Northern Wyoming Daily News - Serving the Big Horn Basin for over 100 years

By Scott Nulph

Cowgirls chipping up in 2016


August 26, 2016

COURTESY/ JEREMY MARTIN/ Boomerang Photographer

UW volleyball players Reed Copeland (left) and Kayla Slofkiss (right) go up for a block in a match against Ohio State last season.

LARAMIE – University of Wyoming volleyball players will likely be carrying a little something extra in their travels this weekend as they open the 2016 season at the Purdue Mortar Board Invitational.

Each will likely be carrying a chip with them from a year ago. And they'll likely have that chip firmly on their shoulders throughout this fall.

The Cowgirls put together one of the top seasons in UW history in 2015, going 23-7 overall and 13-5 in the Mountain West. Wyoming beat nationally ranked Ohio State and posted the program's top RPI ranking.

Still, the Cowgirls were left on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament.

"We want to show people that we deserved to be in the tournament," Cowgirls senior middle blocker Laura Beach said. "Last year, we tried to do everything we could, and it was the committee's decision that we weren't good enough. This year, we're determined to take that decision out of everybody's hands."

The Cowgirls return three All-Mountain West players from a year ago in the hopes of building on last year's success.

Joining Beach on that list are senior outside hitter Kayla Slofkiss and sophomore middle blocker Reed Copeland, who led the nation in blocks as a freshman a year ago.

Slofkiss led the team in 2015 in kills with 306, while also finishing second in digs with 277. Copeland's block numbers were staggering for a freshman at 190, which averaged out to 1.68 blocks per set. Beach was third in kills with 27 and second in digs with 128.

"I've said I think we can be as good or better than last year, but the record may not indicate it early because of the competition we play this year," fourth-year UW coach Chad Callihan said. "We've got all the pieces to have a successful run this year, both in the conference and nationally."

Also returning are senior setter Courtney Chacon, junior setter Dani Westfall (who missed almost all of 2015 with an injury), junior defensive specialist Lily Austin and sophomore setter Cori Aafedt.

The Cowgirls had to rotate three setters last year with the injury to Westfall, but that makes the position one of the strongest on the team this fall.

"Us three always are there for each other and push each other to get better," said Chacon, who totaled 626 assists to go with 248 digs and 23 aces. "It will be fun to continue to help each other. In the end, we all want what's best for the team, and we all want to be out there helping the team."

Wyoming did lose two of its top outside hitters to graduation in Bridget Shanahan and Kayla Henderson.

Sophomores Mattison DeGarmo and Emily Lewis are expected to fill those spots. DeGarmo had 100 kills off the bench.

"Those are a couple kids that could step up and do some good things for us this year," Callihan said. "They're kids I hope to see mature and gain more playing time and have some impact for us."

Added Chacon: "I think that our offense can be really good this year. We have a lot of underclassmen that have gotten so much stronger and so much faster, and it's exciting to see. As they grow, we'll grow as a team."

The Cowgirls will have to grow fast with a loaded nonconference schedule.

UW will play two Top 25 programs today in West Lafayette, Indiana, when it plays No. 20 Purdue at 10:30 a.m. and No. 24 Kentucky at 3:30 p.m. The Cowgirls wrap up the Purdue tournament with Washington State at 11 a.m. Saturday.

Wyoming also plays top national programs BYU and Ohio State in the Ohio State Invitational next weekend, as well as Oregon State and Idaho in the Idaho Invitational.

"We're putting ourselves out there, and the biggest thing for this group is to make sure we maintain our composure, regardless of how we start," Callihan said. "It really is a no-lose situation for us. If we can pick up some wins, it's a positive for us. If, for some reason, we don't, we're losing to some quality programs.

"We might get off to a little bit of a rocky start, but understand that those matches will help us when we get into the discussion at the end of the year in being an NCAA team."

And a team with something to prove.

"We were so close, and a lot of people thought we should have been in the NCAA tournament," Chacon said. "Knowing that, and being so close, it motivates us as a team so much more. We want to get there and put that all together and make it."


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