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Iowa - or bust!
The Indiana University East volleyball team has the final stop of the NAIA volleyball season in mind as the 2011 season approaches.
The Red Wolves made history in 2010 with a 39-4 season that included a 26-0 start, a program-best No. 27 national rating, a repeat Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament title and a return trip to the NAIA Volleyball National Championship Opening Round.
The top 24 teams in the 36-team NAIA national tournament advance to Sioux City, Iowa, to determine the national champion. IU East's 2010 season ended one match short of an Iowa trip. The Red Wolves want to make that Iowa trip for the first time in 2011.
"We've been at the doorstep twice, the first round of the national level," said IU East coach Charlie Brown. "Our goal is to bust through and get to Iowa and play at the final site of the national level."
"We struggled to gain respect at the national level last season, and this season we are out to claim that respect!"
The traveling party
IU East assembled an impressive crew for its 2011 journey.
Nine of IU East's 10 rotation players from the end of the 2010 season return. The Red Wolves also welcome a talented five-player recruiting class.
"We have tremendous depth this season, more so than ever before, and we are going to use this to our advantage both in practices and matches," Brown said.
"Everyone is working hard. Most importantly, we have an experienced and hungry team."
Brown looks to his two junior All-Americans to navigate the road the Iowa.
Setter Lauren Crump (Indianapolis, Ind./Scecina Memorial High School) led the NAIA in assists per game and became the first IU East athlete in any sport to earn second-team All-America honors. Crump won KIAC and American Volleyball Coaches Association Northeast Region Player of the Year accolades.
Middle hitter Breezy Strete (Troy, Ohio/Troy High School) was among the NAIA leaders in hitting percentage and kills per game. She repeated as an NAIA honorable mention All-American.
Brown reports both appear poised to perform at an even higher level in 2011.
The team's other junior, libero Kristin Waechter (Muncie, Ind./Daleville High School), also will serve as a team captain in 2011. Waechter is on pace to break most of IU East's defensive records by the end of this season.
IU East enters the 2011 season with three seniors after playing the past two years without any seniors on the roster.
Outside hitter Courtney Flory (New Paris, Ohio/National Trail High School) is poised to become IU East's first four-year NAIA volleyball letterwinner. Flory proved her worth in 2010 when she stepped into the starting lineup and performed well after injuries created an opening on the front line.
Right side hitter Paige Lay (Bloomington/Normal, Ill./Parkland College) was the American Volleyball Coaches Association Northeast Region Newcomer of the Year after a big finish to her 2010 season. She posted some of the best hitting statistics in the nation.
Defensive specialist Sarah Berlatsky (Thomasboro, Ill./Parkland College) excels in serve receive and adds to the Red Wolves' pack of skilled back row players.
Four sophomores played big roles in IU East's big 2010 season.
Middle hitter Caitlin Burroughs (Richmond, Ind./Northeastern High School) broke the Red Wolves' match, season and career records for solo blocks as a freshman en route to all-conference and all-region honors.
Outside hitter Sarah Shilling (Warsaw, Ind./Warsaw Community High School) emerged as a capable all-around player and is expected to provide more offense for IU East in 2011.
Defensive specialist Meagan Stoker (Celina, Ohio/Celina High School) established a school record for serve receive percentage in 2010 and will be a regular in the Red Wolves' back row in 2011.
Ariel Cox (Ansonia, Ohio/Mississinawa Valley High School) is capable of playing any spot on the floor.
Five newcomers join the ride in 2011.
Junior "front row specialist" Taylor White (Greenville, Ill./Kaskaskia Community College) can play any front row position after earning all-conference honors for her NJCAA Division I team in 2010.
Redshirt freshman Kasey Stolle (Richmond, Ind./Ball State University) joined the program late in the summer to make a strong defense even better.
Freshman outside hitter Brooke Sahm (Indianapolis, Ind./Roncalli High School) was the top hitter on a squad that was ranked among the top 60 high school teams in the nation.
Freshman Lindsay Kurz (Indianapolis, Ind./Lutheran High School), an Indiana all-state selection in 2010, gives the Red Wolves unprecedented depth at setter.
Freshman Cinder Weber (Muncie, Ind./Wapahani High School) offers an energy boost for the back row.
A chance to host the conference tournament and more than 10 matches against teams that received votes in the final 2010 Tachikara-NAIA Volleyball Coaches Poll highlight the 2011 IU East volleyball schedule.
"This year, WOW, from a strength of schedule perspective we've taken a giant step and a risky one, but very calculated!" Brown said. "We will be playing 12 to 15 of the top-ranked teams in the country this season. Every outing will be a dogfight - or should I say a wolf fight!
"There are no easy wins on our schedule this year. How we perform in the heat of battle will further define us as a program at the national level. We struggled to gain respect at the national level last season, and this season we are out to claim that respect"
IU East opens the 2011 regular season Aug. 18 at the Grace College Ramada Plaza Tournament.
The Red Wolves' home opener is Aug. 24 against Marian University at Seton Catholic High School. IU East will play 10 home matches at Seton's Chuck Mosey Memorial Gymnasium.
The highlights of the home schedule include a Sept. 14 matchup against Indiana Institute of Technology and a Oct. 26 contest against 2010 KIAC regular season champion Asbury University.
IU East also will play these teams that ended the 2010 regular season receiving votes in the Tachikara-NAIA Volleyball Coaches Poll: Aquinas, College of the Ozarks, Indiana Wesleyan, Shawnee State, Taylor and Georgetown.
IU East could face other ranked teams in the crossover rounds of tournaments.
IU East will host the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament on Nov. 11 and 12 in the Richmond High School Tiernan Center.
The Red Wolves are the two-time defending KIAC Tournament champions.
It's IU East's first opportunity to host the KIAC volleyball tournament.
The Red Wolves will play 15 KIAC regular season matches leading up to the KIAC tournament. The league has moved to a double round robin for the 2011 season.
The travel checkpoints
Brown calls them "the three pillars."
Conference championship. Conference tournament. Opening round of the national tournament.
Brown will look back on 2011 as a successful season if the Red Wolves achieve all of those goals.
"It won't be easy," Brown said. "We've told them numerous times that this year, it's not a sprint but a marathon, and we want to be the ones still standing down the homestretch. By the second half of the season we will be battle tested, hopefully healthy and more focused than ever on the most important goals we set this year."
IU East was the top choice in the KIAC preseason poll and ranked 26th in the NAIA's national preseason poll.
The Red Wolves invite the community to join them on their 2011 trip
"It's exciting volleyball," Brown said. "These kids are playing for IU East and the community, and we want their support.
"It's good volleyball, and it's their chance to see a team that is working hard toward the national level."
Click here to view the 2011 IU East volleyball online guide
Click here to view the 2011 IU East volleyball schedule
Click here to view the 2011 IU East volleyball roster