By Jon Gremmels
Herald Sports Editor
CLINTON — Shea Meyermann might have returned home to help spoil the first home match for Ashford’s volleyball team, but the Saints still have high expectations for the season.
Meyermann, a senior from Camanche, helped Upper Iowa defeated the Saints 25-20, 25-14, 25-23 on Tuesday night at Kehl Arena. Meyermann, a starter for the 5-0 Peacocks who play at the NCAA Division II level, had nine kills and 13 digs.
“We kind of wanted to come out and make a statement,” Meyermann said. “We’re 5-0 now, and we wanted to have a strong start to the season.”
Ashford (3-2) is looking forward to a strong season, too.
“I expect us to be one of the top teams, if not the top team, in the conference,” Ashford junior Kelsay McCausland said. “We’re 15 players strong. There’s not one player that couldn’t go out there at anytime and produce, so that helps us a lot. We’ll definitely be competitive and win some matches.”
McCausland, a high school teammate of Meyermann, is one of the key returning players for the Saints. The 6-foot junior entered the match as the team leader in kills (38) and co-leader in blocks (14).
“We lost a lot of experience from last year,” McCausland said, referring to the graduated hitters Jenny Buelow and Aubree Rhoades, defensive specialist Abigail Adams and setter Kristin Orozco. “We lost our two hitters, lost Abby in the back row and the person who pretty much ran the whole team for us, a four-year starting setter. She demanded a lot from us.”
Coach Micah Cewe brought in several newcomers, and two of them, transfers Hanna Bruns and Allison Uceda are playing key roles on the front line. They led the Saints on Tuesday with a seven and six kills, respectively.
But with new players come adjustments, and that’s the phase the Saints are in during the early part of the season.
“We’re still getting used to playing with each other,” McCausland said. “Experience-wise, we’re kind of young. I think that eventually, once we get used to playing with each other and we mesh together, we’ll eliminate those problems. We had communication problems tonight., which was our main issue. Once we take care of that, things will start going better for us.”
As one of the main returning offensive players, along with senior middle hitter Lisa LaMasse, McCausland sees herself as playing an important role in the team’s development.
“I kind of have to be the person who steps up,” she said. “I feel like our setters are going to look more toward me and Lisa because we’ve been there. We’re pretty much the only two hitters with court experience right now, so they’re going to look to us in tough situations, so we’re going to have to step up.”
The Saints also are looking to returning players Samantha Moller; Whitney Miller, a sophomore from Clinton; Tara Van Zuiden, a junior who played at Fulton; and Kendra King, a sophomore from Morrison, Ill., to contribute, along with newcomers Liz Gbur and Heather McCue. Each of those players played in all three games Tuesday.
“Every position still is up for play,” Cewe said. “There are still positions where we’re looking for people to step up.”
Ashford was competitive in every game Tuesday but couldn’t pull out any wins. Sara Vance, who led the Peacocks with 14 kills, drilled a left-handed kill from the right side to put her team ahead 2-1 in Game 1, and the Peacocks led the rest of the way. The Saints came back to within 19-18 on back-to-back kills by McCausland and Allison Uceda. But the Peacocks scored six of the next seven points, and Meyermann served the game winner.
The Saints roared to a 5-1 lead in the second game, but Upper Iowa again came back and seized control.
Ashford led on a couple of occasions in Game 3. McCausland broke a 6-6 tie with a tip from the back row, then served three consecutive points. Ashford eventually pulled even at 23-23 before Upper Iowa scored the final two points. Meyermann finished it with a kill from the left side.
“We knew coming in we had a good team coming at us,” Cewe said. “Unfortunately, at times we didn’t play too well. We gave them too many free balls, tips and didn’t put the ball away aggressively.”
Despite the loss, McCausland said the Saints were served well by the match.
“It gets us ready for what we’re going to see conference-wise,” she said. “They’ve played some of the top teams in our conference, and they’ve beat those teams, so playing a team like Upper Iowa helps us gauge where we are compared with the rest of the teams in our conference before we get to play them.”
Cewe said the Saints should be able to go toe to toe with the top teams in the Midwest Collegiate Conference.
“We’re setting our standards high,” he said. “We want to be at the top of the conference, in the top one or two. We want to compete for that regular-season title, and our ultimate goal is to win the conference tournament.”
By Jon Gremmels