First-year Head Coach Ben Somera faced first test on Thursday night

After a series of tough conference losses denied them a NESCAC tournament bid last fall, the women’s volleyball team began its 2015 campaign on against University of Saint Joseph on Thursday evening.

The squad won its first for Coach Somera by a score of 3-0, edging the Jays in most categories.

Rachel Savage ’17 was relishing the chance to get back on the court.

“We had several close sets against Saint Joseph last season,” Rachel Savage ’17 said. “[The match] will be an excellent opportunity for us to showcase all our hard work leading up to the season and set the tone for the rest of it.”

This season, the team will be aided by the return of five strong veteran hitters, among them Sarah Swenson ’18 who led the Cardinal offense last season with 3.21 kills per set. Also returning is hitter Naja Lewis ’17, who averaged nearly one block and one kill per set, and libero Rachel Savage ’17, the Cardinals’ leader in digs over the past two seasons.

However, the team will have to find a way to fill the void left by captain and starting setter Claire Larson ’15, who graduated this past May. Larson posted record numbers in assists over her four-year Wesleyan career and was invited to play in the New England Women’s Volleyball Association’s all-star game at University of Massachusetts Amherst last December. The Cardinals might find some answers in the form of newcomers Kelsey Tam ’19, Madeleine Lundberg ’19, and Emma Robin ’19, all promising additions to the team.

Larson was not the only member of the squad that needed replacing this offseason. Celebrated veteran coach Gail Lackey announced early last fall that the 2014 season would be her last, a decision which led to newcomer Ben Somera taking the top job in July.

Somera brings with him an impressive resume, including three consecutive NCAA DIII tournament appearances, two NCAA tournament wins and a Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Coach of the Year award, all during a three-year stint as head coach of Roger Williams University’s volleyball program. Somera also amassed a 71-25 dual match record over that three-year period. Prior to Roger Williams, Somera held assistant coaching jobs at both the University of South Carolina and Oregon State University.

“Our two new coaches have been above and beyond wonderful,” Swenson said. “They push us past our physical and mental limits each practice to make us better players, and it’s exactly what we needed. Our head coach, Ben Somera, has really enforced a sense of ‘we’ within the team, and for volleyball that is so important.”

Savage shares her teammate’s enthusiasm.

“We have a very strong group of both returners and new players,” she stated. “With the addition of an excellent coaching staff to our program, I am very excited to see the potential of our team unleashed as the season progresses.”

Despite finishing last season with a winning record (13-10), Somera and the Cardinals will have to improve upon a disappointing 3-7 conference record if they wish to qualify for the NESCAC tournament for the first time since the fabled 2001 season. The squad will have their work cut out for them, as the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) preseason poll has Little Three rival Williams ranked among the nation’s top 20 teams, with Bowdoin and Tufts also receiving votes.

“I think our team has a tremendous amount of potential for this season in that each and every player is so determined to get better,” Swenson said. “I can’t wait to see how we compete against other teams, NESCAC especially. I really do believe we’re about to shock a lot of people.”

The Cardinals will play a double-header this Saturday, against Worcester State University at 10:00 a.m. and Rhode Island College at 2:00 p.m., and will get their first chance to prove they belong among the ‘Cac’s best when they travel to Maine to face rivals Bates and Colby on September 18 and 19, respectively.

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