Returning experience could pay dividends for the 2013 Manchester University volleyball team.
Coach Kendra Marlowe's Spartans have eight returning players that saw a strong amount of playing time in 2012. Six sophomores, which make up the core of the group, helped pave the way towards an 11-19 record.
"(That group) learned under fire last season," Marlowe said. "That year under their belts will be very helpful."
MU's 2013 team make-up features two juniors and one senior with the rest being sophomores and freshmen.
"While we do have the bonus of several with experience, we still need to focus on playing together," Marlowe said. "It will be a necessity due to what looks like another very evenly matched Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference season ahead.
"If we can take that experience and get some leadership combined with it, I think things will begin to pay off," she added.
The Spartans' chances this fall, like 2012, are built around the Class of 2015. Sophomore outside hitter Sarah Pruden (Noblesville, Ind.) highlights the group after hammering 382 kills, the most for a Black and Gold player since 2007, en route to HCAC Freshman of the Year and first team all-league honors during her freshman campaign. The class also has the likes of setter Mikayla Munn (Elkhart, Ind.) who moved into a starting role early last fall to pass out 714 assists, and the middle hitter combination of Morgan Pavelka (Noblesville, Ind.) and Devin Clark (Madison, Ind.) that made up a formidable defensive front for opposing offenses combining for 97 blocks.
MU's upperclasswomen list has senior defensive specialist Makenna Hamilton (Medaryville, Ind.) and junior setter/defensive specialist Mallory Kirkwood (Greenfield, Ind,) and defensive specialist Morgan Yoder (Goshen, Ind.) leading the way. "We're going to need all three of them (to contribute)," Marlowe said. "Morgan and Makenna provide a valuable depth asset to the defensive situation in the back, while Makenna and Mallory have the ability to play around the rotation."
Yoder appeared in 27 of 30 matches last season, contributing 200 digs and 19 service aces, each of which were among the top three. Hamilton and Kirkwood both came off the bench in 17 matches a year ago with Hamilton producing 44 digs, and Kirkwood gaining numbers in kills (21), assists (120) and blocks (nine).
"I've been impressed with what I've seen from the returners during the off-season," Marlowe said. "They each have been working hard towards continued improvement for the program."
The Spartans added five first-year players to their roster, too. At the head of the class is Courtney Chowning, a member of the powerful Yorktown (Ind.) program during her prep career. "She's got a lot of potential to help out at the opposite hitting spot from Sarah," Marlowe said. "I do feel like the entire class has potential, though.
"One of many things they provide is competition in practice," she added. "It will make us that much better when match time comes."
Manchester University opens play with tournaments at Kalamazoo College of Michigan Friday and Saturday, Aug. 30 and 31; North Park College of Illinois Sept. 6 and 7 and its Pizza Hut Invitational Sept. 13 and 14. Conference play begins at Franklin in late September.