No. 7-ranked volleyball aim for third perfect MIAC season

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Ellie Galgano, Videographer

<p>SLIDESHOW: Inside practice of the two-time defending MIAC champs.</p>
SLIDESHOW: Inside practice of the two-time defending MIAC champs.

With 16 returners, high-set goals and players who are ready to put everything on the court, the St. Thomas volleyball team is hoping to dominate the MIAC once again with a successful season.

Although a strong class graduated last year, lone senior Kyley Crotty has confidently accepted her role and is excited about leading her team as a captain. She said that putting all expectations aside and helping her team focus on what it can control is going to be the key to winning.

The Tommies are ranked seventh nationally in the American Volleyball Coaches’ Association poll.

Crotty said she is excited about her team’s 2009 schedule, and she noted that St. Thomas will soon face some other top-ranked teams. In the remaining September weekends, the team will travel to tournaments at nearby Augsburg College and Washington University in St. Louis.

Conquering the MIAC in the regular season will be a challenge for St. Thomas, as it will face teams like St. Ben’s, that returns a core set of players, and Concordia, a consistently strong team.

After ending last year’s season with a five-game loss to UW-La Crosse in the playoffs, the Tommies were able to get some revenge last weekend at the Sugar Loaf Invitational in Winona. St. Thomas went 4-0 at the tourney and beat La Crosse in all three matches.

Sporting a .791 winning percentage (159-42 record) that ranks fifth nationally among active Division III coaches, there is no doubt that head coach Thanh Pham prepares his team for every game. Knowing exactly what his players need and adjusting practice plans accordingly are things that Crotty recognizes in Pham’s coaching style.

“He can read us very well, and he’s easygoing,” she said. “But when push comes to shove, he’s there to push us.”

Pham is returning 16 players, led by junior All-American setter Emily Foster. Three hard hitters who had more than 200 kills last season return in Crotty, and juniors Carlie Waibel and Alesha Nelson. Middle hitters to watch include juniors Tori Jones and Jill Osborne. Katie Bonine, a junior transfer from Minnesota-Crookston, will add outside hitting power.

Five freshmen will be added to the lineup, with libero Kaitlin Wachter being a highlighted defensive player to watch. Pham has decided to add a junior varsity team, allowing more practice and improvement for his players.

After defense, Crotty explained that game strategy centers around the middle hitters. “If the middle is running a lot of attacks, then that opens up for the outside or right side because the blockers are focusing on them, leaving only one blocker.”

“I love watching the middles,” Crotty said. “When Emily (Foster) sets to Jill (Osborne) or Tori (Jones), they’ll bury it. They’re so quick, so it’s hard to get a good block up on it.”

The Tommies continue its season this weekend at Augsburg and begin their regular-season home matches Sept. 23 at Concordia University’s Gangelhoff Center.

Sally Schreiber can be reached at