Midland Takes Aim at Another GPAC Title, Run at Nationals
FREMONT – In order to appreciate where you are, sometimes you have to take a look back at where you’ve been and the road you’ve traveled to get your current place.
Heading into the 2018 season, you almost take the success of the Midland University volleyball program for granted. But, to truly appreciate it, you have to look at the decade-long journey coach Paul Giesselmann and the Warriors have been on to get here.
In 2009, Midland went 8-18 and 4-12 in the GPAC. Of those 12 conference losses, seven of them were sweeps. Giesselmann came to Midland after being an assistant at Creighton in 2010. In 2013 Midland won the GPAC postseason title and did it again in 2015. In 2016, Midland won the regular-season title and earned its first-ever #1 ranking in the nation and also reached the NAIA Final Four. Last season the Warriors reached the NAIA round of 16.
Now, Midland starts 2018 as the #11 team in the nation and plays its home matches in front of crowds that average more than 1,200 per contest. I repeat …… more than 1,200 per match. For the record, the Midland football team averages just under 1,000 per game. The community excitement about the team is only exceeded by Giesselmann himself.
“I think this year’s team has a little more depth and experience as we return everyone but our libero from last year’s Sweet 16 team,” Giesselmann said. “I also think we have a couple of freshman who could contribute early. We play two Final Four teams to start the year so we will find out immediately what we need to get better at to compete in the GPAC. If we improve our passing and attacking on the pins we have a chance to be competitive.”
OK, so maybe Giesselmann is being cautious in his optimisim for the upcoming season, but his roster suggests there is no need for caution.
Here is a position-by-position look at Midland University for 2018.
Gracey England, 5’7, Fr., Lincoln, Neb.
Jessica Peters, 5’9, Sr., Omaha, Neb.
Elyse Splichal, 5’8, Fr., Bellevue, Neb.
Myranda Starner, 5’6, Jr., Glenwood, Iowa
There are a lot of really talented players on the Midland roster, but there clearly is no one more important to the success of the Warriors than their All-American setter Peters. She’s a three-time All-American, earning the AVCA third-team honors as a freshman, first-team as a sophomore and second-team during an injury-plagued junior year. She had foot surgery in the off season and appears to be back at full strength. She has 3,579 career assists (10.43 per set) and 783 career digs to go with 177 total blocks. Starner did not see varsity action last year while the Warriors have a pair of incoming freshmen in England – from Malcolm – and Splichal – from Bellevue West. When the Warriors needed a replacement at times for Peters last year, outside hitter Taylor Petersen handled the duties.
Sheyenne Smith, 6’1, Sr., Macedonia, Iowa
Heather Bills, 5’11, Soph., Elkhorn, Neb.
Megan Aultz, 5’11, Soph., Nebraska City, Neb.
Brooke Frederickson, 5’10, Fr., North Bend, Neb.
Shelby Bretschneider, 5’10, Jr., Pierce, Neb.
Taylor Petersen, 5’11, Jr., Auburn
Jenny Bair, 5’9, Sr., Clarinda, Iowa
Maggie Hiatt, 6’2, Soph., Springfield, Neb.
Bair returns as the top outside hitter from a year ago and totaled 271 kills as a junior and 241 more as a sophomore. Bretschneider has been a consistent force on the right side for the Warriors for two years now with 164 kills a year ago and 64 block assists to go with three solo blocks. Hiatt had 76 kills in 13 matches last year and 28 total blocks. Petersen is probably the best athlete of the group and had 159 kills last year while also spending some time at setter and could see significant back-time time as a specialist as well. Incoming freshman Frederickson, an all-stater from North Bend, could push for playing time both at the net and in the serve receive/passing game.
Bailey Schindler, 6’0, Fr., Ewing, Neb.
Kylie Belt, 5’10, Jr., Emerson, Neb.
Amber Pribyl, 5’10, Sr., Milligan, Neb.
Priscilla O’Dowd, 6’1, Sr., Omaha, Neb.
Sydney Morehouse, 5’10, Soph., Papillion, Neb.
Haley Bazis, 5’10, Soph., Ralston, Neb.
O’Dowd has had a storybook career at Midland, earning NAIA National Freshman of the Year in 2015 while also being named second-team All-American. She was a first-team All-American in 2016 and 2017 and last year she broke her own school record for hitting percentage in a season with a .391 mark. She had 412 kills, 114 digs, 23 solo blocks 100 block assists and 27 ace serves as a junior. Morehouse made a huge impact for the Warriors as a freshman, playing in 32 matches and getting 213 kills and 70 total blocks. She and O’Dowd give Midland a dynamic 1-2 punch in the middle. Pribyl has played in 13 matches in her career and freshman Schindler, an all-stater from Ewing, will likely spend this year preparing for a major role in 2019.
Kaitlynn Simon, 5’9, Fr., Brock, Neb.
Riley Throener, 5’8, Fr., West Point, Neb.
Jaisa Russell, 5’7, Soph., Gretna, Neb.
Savanah Reed, 5’3, Jr., Arlington, Neb.
Nicole Skovsende, 5’7, Sr., Elkhorn, Neb.
Mackenzie Wecker, 5’6, Sr., O’Neill, Neb.
MacKenzie Sempeck, 5’4, Fr., Omaha, Neb.
Maggie Sempeck, 5’4, Fr., Omaha, Neb.
Baylee Snyder, 5’8, Jr., Council Bluffs, Iowa
Hannah Boone, 5’3, Soph., Omaha, Neb.
Alexis Vilwok, 5’6, Fr., Fremont, Neb.
Midland needs to replace libero Jessica Nekl, but has plenty of back-row talent to choose from. Wecker was an all-state libero at O’Neill St. Mary’s in high school and was second on the team in digs a year ago with 267 (2.4 per set) and will likely start the year with the libero jersey. Russell had a strong freshman year, finishing with 231 digs (2.1 per set) and Simon could see lots of back-row play as a freshman. Skovsende played in 29 matches as a junior with 191 digs (2.0 per set) and handled 231 serve receptions.