Jessica Biegert knew something had to change.
A 3-1 homecourt loss to defending Kansas Conference champion Ottawa dropped her Kansas Wesleyan volleyball team to 7-7 overall and 0-2 in the conference. Biegert, though, was certain her team was much better than the record indicated.
A lineup change ensued and the Coyotes were never the same. They swept York on the road in their next match, boarded a plane and flew to Bourbannais, Ill., for the Olivet Nazarene Tournament where they won four consecutive matches.
“It gave us the confidence and momentum that we needed and ran with it for regular season finish,” Biegert said. “Our team was pretty close and putting them on a plane and going to Chicago, it only went up from there.”
KWU won 14 of its final 15 matches in the regular season before falling to Saint Mary in the first round of the KCAC Tournament – the match coming after an untimely nine-day layoff. The Coyotes finished with a 21-9 overall record, 9-3 in the conference.
Biegert’s confident the momentum from last fall’s fast finish will carry over into the 2022 season that begins with matches against Calumet College of St. Joseph and Missouri Valley on August 20 in Marshall, Mo.
Biegert’s optimism isn’t unfounded. The roster features eight veteran seniors, seven who are entering their fourth season in the program. Three earned All-KCAC honors a year ago including Elizabeth Hardacre (SR/Kensington, Kan.) who was an AVCA and NAIA Honorable Mention All-American.
“This is a special senior class,” Biegert said. “We all got here together so we’ve grown together up to this. A lot of them had to come in and start right away and to see them develop over four years – you want the best for them.”
Biegert has no doubts her team is physically capable of something special – KWU was picked third in the conference coaches’ preseason poll. Handling the mental aspects is the challenge.
“We’re just trying to get over that mental hump that’s kind of kept us back in postseason the last three years,” she said. “We’re going to be putting them in a lot of pressure situations this year. We have high expectations for regular season games where we have to put the pedal to the metal. We’ll train for that and be ready.”
To that end the schedule features four matches in the Hastings (Neb.) Tournament later this month and five in Florida early next month.
“We’re going to Florida to celebrate this big senior class,” Biegert said. “There’s eight of them and two are graduating early so we want to give them a good experience and let them go out with a bang.”
Hardacre had 259 kills and a .325 hitting percentage in 2021 while Morgan Bryand (SR/Wichita, Kan.) had a team-high 291 kills and Maddie Beckett 286. Bryand was named all-region and First Team All-KCAC. They’re joined by Chelsea James (SR/Wichita, Kan.), who had 109 kills and a big spring. All four are seniors.
“Hardacre is the dominant force in the middle for us both offensively and defensively,” Biegert said. “Bryand is just high kill aware and knows how to score points all the time. Beckett’s a four-year starter, has that power arm, is fun to watch and carries her team a lot. Chelsea has all the confidence in the world right now, she’s doing really well.”
Setters Josie Deckinger (JR/Wichita, Kan.) (672 assists) and Courtney Hanna (478) also return. Deckinger was a third-team All-KCAC selection.
“Deckinger knows how to be the quarterback of our team and run a strong offense and let hitters succeed,” Biegert said.
Melinna Schumann (SO/Sabetha, Kan.) is back after a stellar freshman season and could play hitter or libero.
“She’s just a competitor, she refuses to lose and that’s kind of that libero mentality,” Biegert said.
On the subject of liberos, one of the biggest challenges is finding a replacement for Emily Monson, who graduated in May after being chosen the KCAC’s Defensive Player of the Year the last two seasons.
“There’s no other Emily Monson,” Biegert said. “We’re trying to develop some other liberos that come in and make it their own role. We’re going change our defense so there’s a lot less pressure, spread out the digs a little bit better this year.”
Three newcomers have impressed early on – libero Kelsey Hund, a transfer from Kansas City Kansas Community College, and freshman hitters Rylee Serpan (FR/Spring Hill, Kan.) from Spring Hill and Sarah Girard (FR/Jefferson City, Mo.) from Jefferson City, Mo.
The goal in 2022, according to Biegert, is to knock down a familiar obstacle.
“We need to break that four-seed (KCAC tournament) barrier, so there’s still a lot to fight for and compete and be hungry for,” she said. “We just set our expectations high and try to put ourselves in situations where we can compete consistently at a high level.”