MCC hopes to thrive on savvy in ICCAC

T-R PHOTO BY ANDREW ABADIE - The Marshalltown Community College volleyball team begins its 2019 campaign this week with games in Florida and Alabama. Pictured (from left to right) are front row: Morgan Jesse, Halee Pedro, Raquel Gonzales, Genesis Wanatee, Shaelee Smith and Fauneil Olander; back row: Ludmilla Souza, Haleigh Berendes, Marija Egic, Andjela Bobic, Jelena Vucic, Madison Denny-Weber, Bojana Stekovic and Hannah Knapke; not pictured: Elena Yee.

Marshalltown Community College volleyball finished off last season with a 34-5 overall record but fell short in conference play, going 0-4 in the competitive Iowa Community College Athletic Conference.

However, head coach Justin Hoskins is optimistic for the upcoming season as the program returns five sophomores — which is the most he’s had return in his four years.

“It’s been really nice seeing them take leadership with those freshmen and all five of them lead in different ways, which I think has really helped the freshmen really connect with at least one or two of the upperclassman showing them the ropes,” Hoskins said. “On the court, all five of our sophomores saw playing time last year so expect them to pick up where they left off and fill some voids that were left as well.”

Last season, MCC led the nation in aces, compiling 361, and was ranked 14th in the nation in kills with 1,594 on the season.

“I think from an overall perspective we have as much as talent as we ever had in the last couple years,” Hoskins said. “The tough thing with it is that we do have quite a bit of freshmen who are trying to get into the mix.”

Top returning offensive members are outside hitter Elena Yee, who racked up 362 kills, 367 digs and 61 aces, and Marija Egic who totaled 385 kills with 179 digs is expected to be a hitter in a yet-to-be-determined spot on the front line.

Defensively, the Tigers will also look to returning sophomores Halee Pedro to be playing left-back in the libero spot and Raquel Gonzales to play the center spot in the 5-1. Pedro totaled 630 digs, which ranked ninth in the nation last season, and put up 52 aces while Gonzales totaled 175 digs and 58 aces.

The Tigers will bring in 10 freshmen, but Hoskins so far has been impressed early on with Andjela Bobic and Hannah Knapke.

“[Bobic]’s a good-sized middle for us out of Serbia and has done a really nice job of finding a connection with her setters already,” Hoskins said. “She’s got a very big block when she’s able to get there and get close. She’s been impressive, we just kind of need to work on her speed a little and get her to accustomed to the style of play here. Back in Serbia, the play is a little bit slower so they are moving a little bit quicker pin to pin.”

“Hannah Knapke, a freshman out of Ohio for us, has come in and played a really good back row for us. She’s also swinging some for us on the outside that she hasn’t played in a couple of years. She’s done a nice job of that.”

In terms of playing style, the team will again to look to be aggressive in their service game and be strong defensively, but the team’s focus is to be able to be flexible and adjust to the weaknesses of their opponents.

“We like to throw a lot of different things out at our opponents,” Hoskins said. “We definitely have different game plans going depending on who we are facing and having that ability to mix things up. There are a decent amount of teams that kind of have their bread and butter with what they want to do offensively and defensively. We’re kind of the opposite. We’re going to have four or five different gameplans both offensively and defensively that we’re able to throw at teams depending on what their strengths and weaknesses are.”

Compared to last season, the schedule was made harder to have less of a talent dropoff against the teams the Tigers will face, and in doing so the team will be prepared for the level of play that conference opponents Indians Hill and Iowa Western are known to have.

“The reality is Iowa Western is a top one, two or three team in the country and Indian Hills is usually ranked in the top-20 as well,” Hoskins said. “From the way that the region and district are set up, the reality is we have got to knock off one of those teams in the postseason. That’s something we are striving for. Last year was the first time that an MCC team took a set off either one of those teams so we are able to do that and show that we are able to play at that level.

“I think if we get healthy and stay healthy we will have a realistic shot against whoever we play. With that being said, we have a lot of matches going into it its very much a 50-50 match and we’ve got to find a way to adjust to each team we are playing and find a couple of extra points.”

MCC will go on the road for the first five games of the season and will play its home opener against Grand View JV on Aug. 26.