Volleyball Opens Friday in New Orleans
Courtesy: Rider Sports Information  
Release:  08/27/2013

Christopher Feliciano begins his 3rd season at...
Courtesy: Peter G. Borg (Rider University)
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2013 Volleyball Outlook

Year one was adjusting to the landscape with a new coach and new players.  Year two was attention to detail.  Year three?  Just have fun playing. 

With the return of 11 letterwinners that led Rider to its most wins in nearly a decade, have fun playing is the message that third-year head coach Christopher Feliciano is preaching to his players.

“We are working very hard to continue to improve,” Feliciano said.  “With that said, the natural talent has to take over and we just need to go out, have fun, enjoy what we are doing and just play.”

Leading the returnees is the senior class of team captain Meghan Bartsch, Megan Knott and team captain Bridget Sheerin.

A setter from Cranford, New Jersey, Bartsch is a 154-set veteran who was second on the team, averaging 4.12 assists per set as a junior.

“Meghan keeps the team organized,” said Feliciano.  “She is a senior that understands the offense, has gotten better every day and has a tremendous work ethic.”

Knott, an outside hitter from West Caldwell, New Jersey, brings 245 sets of experience to the court, after appearing in 89 sets in 2012.

“Megan has great efforts in conference play last year,” Feliciano said.  “When she is on, I think she can be one of the top five outside hitters in the conference.   We are hoping for that to happen on a more consistent basis and that would be a great way for her to leave her mark on the Rider University volleyball program.”

After transferring to Rider as a sophomore, Sheerin, from Oak Lawn, Illinois, has compiled 218 sets of experience and she led the team in kills and points as a junior, appearing in all 110 sets.

“Bridget is our smartest player and is a team-mentor as far as shot selection, ball movement and ball placement,” Feliciano said.  “She is fun to have around the gym and was really a key reason for the improvement in our win total last season.”

The junior class consists of five returnees, team captain Ashlee Amatulli, Rachel Jensen, Kelsey Kowalski, Jaclyn Webber and Kayla Wong.

Amatulli, from Menifee, California, played in 107 sets as a sophomore and was eighth in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, averaging 7.57 assists per set and her 810 assists is the sixth highest single season mark at Rider.

“Ashlee is one of our captains,” said Feliciano.  “She makes smart decisions and quite simply, she is a leader.”

Amatulli, a 211-set veteran, enters her junior year seventh on the all-time Rider assist list with 1,454.

Jensen, a MAAC All-Academic honoree from Buena Park, California, is a veteran of 136 sets at the middle hitter position, despite limited action as a sophomore due to injury.

“Rachel was the most improved in the spring and so far this fall, has picked up where she left off,” Feliciano said.  “She came in ready to work and is in the best shape of her life.  We told her what she needed to work on over the summer and she went above and beyond and I can point to her as an example for the younger players as far as work ethic.”

Kowalski, a MAAC All-Academic honoree from Wrightstown, New Jersey, has appeared in 105 sets at the middle blocker position.

“Kelsey came in much improved by working hard over the summer,” Feliciano said.  “She is out best ‘pin’ blocker.  She is hitting with more velocity and is more determined.”

A three-time team captain, Webber, from Anaheim, California, has appeared in 193 sets and led the team in kills per set as a sophomore while earning MAAC All-Academic honors.

“Jaclyn is the glue that holds the team together,” said Feliciano.  “She is a leader and is very strong in one on one situations.”

Wong, from Tustin, California, has 195 sets of experience at outside hitter and is expected to be used primarily on the right side this season.

“We switched Kayla to the right side and since then, I’ve seen fewer unforced errors,” said Feliciano.  “She is doing a great job.  We lessened her responsibilities and seeing her make the adjustment and continue to improve, that has been really fun to watch.”

Rider’s returning sophomores include Alexa Becker, Brandie Hill and Nicole Moorman.

Becker, from El Dorado Hills, California, appeared in 28 matches (77 sets) as a Rider rookie and was fifth on the team in service aces

“Alexa has big shoes to fill with the graduation of Brittany Gajewski who was nationally ranked in digs,” said Feliciano.  “She is hard working and determined.”

A setter from Portland, Oregon, Hill appeared in 18 matches as a Rider rookie and averaged 1.44 assists and 1.19 digs per set.

“Brandie is super-athletic and worked over the summer to get even faster,” Feliciano said.  “She is working on her decision making which we can teach but you can’t teach athleticism or desire and she has both of those qualities.”

Moorman, from Moon Township, Pennsylvania, was an All-MAAC Rookie selection as a middle hitter, and averaged 1.26 kills per set while appearing in 109 of 110 sets.

“Nicole is an All-Rookie returner,” Feliciano said.  “She came into the preseason in great condition and with an added year of maturity.  She is hitting with velocity and we are pleased with her progress.  She came in refocused and ready to go and we are excited.”

