freshman outside hitter Jordan Vehlewald (19) spikes the ball off the hands of Carroll University’s Danielle Hartmann (7) in the Gorloks’ 3-1 win over the Pioneers on Sept. 2. PHOTO BY GALE WHITEHEAD / The Journal

The Webster University volleyball team has six freshmen on its 2011 roster. In the Gorloks’ first two matches of the season — both wins — five of those freshmen started.
The Gorloks have been dominant to start the season. Webster opened the year by defeating Benedictine University 3-1 on Sept. 1 in Springfield, Ill.
The Gorloks improved their record to 2-0 when they knocked off Carroll University 3-1 on Sept. 2 at Grant Gymnasium. In the wins over Benedictine and Carroll, coach Merry Graf used the same starting line-up, which featured senior middle hitter Caroline Kargus and five freshmen.
“(The freshmen) just are really getting it done,” Graf said. “I’m impressed with their talent, how quickly they’re learning our offense, our defense. You’re not sure how long it will take new players to get into your system and learn and understand. But they all have a lot of talent. They’ve just jumped right in and they’re doing great.”
Freshman outside hitter Jenny Howard had an attacking percentage of over .370 in both matches. Howard recorded nine kills against Benedictine and a team-high 14 kills in the win over Carroll.
“I think we’re extremely talented,” Howard said. “We have six freshmen and five of them start. Everyone on our team, especially the freshmen, are super talented. It’s so exciting because I know I have three more years with these girls, and we can only get better.”
The other four freshman starters were middle hitter Emily Ratkewicz, setter Allie O’Toole, outside hitter Jordan Vehlewald and right side/outside hitter Kristen McDowell.
McDowell led Webster with 10 kills in the season opener and put away six kills against Carroll. Vehlewald has 18 total kills and a kill percentage of .385.
O’Toole has a team-best 50 assists and has averaged over six assists per set. Ratkewicz has tallied 10 kills and nine digs to start the season. Ratkewicz said she thoroughly enjoyed her first home collegiate match versus Carroll.
“I had this enormous sense of pride,” Ratkewicz said. “To be honest, I couldn’t help but just smile the whole time. Playing (or) not playing, I had this sense of just like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m here and this is happening.’ And I was very happy it was happening.”
Even though some of the veteran players have had their playing time slashed to make room for the freshmen, Graf said the upperclassmen have handled the situation well.
“The nice thing is we have good leadership,” Graf said. “The older players understand that it’s a quality program. I told them the other night they’re going to get some play time.
“It’s early. We wanted to give (the freshmen) an opportunity, and see what they could do. It’s a long season — we’ve got all the way till November — so don’t get too concerned about what’s happening just now because things may change.”
Ratkewicz said the freshman class has been aided by the experience of the veteran players.
“The freshman class, we’re really strong incoming players, and the older girls, they have just been so (helpful) already,” Ratkewicz said. “We all have the skill and are getting along this year, and that helps even more, especially on the court.”
As the Gorloks prepare for the Illinois Wesleyan Tournament and the start of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference season, Graf said the team will continue working on ball control, hitting and blocking at practice. She added that intangibles, such as confidence, will come as the team plays more matches together.
“The first game we played — the first set of that match — I know we struggled,” Graf said. “We got stuck on game point and kind of crumbled a little bit. I told them that’s part of being young and working through that.
“You just have to have confidence. Somebody has to step up and say, ‘Give it to me. I’m going to put this ball down.’ I think as they get more play time together, they’ll all really start to gel. We’re looking forward to that happening.”
Webster participates in the Illinois Wesleyan Tournament on Sept. 9 and 10, where the Gorloks will play four matches in two days in Bloomington, Ill. Webster begins SLIAC play when they face Principia College at 7 p.m. on Sept. 13 in Grant Gymnasium.

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