Opponents expecting long rallies against East Central College’s volleyball Falcons this season might be in for a rude awakening.

This East Central team isn’t going to be happy with just putting the ball across the net on the third hit.

“One of the first things I noticed from this team was our ability to terminate the ball compared to seasons past,” Head Coach Lisa Mathes-Peters said. “It is not just one or two players who can find a way to score and that is how we recruited this year. We are happy to see the multiple offensive options.”

Many players have stepped up as well.

“Each day a new player surprises us and all are working hard but a few have been pretty consistent on performing offensively,” Mathes-Peters said.

Drawing praise have been Macy Morehead (Saxony Lutheran), Grace Struttmann (St. Francis Borgia Regional), Allison Tonioli (Warrenton) and Kilisitina Lutui (Riverton, Utah) are excelling at the net.

“Macy, Grace and Allison have really impressed us with their power behind the ball and Teena (Lutui) has stepped in the middle and has done some great things,” Mathes-Peters said.

That should help an attack which hit .151 last fall, 76th best in NJCAA Division II. Overall, the team was 39th in the number of kills, 1,326, but needed 4,618 attempts to record those.

While Mathes-Peters is happy to see attack improving this year, she knows the team still needs to work on its defense and passing.

“Another thing I noticed is that we need to work on our ball control with this group more than we have had to in the past so we can stay in system,” Mathes-Peters said.

With seven players returning, including three of the top five in digs, the Falcons do have a nucleus to build around. Several of those players are defensive specialists or primary passers.

East Central ranked seventh overall in NJCAA Division II with 2,770 reported digs. The team was third in digs per set at 21.47.

Libero Kaley Roper (Bloomfield) is the most decorated returner after receiving first-team NJCAA Division II Region 16 status last fall. She also was on the MCCAC second team. She recorded 797 digs last fall, the fourth-best single-season total since the program was restarted in 2007.

Roper ranks behind Maddie Kelly (870 digs in 2010 and 824 in 2011) and Megan Manis (838 digs in 2013).

Mariah Vahlkamp (Carlyle, Ill.) can play defensive specialist or outside hitter and she was second on the team with 577 digs last fall.

Nicole Roper (Bloomfield), one of the team’s setters, was fifth with 236 digs last season.

Also back on defense is Makalya Byrd (Central Medical Magnet, Beaumont, Texas).

Nicole Roper posted 443 assists last year and is capable of running the offense. Help should come from freshmen Sophie Parsons (Rolla) and Aurora Putatau (Hunter, West Valley City, Utah).

With major renovation work taking place on the East Central campus, the team had to scramble around to find somewhere to work out. St. Francis Borgia Regional High School came to the team’s rescue, allowing it to practice in the Wingbermuehle Activity Center.

“We were very fortunate to have Borgia allow us to utilize their gym,” Mathes-Peters said. “This helped us get two extra days in the gym that we did not think we would get. With all of the new faces, that put us on the road to getting used to playing next to each other a lot faster. It is always a little awkward on the court until you get used to the players you are next to.”

Alumnae Match

The team will hold its annual Alumnae Scrimmage Saturday, Aug. 17, starting at 10 a.m. In recent years, the alumnae group has played against the current team.

All former players are invited to participate. Already confirmed are Taylor Davis, Emma Borcherding, Kayla Borcherding, Erica (LaBoube) Atterberry, Megan (Santhuff) Elsenrath, Kari (Blankenship) Nolting, Lydia Klenke, Jessi Kelly and Lauren (Borgerding) Bauer.

Please contact Mathes-Peters at Lisa.Mathes-Peters@eastcentral.edu if interested so a roster can be formulated.