Graf hopes volleyball sophomore group can repeat success of ’09 class


In 2009, the Webster University volleyball team completed a streak of four consecutive St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles, an accomplishment this year’s sophomore class is striving for.

This season, Webster has 23 players on the roster, nine of which are sophomores. Six of the sophomores came in as freshmen, while three of them are new transfer students.

Coach Merry Graf always considered the class of 2009 to be her best recruiting class, but she now hopes to be able to say that about her current group of sophomores. The coaches and players know they will have to work together as a team to accomplish their goals.

“The sophomore class is extremely talented, but they couldn’t be what they are without the other players on the team,” assistant coach Abby Williams said. “I definitely think that this year we are expecting this team to win the conference, go to the NCAA tournament, and even further than that for the first time in school history.”

[pullquote]“Every one of our sophomores can contribute at the varsity level, so I think the future is really bright. We can be like Abby’s class and win the conference title all four years.” Jenny Howard, sophomore outside hitter[/pullquote]

Returning veterans

This sophomore class has an advantage in having three assistant coaches who have played in high-stake title games before. Both Ashley Scanio and Williams were setters for the 2009 class that won four straight SLIAC championships. Megan Floarke played volleyball for Webster from 2005 to 2007.

Each of the assistant coaches has a different role in helping the team on the court.  Williams works more with the setters and travels with the team on all their trips. Floarke mostly works with the hitters and Scanio mainly runs the camps and summer activities.

The players, like senior setter Sami Murray, realize how important it is to have experienced coaches to guide them along the way.

Murray is one of only two seniors for the Gorloks this season, but she was a part of the team in 2009 that completed the long streak of SLIAC titles. Murray got the opportunity to experience part of the 2009 title runs firsthand. Murray played alongside Williams.

“She (Williams) definitely knows what she’s talking about,” Murray said.  “She’s very knowledgeable. It’s great to have her there to really help because she’s been in our shoes.”

The 2009 legacy

One of the players that Williams worked so well with during her time at Webster was outside hitter Jackie Schall, a member of the class of ‘09. Before Webster, the two had played together since they were 17. Graf was an assistant coach on the club volleyball team Schall and Williams played on for two years before coming to Webster. Graf said having an established relationship helped in getting them to play for the Gorloks.

Once they started playing at Webster, Williams and Schall began a streak that brought them titles for four years. For Williams, it was easier for her to stay focused during her junior and senior year because she knew it was coming to an end.

During the 2009 season (Schall’s and Williams’ senior years), Graf said there was a turning point in the year that turned their season around. Originally, the team had planned to go to California over fall break. The tournament, however, was canceled early, taking the players instead to Ohio. There, they played Carthage College, Heidelberg University and Wittenberg University.

Graf said at least two of the three teams were nationally ranked, and even though the Gorloks lost all three contests, it gave the team confidence knowing they could compete with highly skilled teams.

“It was one of those things where I knew there was a chance we might go out there and drop all three games, and I knew as a coach it could either kill us or it’s gonna help us,” Graf said. “Because they’re going to see that they can play with this competition, and when we get home we’re gonna cruise through the rest of our conference schedule.”

When they got home, the Gorloks advanced to play Greenville College for the conference championship. The games went back and forth until the match eventually went to a deciding fifth set.

Schall still remembers the final moments of the last set, putting the closing stamp on a 15-13 victory.

“We were all screaming and she (Williams) ran over and jumped up into my arms and it was an amazing moment for us,” Schall said.

Repeating history

Having been on the 2009 team, Murray knows what it’s going to take to get the 2012 team back to the title match. The last two times the Gorloks have made it to the NCAA Tournament (2009 and 2011), they have been knocked out in the first round by Washington University. But the players are confident that they can overcome that, and sophomore outside hitter Jenny Howard believes the sophomores can bring another four straight titles back to Webster.

“We have a really large group of sophomores and everyone is talented,” Howard said. “Every one of our sophomores can contribute at the varsity level, so I think the future is really bright. We can be like Abby’s class and win the conference title all four years.”

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