For the sixth time since 2007, the Iowa Central volleyball program will be under new direction this season.
Gary Anderson inherits the reins of the Tritons after the departure of Fredrick Wagner. Anderson previously served a two-year stint as head coach at Southeastern in Burlington.
"I truly think Iowa Central is a great college," Anderson said. "The campus is like a four-year campus setting. I was actually born in Fort Dodge. I love the community and still have a lot of family that lives here. (ICCC President) Dr. (Dan) Kinney, (Vice President of Enrollment Management) Tom Beneke and (Athletic Director) Rick Sandquist are probably the main reasons I took the job. The whole administration is very supportive."
Coming off back-to-back NJCAA Div. II National Tournament trips, Iowa Central compiled a 19-24 overall mark last fall, including 6-4 in the ICCAC. The Tritons were ousted by Des Moines Area in the Region XI finals. Ironically, Iowa Central eliminated Anderson's 12th-ranked Blackhawks in the regional tournament semifinals.
"I try not to think about how last season ended," said Anderson, who owns a career record of 442-145 in his 15-plus seasons. "I can tell you we're going to have an entirely different look. Our offense will be super explosive and fast-paced. You don't have to be tall, but you have to be quick and athletic."
Sophomores Nikki Oberfoell (L/DS), Mattie Gray (OH) and Kara Russell (S) will spearhead the Triton attack. Oberfoell earned a spot on the all-region X-IA second squad after pacing Iowa Central in digs (737) and service aces (26) in 2013.
2014 IOWA CENTRAL VOLLEYBALL
Sophomores - Nikki Oberfoell, 5-8, L/DS, Brighton, Colo.; Mattie Gray, 6-0, OH, Waverly; Kara Russell, 5-9, S, Spring Grove, Ill.; Kim Russell, 5-9, OPP, Spring Grove, Ill.; Becki Hinz, 5-7, S/DS, Coal Valley, Ill.; Hannah Swartzendruber, 6-0, OH, Waterloo; Kelci Larson, 5-10, OPP/OH, Northwood; Emma Irvin, 5-10, S, Waverly; Sarah Groff, 5-11, OH/MH, Westcliffe, Colo.; Nicolette Lavulo, 5-10, MH, Bountiful, Utah.
Freshmen - Leighton Ervin, 5-7, S, Placitas, NM; Kenzie Hawley, 5-4, L/DS, Fort Dodge; Ali Grein, 5-10, OH, Wesley; Brook Dykstra, 5-9, OPP/DS, Chowchilla, Calif.; Jade Lewis, 5-9, OPP, Colfax; Sadie Eden, 5-9, OH, Dike; Breanna Bond, 6-0, MH, Waterloo; Jasmine Woods, 5-5, DS, Lee's Summit, Mo.; Dayana Almeida, 6-1, MH, Barreiros, PE-Brazil.
29-30 - at Owens Tournament in Toledo, Oh.
Sept. 3 - Ellsworth; 5-6 - at Kirkwood Tournament; 10 - at Northeast; 17 - Southwestern; 19-20 - at Parkland Tournament in Champaign, Ill.; 27 - at Clinton.
Oct. 1 - Marshalltown; 3-4 - at Iowa Western Tournament; 8 - at Iowa Lakes; 10-11 - at DMACC Tournament; 15 - at DMACC; 22 - NIACC; 24-25 - Host Triton Invitational; 29 - at Kirkwood; 31 - at DMACC Tournament.
Nov. 5 - Region XI Tournament.
"Playing against Nikki and seeing some of her faults, we were able to fix those," Anderson said. "She's a young lady that will be a great leader for us."
Gray and Russell are both transfers from Southeastern, along with Kim Russell and Hannah Swartzendruber. As a freshman, the 6-foot-0 Gray was named to the NJCAA Div. II All-American second team. She led the country in kills per set (5.82), while notching 2.88 digs a game.
"Mattie Gray was the nation's No. 1 hitter last year with 785 kills," said Anderson. "She's a huge gun to have on your side. Mattie has a great arm swing. She's a role model that always practices hard."
Kara Russell averaged 10.31 assists per set in 40 matches, receiving all-region XI-A second-team honors. Twin sister, Kim Russell, was also tabbed to the all-region XI-A second squad for contributing 3.5 points a game.
"Kara Russell was one of the best setters in the country last season, too," Anderson said. "I don't want to think about just those three (Oberfoell, Gray and Kara Russell), but they will all have a huge impact this year."
Other familiar names back for the Tritons are Becki Hinz (S/DS), Kelci Larson (OPP/OH), Emma Irvin (S), Sarah Groff (OH/MH) and Nicolette Lavulo (MH). St. Edmond graduate Kenzie Hawley (L/DS) and former Algona prep Ali Grein (OH) are newcomers to the Triton roster. Gone from a year ago are all-conference performers Shelby Schindler (Bishop Garrigan) and Kennedi Simon.
"I think some of our local kids can really help us out," said Anderson. "I've seen a lot of growth in Kenzie Hawley. She has great role models in front of her to learn from. Ali Grein is another wonderful person that can flat-out play. We've got a lot of depth and a whole bunch of talent we'll be able to mesh together between Southeastern and Iowa Central. I honestly feel we can compete for a national championship. How we start is really not the important thing, but it's how we finish. We just have to continue to improve every single day. Having the pleasure and opportunity to work with Olympic coaches for the last 13 years, we use the exact same teaching styles. We've been focusing on executing motor skills and what can be done to simplify things."
Anderson knows his squad will be tested each time out in the ICCAC. Kirkwood (32-8 overall, 9-1 in the league last season) and DMACC (34-13, 9-1) appear to be the other conference frontrunners. The Bears, who are coached by Lohrville native and ex-Iowa Central head coach Patty Harrison, placed eighth at nationals a year ago. Harrison helped start the Triton volleyball program back in 1983.
"Our conference is literally one of the toughest in the country," Anderson said. "I'd love to see our community come out and support us. We have some incredible kids. I want to make sure we do a good job of promoting our program and getting it out there."
Assisting Anderson will be Stephanie Quintus.
The Tritons, ranked 17th in the preseason NJCAA Div. II poll, are off to a 4-1 start this year.