November 25, 2020

Returning players bring hope to next season’s Webster University volleyball team

ELMHURST, Ill. — It’s just the end of the beginning for the Webster University volleyball team.

The 2012 Gorloks earned eight St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Association awards, including Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. For the first time in school history, a Webster player made the All-Region team — sophomore middle hitter Sam Kersting.

Every person who earned honors will again be back next season.

A 3-0 loss to Elmhurst College (Ill.), the No. 9 team in the country, in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament ended the Gorloks’ dreams for the season. In the third and final set, Webster scored only nine points.

Sophomore right side hitter Kristen McDowell (No. 20) checks on sophomore setter Allie O’Toole’s wrist after a point during Webster’s NCAA Division III tournament match at Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., on Friday, Nov. 9. Webster lost the match 3-0 (25-19, 25-16, 25-9), but sophomore middle hitter Sam Kersting (second from right) was named a third team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association on Tuesday, Nov. 13. PHOTO BY DAN DUNCAN.

“It just seemed like they (Webster) got more nervous the longer they played, which usually is the reverse of what happens,” said Merry Graf, volleyball coach.

In Webster’s toughest tests during the regular season, the team usually started slow, but seemed to make the last few sets a battle.

Against No. 1-ranked Washington University on Oct. 3, Webster lost the first set, scoring only 12 points. Then, the Gorloks turned it on to score 21 in the second, then forcing the final set but falling short with a final score of 29-27.

Kersting remembers that game as the most exciting and intense one played all season.

“We were all really, really pumped and every point was like we just won the match,” Kersting said. “Every single person on the court or the bench was into it, and we walked away feeling like we won even though we lost.”

Not only in single matches but over the course of the season, Webster made some of the biggest steps in Graf’s history.

In the first tournament of the year, the Rose-Hulman Tournament in Terre Haute, Ind., Webster went 0-4 playing against all nonconference opponents. Toward the end of the season in Webster’s second tournament, the Illinois Wesleyan Tournament in Normal, Ill., Webster tied for first place going 4-0. Graf said it was the first time in her career at Webster that the volleyball team has accomplished that.

“We went out on a high note,” said sophomore outside hitter Jenny Howard. “We started the season with a lot of people hurt. We went out and won the conference tournament. It’s a great group of girls, and we had a lot of fun.”

Kersting was also voted to the All-Tournament team for her performance in those four matches at Illinois Wesleyan. Her top honor for this season was still yet to come.

Along with Graf’s SLIAC Coach of the Year award, six other Gorloks received All-Conference honors.

Sophomores Howard and Kersting, first team; sophomores Allie O’Toole, setter, and Jordan Vehlewald, outside hitter, second team; and sophomore middle hitter Emily Ratkewicz and junior defensive specialist Liz Abraham earned honorable mentions.

“They are going to come back fired up and motivated knowing that we are returning a lot of our players,” Graf said. “We’re going to try to get back to this point and maybe get that first regional tournament win.”

Howard also was awarded SLIAC Player of the Year, which is only the fourth in Webster volleyball history.

Then, for the first time in school history, Kersting was awarded with an American Volleyball Coaches Association First Team All-Region award. Kersting is the first player in program history to earn the honor. She was also named a third team All-American on Tuesday, Nov. 13.

Two careers come to a close after the loss to Elmhurst. Senior setter Sami Murray ends a four-year career at Webster and senior setter/right side hitter Jessa Maier wrapped up her third season as a Gorlok.

“They’ve given a lot to this program,” said Abby Williams, assistant volleyball coach. “They’ve improved immensely. As far as leadership, they have a huge leadership factor in this squad, so we’re going to have to have somebody fill this gap. Both great girls — we’re going to miss them.”

Murray said she was irked after the final match in her Webster career.

“We could have come a bit stronger as a team, but overall we had a great season and we played together as a team all season and we didn’t give up,” Murray said. “(I’m going to miss) basically all the conference tournaments. They’re all great memories of just rushing the court when we won. I love all the girls and it’s going to be hard to leave them.”

—Tim Doty contributed to this article.

To read about Sam Kersting’s postseason hardware, click here.

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