Jayhawks Unfazed By Streak, National Ranking

Jayhawks Unfazed By Streak, National Ranking

Article copied from Jamestown Post Journal (http://www.post-journal.com/sports/local-sports/2018/10/jayhawks-unfazed-by-streak-national-ranking/)

Even for the most dedicated optimist, it would have been hard to imagine the Jamestown Community College women's volleyball taking a big step forward after last year's incredible campaign.

In head coach Ashley Lund's ninth year at the helm, the Jayhawks ended the season at 32-2 overall and a perfect 17-0 against NJCAA Region 3 Division III opponents while finishing seventh at the national tournament.

At the conclusion of that incredible run, Jamestown CC lost two-time All-American SallyAnne Rudny, arguably the most accomplished player in program history, to graduation.

"It was good to be able to depend on someone," sophomore Sierra Wells said of Rudny. "To be on the court and know she's going to get it in … she's going to get that kill. It was nice to have someone to rely on and know that they are going to get the next point."

Even with a trio of talented sophomores returning — including Wells, Kendyl Austin and Kaylin Brumagin — the Jayhawks couldn't possibly improve on their performance in 2017-18.

Could they?

A 17-0 overall record this year — part of a 47-game regular-season winning streak — and the No. 5 NJCAA Division III national ranking would suggest that the answer is yes, they can.

"Last year we had a great overall connection, but at the same time all of our talents this year feels like the same chemistry," said Wells, who was named a Region 3 Athlete of the Week after collecting 137 assists, 53 digs, and 16 service aces in four games last week.  "It was a struggle, and I get it because freshmen coming from their high school to college … different coaches, different environment. They did struggle a little bit, but now we are halfway through the season, it's a lot better. Everyone has just come together at this point and we're basically further (along) than we were last year."

That is no small feat, considering that Lund and her three returners were tasked with bringing seven new freshmen up to speed.

A difficult task for any team, the Jayhawks had to do so under the shadow of one of the best seasons in the program's history.

Luckily the new faces that have donned white and green this season have all brought with them one thing that Lund demands above all else — desire.

"I'm certainly looking for a six-position player," Lund said, "but I'm looking for a someone who has that drive, that love, that passion for the game because I just want that. I truly admire those people that give it their all, and every single one of these kids do that."

While Rudny's leadership and versatility were second-to-none, what Lund needed to replace on the court was point production from the outside hitter position.

Thus far, the combination of freshman Jenna Caskey (Sinclairville/Cassadaga Valley) and sophomore Kendyl Austin has provided the answer to that difficult question.

"I knew that Jenna Caskey coming in was going to be a huge addition to our outsides, but then we didn't really have anybody else," Lund said. "Lauren (Beichner) took a look at practice and we weren't getting Kendyl the sets she needed so we decided to move her to the outside which has turned out great for us. Those two have been able to create something on the outside that we can work with."

Plenty of players would feel overwhelmed moving into such an important role for a team such as Jamestown CC, but Caskey has played beyond her years thus far.

"I felt really comfortable with our team because I knew everyone," the freshman said following practice Wednesday evening. "We all played each other in high school for our entire careers, so we kind of got the idea of how everyone else plays and it just really worked out."

Aiding Caskey's development was a season of travel volleyball from November to March following her final season for Cassadaga Valley. It was during that time playing in the Buffalo area that conditioning and work ethic first started to make a difference for the 6-foot outside hitter.

"From high school to college I was nervous about it, but I also was on a travel team out of Niagara Frontier and they really helped me prepare for college volleyball. It was my first experience with more than two-hour practices and hard conditioning."

Once Caskey and the rest of this year's freshmen earned roster positions and got to their first practice, they were able to begin their collegiate development at a fundamental level — a sort of rising tide that lifts all boats.

"It's just kind of step-by-step, (coach) doesn't throw anything special at them. We go over basics as a team," Wells said of early practices. "As sophomores, they look up to us and we teach them what we know. It's just a nice environment, everyone is almost on the same level in practice, that's what we go by."

Whatever level of success the outside may use to judge Lund's team, the Jayhawks' coach fully understands that increased exposure comes with a price to pay. 

"Initially it was 'Oh my god, this is amazing,' and then it was 'Oh my god, our target just got that much bigger,'" Lund said of Jamestown CC's No. 5 national ranking. "I definitely had a wave of both feelings: super excited that the girls are able to get that and that the acknowledgement from the national side is coming. Their hard work is paying off and getting recognized."

On the other side of that coin is the pressure to continue such a hot streak of play — something that Lund is happy to leave off the table when it comes to improving her team on a day-to-day basis.

For the Jayhawks, the focus will remain on finishing the year strong in preparation for the Region 3 tournament.

Winning streaks and national rankings are not the focal point.