With seven freshmen and six sophomores, youth has taken over women’s volleyball coach Ben Read’s 18-player roster.
The infusion of talent over Read’s first two recruiting classes has helped the third-year coach continue a winning tradition in one of Emerson’s most competitive sports.
As the women’s volleyball team makes a challenging switch from the Great Northeast Athletic Conference to the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference this fall, Read and his young Lions have given themselves the lofty goal of reaching — and making some noise — in the NEWMAC postseason tournament.
“Our expectations are high; we want to aim high,” said Read, whose team won the 2012 GNAC title and made the Division 3 NCAA Tournament with a similarly young roster, headlined by now-sophomore setter Juliana Tucker, the 2012 GNAC Rookie of the Year. “We want to get back into the [NCAA Tournament]. Is that going to be realistic? We’re going to know pretty quickly here when we play a few of the NEWMAC teams.”
This year, Emerson added four 6-footers, led by middle blocker Julianna Augustine of Skaneateles, N.Y., a suburb of Syracuse. The other three are Annie Hall, Amanda Linzmeyer and Elizabeth Reid.
Augustine leads the team with 87 kills and has made the most of her chances with a team-best .299 hitting percentage. In comparison, senior Alyssa Thorne is second on the team with 82 kills, but has 44 more hitting attempts than Augustine for a .218 hitting percentage.
Augustine has reached double-digit kills five times already, also tops on the team, including 11 in a Sept. 10 win for the Lions (7-4) over Amherst College, which Read said he believes to be their first ever against the school.
“Our main goal [as freshmen] is just to help wherever we can,” Augustine said.
Read called Augustine just as skilled as the Lions’ top hitter last year, junior Kat Rice, who won the GNAC Rookie of the Year award in 2011.
But how hard was the transition to college volleyball for Read’s freshmen?
Marketing major Jessica Hamilton, a 5-foot-8 outside hitter, has been limited to just seven matches so far due to injuries, but ranks third on the team in kills per set at 2.20.
“For me it was pretty easy,” said Hamilton, an Altadena, Calif., native who joined Emerson from Alverno High School where, as a senior, she was the top player for the reigning Southern Calif. Division 5AA champions. “In Southern California, volleyball is life.”
Read said he remembered a recruiting trip to the American Athletic Union National Championships where he scouted Linzmeyer, who hails from Huntington Beach, an hour away from Altadena.
“The team she was playing had three [Division 2] players on it and the rest were all seniors that were going Division 1,” Read said.
Meanwhile, Tucker played in high school at the Campbell Hall School in Los Angeles alongside Wellesley College’s top player, Sydney Carfagno. Read said Carfagno is “one of the best players in New England.” She was already named NEWMAC Volleyball Player of the Week for the period ending Sept. 9.
Emerson played at Wellesley in its NEWMAC opener on Tuesday night. The Lions limited Carfagno, but fell 3-0 to the Blue.
Five of Read’s freshmen were recruited — Augustine, Hall, Hamilton, Linzmeyer and Reid — and they all decided to live together in the Little Building residence hall.
“Once they all got in their deposits and were enrolled here we put everyone in touch and just said ‘Hey, if you happen to hit it off with someone and you want to room with them, great,’” Read said. “One day, one of them just sent me a text like ‘Hey coach, just wanted to let you know that we’re all going to be living together.’”
There’s no need to worry about any cliques developing, though.
Read’s three seniors — Thorne, Jamie Morgan, and Brandy Eggermann — have played in all 37 sets and, welcomed the freshmen into the fold, according to Augustine.
“The older girls definitely made the transition easy for us,” Hamilton said. “We realized we were really part of the team at that moment.”
Tucker has been out with an injury since the Amherst match, while Linzmeyer hasn’t played since Aug. 31 against Salve Regina.
Read declined to comment about injuries, but said he is looking forward to seeing what the Lions will look like when they’re able to reach full strength and gel as a team.
“I think we will do some great things this season,” Read said. “Next year is going to be really exciting to see, and by the time the first recruiting class are seniors, and we’ve got this year’s freshmen as juniors, hopefully we can really make a name for ourselves in the NEWMAC, and hopefully at the national level.”