Photo by Michael Wong
PASADENA, Calif. (Sept. 4, 2017) – With the most successful rookie class in program history now joined by another quartet boasting high-level talent, Caltech volleyball is primed to capitalize on its newfound depth entering the 2017 season.
"We have some very good talent on this roster," Head Coach Tom Gardner said. "It's still a young team, and we're dealing with some injuries, but the potential in this group is exciting. Fully healthy, we have good competition for every spot on the team, which breeds improvement and ultimately success."
Sophomores Alexa Lauinger (Ortonville, Mich. / Brandon) and Lauren Li (Bellaire, Texas / Bellaire) revolutionized both the team's offense and defense last season, combing for 342 kills and 494 digs as the highest-ranking duo in program history in each category. With a year of experience and more options in the attack now, both should benefit from fewer double blocks as the offense becomes more unpredictable.
"Alexa has continued to develop as a leader after taking on that role as a rookie," Gardner said. "She is very vocal but also leads by example - her worth ethic is second to none. Lauren really found her rhythm toward the end of last season and has carried that into preseason. She had games where you just knew she was going to find a way to get her numbers and can be that dominant on a consistent basis."
Senior Mayra Melendez (Salinas, Calif. / York) is the only four-year player on the roster and once again the favorite to begin the season at libero. She has accumulated 240 digs in her first three years and remains key to the team's passing.
"Mayra has expressed a strong desire to finish her career strong," Gardner said. "She has put up some big games in the past; now we're hoping for a more consistent year from her."
Junior Sakthi Vetrivel (Redmond, Wash. / Overlake School) fronts the remaining group of returning players after narrowly missing the 100-kill mark and leading the team in blocks. She is joined in the middle blocking corps by sophomore Helena Shield (Mercer Island, Wash. / Mercer Island), who missed her rookie year due to injury but is quickly regaining her explosiveness and feel.
Four newcomers – Krystyna Maruszko (Redondo Beach, Calif. / Marymount), Allessandra Mondello (Kinnelon, N.J. / Villa Walsh Acad.), Isabell Yang (Arcadia, Calif. / Arcadia) and Christine Yu (Fremont, Calif. / Mission San Jose) – are expected to play prominent roles early in the year. Maruszko could vie with sophomore Ellie Walker (Minneapolis, Minn. / Blake School) for primary setter duties, although both could see the court together in a 6-2 offense. Mondello is a defensive specialist who provides another option at libero, while Yang is a combo outside hitter-defensive specialist and Yu can play across the front row.
"The early schedule provides us with some good opportunities to gauge ourselves and build toward sustained success throughout the season," Gardner said. "The new players are working hard and the leaders are helping to fold them in, so we're developing good chemistry quickly."
The Beavers open the season against West Coast Baptist College, with whom they have split the season opener and finale each of the last three years. Despite several absences in advance of this year's opener on Tuesday, Sept. 5 at 7 p.m., Gardner's squad will have its sights set on breaking that streak.
"The routines we were able to form last year with so many new bodies have carried over well – the execution is more fluid and players are quicker to catch on to the flow of our drills," Gardner said. "The youth is a big positive for us. As I said, the chemistry we've developed with our returners setting the tone and our freshmen folding right in is already evident on the court. The most exciting part is that they all get to play together for a few years; they have a chance to be a special group."