Eagles build on successful season

After recording the biggest turn-around season in program history, the Eastern Michigan University volleyball team was looking to build on past success. And that it did.

The Eagles finish the season with a 21-11 record (9-7 in the Mid-American Conference) after being knocked out of the MAC Tournament. The Eagles lost 3-1 to Ball State in the first round of the tournament.

Coming into the season the Eagles were faced with the challenge of replacing senior middle block Jenn Schwartz, who graduated in 2011. In the opening matches, freshmen Megan Crawshaw and Katherine Krasowski fought for the spot, and in the end Crawshaw proved herself worthy.

Crawshaw, along with three other Eagles, earned recognition from the MAC at the end of the season. Seniors Haley Stein and Ashley Mason, along with junior Rachel Iaquaniello, were named to the All-MAC First Team. Meanwhile, Crawshaw was named to the All-Freshmen team – her first conference award.

Stein was also named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year after recording 623 digs (5.37 per set), good for 11th nationally.

The Eagles opened the season with a loss to Notre Dame. However, they were able to bounce back and win 12 of their next 13 matches before opening MAC play with a loss to Western Michigan.

The beginning of MAC play was a bumpy road for the Eagles, who were contending with illness and had seemingly lost their energy and dominant form of play. They took an early 1-4 record in the MAC before they were able to climb out of the slump.

After a near-loss in the first set of a face off with Toledo, Kristen Baker and Cassie Sowers were able to put the Eagles on a run to take the second set. The momentum stayed with the Eagles as they took a 3-0 victory over Toledo and five additional MAC wins, four of which were sweeps.

The road got rocky once again for the Eagles, who finished their last seven matches of the season with just two wins.

The Eagles were led this season by hitting powerhouse Iaquaniello, who finished the season with 468 kills along with 25 assists, 323 digs and 30 blocks. Mason generated a team-high 1,243 assists and 326 digs this season, while sophomore Erin Short chipped in with 96 assists, 83 blocks and 225 digs. Defensively, Stein and Baker led the way for the Eagles; Stein recorded 645 digs while Baker blocked 108 hits on the season.

Looking ahead, the Eagles will have three pairs of shoes to fill for the 2012 season as they will lose Mason, Stein and Sowers due to graduation. Freshman Natalie Folk has already shown signs of a player who could step in to fill the void Stein and Sowers will leave.

On the subject of setter, head coach Kim Berrington has expressed a desire to recruit a freshman and allow her the opportunity to start all four years. Having a freshman setter presents a number of obvious problems: chemistry, freshman mistakes, lack of experience and control and much more. However, with hitters like Iaquaniello, Short, Baker, Paige Roback and Crawshaw, who would not be comfortable and confident as the starting setter for the Eagles?

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