WINONA LAKE – Grace College women’s volleyball coach Andria Harshman knows her program is in very good shape for the future.
She also knows that it’s going to be tough to replace the three standout seniors who led the team to the semifinals of the NCCAA National Championships this past weekend.
Harshman, who had a strong group of freshmen and sophomores play key roles this season, says replacing the senior trio of Ellie Harp, Caleh Kruse and Hannah Clemmons will be harder than just finding new players to fill their strong skills set on the court.
“Our three seniors, who did a great job leading us this year, will be tough to replace on the court,” said Harshman. “But they will be even tougher to replace off the court for how they were selfless and cared for their team.
“How long our seniors wanted to stay in the locker room together one final time on Saturday revealed to me how much of a bond they had and how much this team and their teammates meant to them.
“The key for us next season will be replacing the great leadership of this year’s seniors. They were so competitive every day. They would chew me out (in a good way) if I made the wrong call during a match during our practices. They really left a legacy with what we have accomplished the last four years here.”
Harp, a senior setter from Abilene, Texas, earned first-team All-American honors from the NCCAA/AVCA. Kruse, a senior outsider hitter from Auburn, Indiana, was a second-team All-American selection. Clemmons, a senior defensive specialist from Muncie, Indiana, earned the prestigious NCCAA Susan R. Hellings Award at the national championships for her all-around athletic and academic efforts.
“The jump we have made in the last four years here is a credit to these seniors. They figured it out off the court with community service projects and camps that we do. They learned off the court how to handle what our program is really about and they did a great job with that to represent Grace College.”
The Lancers, who lost 3-2 to Trinity Christian (Illinois) on Saturday, went 30-12 this season. It was just the second 30-win season since 1996. Grace also made its third trip in the last four years to the NCCAA a national championship tournament, reaching the Final Four for the second time in that span. This senior class is the first to lead the program to three national tourney appearances in their careers.
“This team was pretty special and it was one of my most unique years coaching,” Harshman said. “There were high expectations at the start and they really were all together as a team. Our senior nurtured and led our younger players very well.
“We had a great run. Our goal was to get to the national tourney and we reached the semifinals of it and played probably our best match of the season in it. This team knew how to win together and they really cared about each other.”
The Lancers will return plenty of talent for the 2015-16 campaign. Key returnees should include sophomores Kaitlin Kerrigan and Grace Woolsey and freshmen Tori Bontrager and Sierra Smith. Smith, who played opposite this year, is a Fairfield High School graduate.
“We got a taste of it this year and realized we could win it,” said Harshaman. “I have confidence in our kids and our recruits who are coming in. I think next year could be even better and I’m already looking forward to it.”