Without Paco Labrador at the helm for the Tigers, the team still finds it has the talent to prove their Tiger strength after three match wins to open the 2018 season this weekend.
Now under the supervision of interim head coach Evelyn Carus, the women’s volleyball team kept their eye on the prize as they ground Otterbein and overthrew Washington & Jefferson and Washington & Lee in the Otterbein/Capital Classic.
Labrador, former head coach for the Tiger volleyball squad, left Wittenberg part way through the summer to take charge of the volleyball team at the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Highlights of Labrador’s 15-year tenure includes three trips to the NCAA Division III Championship match since 2011 and only two losses total of conference action.
As Labrador packed up his bags, he left behind a legacy of winning traditions. Even with the change in coaching personnel, the team remained focused and ready to get back on the floor. It proved difficult to beat Carus’ crew of determined and confident Tigers.
“[This weekend] is the start of many great things to come this season,” Carus said prior to competition, “and we are continuing to grow and learn from each other every day.”
The team continued their winning ways on Friday over Otterbein, 3-0. The first win of the season came in the same gym that they began their journey to the NCAA Division III finals less than a year ago. The following afternoon, the ladies took down Washington & Jefferson and Washington & Lee at Capital.
Wittenberg’s ties are strong with the Otterbein Cardinals, as it is the alma mater of 2015-graduate Carus. Current head coach Monica Wright (McDonald) coached four-year-letterwinner Carus. McDonald graduated from Wittenberg as an All-American volleyball player, knowing Wittenberg’s winning tradition firsthand.
“Opening weekend, regardless of who your opponent is, always poses challenges,” Carus said. “You are facing new teams, with little to no preparation.”
While Carus is one of four new coaches for the squadron, and nine new faces were added into the mix from last season, it has been the veterans that have had the most impact through the weekend.
Karen Wildermann stood out from the crowd as she tallied 94 of the teams 126 assists through the weekend. The starting setter excels both on the floor and in the classroom, as she was named to the NCAA Elite 90 following the 2017 season.
Each class produced a key hitter for the Tigers. Topping the team in kills for the weekend was sophomore Haley Horner with 30. Close contributors were senior Kennedy Schmidt, 29; freshman Katie Hiestand, 23; and junior Aubrey Cox, 22.
Schmidt and Cox co-led the team in blocks with seven apiece. Horner followed close behind with six.
“Having a lineup with returners that have already been on the court together only adds to that confidence,” Carus said, “Confident teams tend to mesh well together and create an unstoppable force.”
Wildermann put together a weekend that produced 30 assists per match, putting her on pace to shatter Wittenberg’s career record. Schmidt is putting together a nice run for herself too, with at least seven kills tallied per match.
The confidence of the Tigers led to extending winning-streaks against Washington & Jefferson to three, Washington & Lee to five and Otterbein to 28 times in school history.
This weekend, the fourth-ranked Tigers travel to Huntingdon, Pa. for the ASICS Invitational hosted by Juniata on Friday and Saturday. This will be the biggest challenge for the Tigers as they are scheduled to take on 12th-ranked Carnegie Mellon, 17th-ranked Juniata and 23rd-ranked Christopher Newport.