The Ellsworth Community College volleyball team is just days away from opening its 2017 season. With four returning sophomores, the Panthers look to their experienced players to help lead the team on the court and off.
Nicole Nielsen (Waterloo, IA) is one of three captains returning for her second season at ECC. As the player with the most ball control on the team she will be the go-to hitter, just as she was last season. "I look for Nicole to do the same things she did last year," commented Head Coach Ashley Clark. "She has grit and is competitive by nature."
Ashley Kraber (Prole, IA) is the second captain for the team. A strong player who will work through anything, the team will look to her for her work ethic. "Ashley is a work horse," commented Clark. "She works through injury and pain and has a strong desire to compete and will lead through that."
Allison Sheridan (Alden, IA) is the third captain for the team. Having played for Coach Clark before coming to ECC, she knows what is expected of her and her teammates and can help relay that. "Allison is the brains of the operation," says Clark. "She can fill in the spots of what I am doing before I even say it. She knows me and what I want out of my players."
Myriana Martinez (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico) rounds out the sophomore returners. She has come a long way over the spring both physically and vocally. "I expect big things from Myriana defensively this year," says Clark.
"We have a strong returning core with these ladies," the coach adds. "They know the expectations I have for in the gym and interactions with others. They set the tone for the freshman. They know they are accountable and responsible for what they do and say on and off the court."
Five new players this year will round out the Panthers volleyball squad.
Haley Steele (Sioux City, IA) is new to the Panther volleyball squad this year but not to ECC campus. Steele played softball last year for the Panthers. This year she looks to be a positive presence on the court. "Defensively, Haley will make us much better especially in the back row."
Meredith Lincoln (Saratoga, WY) comes to the team to be an outside hitter. She will be a consistent player for the team especially on defense. "Meredith is a ball of energy. She is always happy and makes me and the entire team smile."
Jena Gerot (Wapello, IA) will be a setter for the Panthers. She has a level headed approach to the game and a consistent attitude. "Jena will help make us better, allowing us to have a second setting option."
Sydney Nystrom (Waterloo, IA) will lend a heavy hand for the Panthers and an offensive tool. "She works hard and wants to play."
Alianna Holliday (Olwein, IA) will be a utility player for ECC, likely thrown into a lot of different situations. "I expect Alianna to be a consistent presence when she is on the court."
Overall the Panthers are a small but fierce group. They will be under-sized this year but will play a tough defensive game. They look to have pristine ball control. "We will play rally volleyball with a lot of teams and look to give them opportunities to make mistakes."
The Panthers may lack in offensive power this season but will defensively play strong. "I want to play lights out defense," says Clark. "We have a lot of primary passers, giving us a lot of choices where to go on the court this year. I consider us the little sister. We will force those older bigger schools to play with us."
It has been a tough couple of weeks for the start of the volleyball season for the Panthers. Plagued by sickness with two players having mono and two having strep throat, the team has had to take some unexpected times off practice. "The breaks in practice haven't been planned, but it is necessary to take the precautions to stay healthy."
With the setback of sickness, the team is still coming into the season with a positive outlook on what it wants to accomplish. The Panthers would like to finish at least sixth in the conference, tally more aces than errors, and have 100 percent of the team receive All-Region Academic honors.
"This group of girls understands the bigger picture more than a lot of athletes I have worked with. They understand that volleyball is a small portion of ECC and after. I am proud of this group every day. Even on our tough days they always take away something from practice."
This is the first full team that Coach Clark has recruited. "I am excited to see what they grow into and how they develop. The unity and chemistry of this team is the stronger than I have ever had before."
ECC will kick off the season with a road game against Marshalltown Community College on Tuesday, Aug. 22, at 7 pm. The Panthers will remain on the road until their home opener Wednesday, Sept. 6, against Southeastern at 7 pm.