Team photo of the 2022 Grace volleyball team.
Team photo of the 2022 Grace volleyball team.
WINONA LAKE - The 2022 campaign for Grace College’s volleyball team is mere days away, and the Lady Lancers are armed with a dynamic attack for the upcoming season.

Grace will employ an experienced roster this fall under head coach Katie Van Hofwegen. The Lady Lancers had a young squad last year, and several new players earned valuable on-court experience against the rugged Crossroads League.

Coach Van Hofwegen is seeing the benefits of that experience last year as the returners have grown in skill, leadership and confidence.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth from our players. The ladies are confident in themselves and what they can bring to the court,” said Van Hofwegen. “They are driven and very competitive. We’ve worked on developing leadership and creating unity off the court, and those facets are transferring onto the court as well.”

Part of that growth deals with the team’s collective mentality. Coach Van Hofwegen has focused time in the offseason to help the players’ approach to the game of volleyball. She emphasized that “volleyball is a game of mistakes, and we are approaching those hurdles with a growth mindset and rebounding a lot faster than in the past.”

The growth is seen most clearly in the team’s setting position. A trio of newcomers took the reins last year in Morgan Syoen, Riley Owens and Emily Peterson. Each player shared time on the court and gained confidence and skill through the process.

The three players each bring a unique skillset to the position. But more importantly, Coach Van Hofwegen was excited to see how the trio had grown in leadership as well.

“It’s clear to see how last year has given this group of setters confidence to lead. They have learned to be great communicators and provide stability and a strong court presence. You need that from the setting position, and they are doing a great job right now for us,” Van Hofwegen added.

Grace will enjoy a deep and dangerous attack from its hitters this year. The team has several “terminal arms,” meaning multiple players who can end a point with a strong attack.

Leading the returners is Cassadi Colbert. The redshirt junior battled through injury to produce 2.2 kills per set and is a dynamic, intelligent hitter on the outside.

The Lady Lancers have a wealth of returning hitters alongside Colbert as well, including seniors Katie Swanson and Jadyn Block, junior Kate Sperry, and sophomore Jadyn Ross.

Grace also returns Sahara Bee who suffered a season-ending injury last year. Bee has impressed with how quickly she has returned to form.

Additionally, freshman Alyssa Thompson joins the outside hitters this year and has worked hard to be able to contribute to the attack.

The team’s back row has proven to be a scrappy bunch who are looking sharp this preseason. Coach Van Hofwegen wants the defensive specialists to excel in serve receive, and the group has been up to the task.

The back row features a mix of upper and underclassmen. Senior Grace Erwin has both experience and poise, and sophomores Paige Vander Goot and McKenzie Stakely have grown tremendously during the offseason, according to Van Hofwegen.

Two new players will also join their ranks including sophomore transfer Liz Schmidt and freshman Emma Blackford. The five players form a stable base at the back of Grace’s defense.

For the middle hitters, Grace returns league 2021 All-Freshman Team honoree Alisha Leffring for her second season. Leffring was invaluable last year in attack (234 kills) and with her blocking efforts (32 solo blocks, 64 block assists).

She will be joined by 5-foot-11 freshman Livia Tate. Tate has provided a strong blocking presence already during the preseason and will be able to compete immediately in the middle.

“This has been a really fun team to be around. They’ve worked hard in the gym, and it’s been great to see how they’ve matured and stepped into bigger roles this year,” Van Hofwegen said.

The Lady Lancers will begin the season this weekend in Fort Wayne with a four-match tournament at the Memorial Coliseum.

Grace will play two more weekend tournaments at Lourdes and Bethel before Grace’s home opener on Sept. 7 against Goshen.