By JOE COLUCCIO, staff reporter
The Wildcats are coming off an impressive 2012 season where they accumulated in a 21-8 record, and an appearance in the NCAA Division II Volleyball Tournament where they were ousted in a heartbreaking 3-2 match against California State San Bernadino.
With only three seniors leaving off last year’s team, experience will be one of the Wildcats strong points this season.
“I think we are much more experienced this year rather than last year,” junior Erin Smith said. “A lot of the girls came in young last year and got experience, I think we will be a pretty well rounded team going forward.”
The Wildcats will look to replace senior Marci Hjellum, who led Central in scoring, averaging 4.2 points per set.
“You know we have a lot of girls-first year players with experience this year,” head coach Mario Andaya said. “We are looking to replace our outside hitter who is our top point scorer. We have had some injuries this past season and we are looking forward to getting everybody healthy and more reps.”
Junior middle blocker Erin Smith earned Division II second-team All-American honor from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).
Smith, who was also named to the first team All-GNAC and an All-West regional selection in the NCAA tournament, is poised to makes waves for the Wildcats this season.
“Erin is never satisfied,” Andaya said. “She’s always trying to find ways to get better, her work ethic is really rubbing off on some of the younger kids. This year she’s trying to establish herself as a leader.”
Smith hopes to continue the success from last season, individually and as a team.
“Obviously I want to get all-America again, I didn’t expect it at all,” Smith said. “I hope we do better in the coming year, where we made regional tournament last year.”
The Wildcats got commitments from setter Leanna Carr from Colville High School, outside hitter Jordan Deming of Century High School, in Hillsboro, Ore., and middle blocker Sabrina Wheelhouse of Sheldon High School in Eugene, Ore.
Andaya is looking forward to the elements they will bring to the squad, which is need of depth.
“Right away they’re gonna give us added depth,” Andaya said. “They are all proven winners, they have those high standards and high expectations, and they have the work ethic to back that up. They are prepared to work hard and will hopefully attain the same accolades at the college level.”
The tough competition of the GNAC will better prepare the Central for postseason play. The Wildcats split the season series 1-1 with rival Western Washington, who went on to finish first in the conference, a rivalry that now effects conference and national rankings.
“We have national contenders in our conference and it really helps us get ready for those national opponents,” Andaya said.
“It was a heartbreaking loss,” Smith said. “We are gonna play them right off the bat in the preseason, so we’re all excited to face them again.”
Central opens the season with a string of tournaments. On Sept. 6 at the Coyote Classic. The tournament is hosted by Cal State Bernardino, the team that knocked the Wildcats out of the national championships.
The following week, the Wildcats will travel to Courtyard & Residence Inn by Marriott Oredigger Volleyball Classic, hosted by Colorado School of Mines.
Then, Central opens Great Northwest Conference play versus Western Oregon on Sept. 19, who finished just above the Wildcats at second place in the GNAC.