NORFOLK, Neb. – Coming off another successful season, the Northeast Community College volleyball team will turn to its sophomore class for leadership and guidance, while a plethora of newcomers hope to see the court when the season begins on Aug. 23.
After finishing seventh in the country at the DII level last season, head coach Amanda Schultze is ready to embark on her seventh season at the helm, hoping to return to the national tournament for the fourth-consecutive year.
"It will take a lot of teamwork and hard work from the entire team to get back to nationals," Schultze said. "These girls need to set their goals early and work toward them every day. We have a large group of talented volleyball players, but we all need to have one goal in mind and push each other to reach that goal."
Replacing starting setter Savannah Nelson will be no easy task. Last season, Nelson was a spark that led a powerful offensive attack for the Hawks as she tallied 1,251 assists, putting her in the top-15 in the country.
Behind the Hawks' attack was hitter Kalli Brester, who went on to record 403 kills in 130 sets. However, Hannah Heppner (Stanton, Neb.) returns for her sophomore season, hoping to take over as a leader after tallying 328 kills in 89 blocks last season. Sophomore Elley Beaver (Columbus, Neb.) will also be looked upon to become a mainstay at the net in her final year as a Hawk. Last season, she notched 225 kills, 331 digs and 44 blocks. Both Caitlin Orton (Mills, Neb.) and Megan Wehrbein (Burchard, Neb.) hope to see their roles increase as sophomores in 2019.
"I expect the sophomores to take the freshmen under their wing and show them what our program is about," Schultze said. "I expect them to come in with some fire and excitement to improve from last year."
Last season when the Hawks played at home, they went a perfect 11-0 in the Cox Activities Center. In order for the Hawks to once again have the home-court advantage, they will need to rely on the talented youth that will be pushing for starting roles in August.
"I expect the freshmen to jump right in and work hard to push our sophomores," Schultze added. "I want these freshmen to buy into our program and be proud to be a part of it."
Christensen was a four-year letterwinner for the Mustangs and led her team to a 34-2 record as a senior and a third-place finish at the state tournament. She was named an Honorable Mention selection by the Omaha-World Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Prep Dig Nebraska.
Sanger will look to be an immediate contributor in the back row for the Hawks after starting three years for the Warriors. She was a three-time All-Conference selection and holds the school record for most digs in a career and in a season. She was a First Team All-Academic honoree by the Omaha-World Herald.
Blue Hill High School state champion setter Jamie Bonifas brings an exceptional resume to Northeast. She recorded 3,164 assists throughout her high school career after being named First Team All-State by the Omaha-World Herald, Lincoln Journal Star and Prep Dig Nebraska.
"I look forward to watching the sophomores to become leaders to a large group of freshmen," Schultze added. "I also look forward to watching the freshmen come in and compete right away."
The Hawks kick off the 2019 season at the RKP Invite in Beatrice, Neb., before hosting Central Community College at 7 p.m. on Aug. 28 at the Cox Activities Center in Norfolk. Northeast turns around two days later to host the Northeast Community College Tournament on Aug. 30-31.
The Hawks will play in two highly-touted tournaments throughout the season. They will compete in the Kansas City Kansas Community College Tournament in Kansas City, Kan., on Sept. 20-21 and the Lincoln Land Community College Tournament on Sept. 18-19 in Springfield, Ill.
The final home game for the Hawks will be Oct. 23 against Iowa Central Community College, while the postseason gets underway on Nov. 2. The NJCAA DII National Volleyball Tournament is slated to begin on Nov. 15 in Charleston, W.V.
"We will build off of last season if we keep doing what we preach and we do it well," Schultze said. "The sophomores know what it's like to finish in the top-10 and I hope they come in wanting more this year. We continue to be disciplined and do the right thing on and off the court."
For all news related to Northeast Community College athletics, visit northeasthawks.com for complete coverage. Fans can also follow the Hawks on Twitter @NortheastHawks for game-day coverage.