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Heading into the 2011 volleyball season, Webster University was slated to start four freshmen and was picked to finish third in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference by the conference’s coaches.
While other SLIAC coaches didn’t think Webster would excel, coach Merry Graf believed her freshmen were talented enough to help the Gorloks compete for the SLIAC championship.
“I thought it was a doable goal,” Graf said. “Obviously, we were going to be really young and we were going to rely on how quickly everything came together for us. I felt pretty good about that because the freshmen had come in and won starting positions. They all played on competitive club programs. I thought that would help us get there a little bit quicker than otherwise.”
Webster (19-13 overall) finished tied for first in the SLIAC with a 14-2 conference record. The Gorloks won the SLIAC tournament, as they swept Westminster College and Greenville College at Grant Gymnasium.
By starting four freshmen and coaching Webster to the conference championship, Graf was named SLIAC co-Coach of the Year along with Mary Ann Sprague of Principia College.
“This (freshman) class was really great in the fact that they knew they were talented, but they knew they had a lot more to reach their potential,” Graf said. “It worked out really well because they are all willing to work really hard.
“The returners kind of showed the Webster way, and that is we’re going to come in and take advantage of the time we have together in practices, we’re going to work hard and we’re going to win this.”
While the freshmen headlined the team, Graf credited the returning players for contributing to the SLIAC championship.
“As excited as I was for the newcomers, I was that excited for the returners as well,” Graf said. “The group — especially of seniors — I really can’t say enough about them. They handled the whole year very gracefully. Had they not done that, the year could have turned out very different for us.”
Runner-up: Michael Siener, men’s and women’s tennis coach