Rider will also see the return of Cool, California native, redshirt freshman Caitlin Hess who missed her rookie season with a knee injury.

“Caitlin is still getting back to 100 percent,” said Feliciano.  “But she has set a standard for work ethic.  We have her in more of a defensive specialist roll until she is completely recovered with her lateral movement and she is well on her way.  She embraced the opportunity to learn more about the game and adjust to the speed of the game due to watching a year from the sidelines.  That’s going to make her that much of a better player.”

The key to the 2013 season may very well rest with the rookie class of Ryan Ackermann, Kaitlyn Griffin, McKayla Huntley, Sarah Lindley, Alaina Piszczek and Samantha Streibick.

An outside hitter from Leesburg, Virginia, Ackermann comes to Rider from Stone Bridge High School where she was a First Team All-State, District and Regional Player of the Year

“Ryan is very competitive,” said Feliciano.  “We can rely on her to score out of system and push her teammates and just be mentally tough.  She brings all of those intangibles and on top of that, she is one heck of a volleyball player.  She can also touch close to 10-feet.”

Griffin is a 6-1 middle hitter from Hickory High School (Chesapeake, Virginia) where she earned First Team All-Region and First Team All-Southeastern District honors.

“We expect Kaitlyn to compete right away for playing time,” said Feliciano.  “She gives us an opportunity to score and finish points faster.  We need to score better on first ball points.  It is also important to have someone be a stopper when the other team gets on a run.”

Huntley is a 6-2 middle hitter from Lake Stevens, Washington where she earned First Team All-Area and First Team All-Conference honors as a senior team captain.

“McKayla is a diamond in the rough,” said Feliciano.  “She is touching 10 feet and is blocking high at the net.  We are working on some things offensively with her but she is really going to help us defensively right away.  She is very coachable and is focused on not only getting better but making her teammates better as well.”

Lindley is a 5-2 defensive specialist from Springfield, Oregon, where she was a three-time Most Valuable Defensive Player and a two-time All-League honoree for Thurston High School.

“Don’t be fooled by her size,” Feliciano said.  “She is tenacious on defense and she is excellent with her serve receive.  I expect her to compete for starting time at the libero position.  She works hard and brings a ‘go get it attitude’.  She has a true love for the game that is infectious to the rest of the team.”

Piszczek is a 5-5 defensive specialist from Sinking Spring, Pennsylvania and she attended Berks Catholic, earning All-District III honors.

“Alaina comes from Synergy Volleyball Club, one of the most prestigious clubs on the East Coast,” Feliciano said.  “She was part of a National Champion team and she brings championship caliber experience and has played under those pressure situations.”

A 6-0 middle hitter from Middletown, Ohio, Streibick comes to Rider from Monroe High School where she was the Southwestern Buckeye League (SWBL) Player of the Year, First Team All-League and an All-District honoree.

“With Samantha, it was a great opportunity to grab an amazing player and more importantly an amazing person,” said Feliciano even though she will miss the season with a knee injury.  “Once she is healthy, she will add much needed depth at both ‘pin’ positions.  She can play left side, right side and middle.”

“The incoming rookie class was very important,” Feliciano added.  “We are going to graduate nine players in the next two seasons so this class was the time to restock.”

With all of the moving parts, getting the players in the right positions and meshing together 18 players, Feliciano has been emphasizing the love of the game.

“We doubled our win total from 2010 to 2011 and again in 2012,” Feliciano said.  “Now is the time for the team to go out, work hard, relax and have fun and enjoy playing the game.  When they go out and just play and not over think and let their natural talent take over, you will see the true measure of how good this team can be.”

The Broncs open the season in New Orleans at the Kathy Trosclair Memorial Tournament, hosted by Tulane August 30-31.

“With the MAAC hosting the 10-team conference tournament at Disney’s Wide World of Sports in Florida next season (2014), I felt that it was important to have a tournament both this season and next season where we had to get on a plane and play a bunch of tough matches in a short amount of time,” Feliciano added.  “That was my goal for going to New Orleans.”

The home opener is September 11 at 7pm against La Salle.

Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play opens on September 21 when Rider hosts perennial conference power Niagara at 1pm.

Defending MAAC champion Fairfield visits Lawrenceville on November 3, as part of a five-match home stand from October 30-November 9 when Rider will also play Iona, MAAC new comer Quinnipiac, Manhattan and Saint Peter’s.

“We worked on getting better and improving our standing in the MAAC,” said Feliciano who saw his squad picked eighth in the MAAC preseason poll.  “We made strides in that direction but so did everyone else so it’s going to be a challenge but one I think we will be up to.”

Siena hosts the four-team MAAC championships November 23-24 in Loudonville, New York.

“We are excited about the upcoming season and can’t wait to get things started,” Feliciano said.  “It’s going to be a fun season.”

-RU-


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