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Juniata Men's Volleyball 2009 outlook: veteran starters followed by youthful depth

(Posted January 16, 2009)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- It would be an exaggeration to say the 2009 Juniata College men's volleyball team is as green as grass, but there would definitely be an element of truth to it.

Head Coach Jeremy Price's squad offers 14 freshmen and sophomores on a roster of 19 players, giving the Eagles a squad that is long on talent, but a little short of playing experience.

"I think we have a lot of talent, but it's really young. We have depth, but much of that depth is inexperienced and raw," said Price. "Fortunately, our sophomores played a lot as freshmen to get that experience, and it was kind of painful at times. All five juniors and seniors are going to start this year, but that means we're going to be starting two sophomores or freshmen."

Headlining the list of seniors and juniors who will be anchoring the lineup is senior setter Matt Werle, a three-time All-America and the AVCA's 2007 Division III Player of the Year. Werle was sixth in the EIVA in assists last season with 11.49 per game (1103 total), to go with his 150 digs (1.56/game) and 73 blocks (0.76/game).

Werle will be setting an offense that will rely heavily on senior middle hitter Dan Powers, who hit .427 last season and averaged 2.27 kills per game (218 total). Powers was also one of Juniata's serving leaders in 2008, finishing the season with a team high 29 service aces.

"Dan has been serving really well," said Price. "He brings a lot of heat on his jumper."

Playing alongside Powers will be junior middle Evan Halteman, who cracked the starting lineup last season and quickly became an effective offensive weapon. Halteman hit .335 and averaged 1.79 kills per game, and was second in the team in total blocks with 81 (0.86/game).

"Evan started last year almost by default, because of all the injuries we had. This year, he's gone out and earned it," said Price. "I think the year of playing gave him a lot of good match experience, and now the game has slowed down for him a little bit in the middle. I think he's really elevated his game."

Providing depth will be sophomore Josh Mummert, as well as 6-8 freshman Ben Wolff.

Another veteran, junior Zach Wanner, will be starting on the right side. Wanner is Juniata's top returning point-getter in 2009; with 3.35 kills per game (271 total) to go with 0.43 blocks and 0.19 service aces per game, Wanner averaged 3.75 points per game last season.

Freshman Charlie Gomez and sophomore Brian Jaron will also see time at opposite, with Jaron also filling a niche as one of Juniata's serving specialists.

Another veteran will be starting at libero, where junior Anthony Damiano will return to the lineup. Damiano, who had never played the position prior to arriving at Juniata, recorded 194 digs for the Eagles last season and ranked third in the EIVA Tait Division with 2.11 digs per game.

"After Penn State's Dennis Del Valle, I think he (Damiano) could be the next best libero in the EIVA - and there's some good liberos in the conference," said Price.

The Eagles have some depth at the libero position, but all of it is very young; freshman Alex Bahn is battling with sophomores David Vogel and Casey Baum for playing time behind Damiano.

Juniata is able to put an experienced player on the court at every position except one, outside hitter, where the Eagles will have to replace two-time All-America Matt Fritz.

Sophomore Craig Harvey is the top contender; he saw considerable playing time in the latter half of the 2008 campaign, and finished the season with 62 kills in 41 games played - an average of 1.51 kills per game. Harvey will be playing alongside fellow sophomore Dan Follett, who saw minutes sparingly last season but stepped to the fore during fall workouts and appears ready to assume a greater role on the court. Follett finished his rookie season with 21 kills in 27 games played.

Sophomore Chris Vrooman provides another option at outside hitter, and he has been challenging Harvey and Follett during preseason practice. Vrooman is another youngster who saw the floor in increasing amounts at the end of the 2008, and finished the the season with 2.17 kills per game in 23 games played. Newcomer Matt Schmidt will be the backup at outset of the 2009 season.

"We're going to try and run middle as much as we can - and that's going to make our outside hitters better because opponents are going to have to respect our middle," said Price. "I told our outsides the most important thing they'll do for us is how well they pass. But I also told them they need to be efficient: the balls they should put away, they need to put away."

Juniata opens its 2009 slate on Sunday, Jan. 18, when it travels to Columbus, Ohio, to take on the Ohio State in what will be a home-and-home series this season; the Buckeyes will make the return trip to Huntingdon on Wednesday, March 4. The Eagles make their home debut on Saturday, Jan. 24, against Mount Olive College, and will open EIVA Tait play four nights later when they travel up Route 26 to take on defending national champion Penn State. The Nittany Lions will make their annual trip to Huntingdon on March 24,

Other non-EIVA Tait matches for the Eagles in 2009 include Stevens (Feb. 13), New York University (Jan. 31 and Feb. 28), and a California trip to face Pacific (March 10) and UC-Santa Cruz (March 11).

One big change for the Eagles' schedule will be the arrival of archrival Springfield College into the EIVA Tait Division, after finishing the 2008 season atop the Hay Division standings. Juniata's annual matches with the Pride, which in the past only helped determine the EIVA's representative in the Molten tournament, will now represent possible wins in the pursuit of a higher seeding in the EIVA Tournament as well.

"There's a lot of summits for us to climb, and the Molten championship is a really important peak that we try to get to every year," said Price. "To qualify for Moltens means we have to beat Springfield, and this year, with Springfield being in the Tait Division, it will help us in our EIVA goals as well. So this year, our team goals are a little more interconnected than in years past."

"We definitely want to win Moltens and put another banner up in our gym, but we also want to do really well in the EIVA Tournament. The guys on the team feel like they've really underachieved in that tournament in the past couple years," said Price.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.