With two of the school’s three teams playing fall schedules, it’s the busy season at East Central College.
Volleyball and men’s soccer teams are busy practicing while preparing for the start of the 2014 schedule.
The Falcons of Lisa Mathes-Peters begin defense of their NJCAA Division II District O and Region 16 titles Aug. 22 in Ft. Scott, Kan., in a two-day tournament there. The event replaces the Johnson County Tournament on the schedule.
Last year, the Falcons tied for 13th in the NJCAA Division II national tournament, finishing with a record of 20-27.
So far, Mathes-Peters and the Falcons have had to deal with adversity. Returner Paige Schmelzle (Ste. Genevieve) had to have an emergency appendectomy and will be out of action for four weeks.
Additionally, signing Alyssa Arnold decided to attend a four-year school rather than come to play for the Falcons.
However, there has been some good news as well.
Madeline Halford (Mountain Grove), a 6-1 middle hitter, has transferred into ECC. She’s a sophomore who played for Drury University last season, recording 206 kills, 48 total blocks and 47 digs while starting 20 matches. Mathes-Peters describes her as an impact hitter.
“Our main focus right now is improving our ball control because at this time it is not our strong suit,” Mathes-Peters said. “I am excited about the fact that we will be able to hold our own out of system with teams and in regards to blocking until our ball control improves.”
Mathes-Peters knows defense is going to be a concern after many of the team’s primary passers graduated last season.
Two returning defensive players, vying for the libero jersey, have drawn praise so far.
“As far as players who are looking strong and consistent so far I would say Alyssa Schrader (Troy) and Paige Mueller (Holt) are doing a great defensive job with 100 percent effort after every ball,” Mathes-Peters said. “They are not where they need to be in regards to serve receive yet but their effort and communication at practice is great.”
Overall, Mathes-Peters said others have impressed as well.
“Our most consistent all around kids so far, by no means where they need to be though, would be Abby Toppmeyer (Ft. Zumwalt North), Maddie Halford, Clare Stowe (Union), Taylor Davis (Lafayette) and Sam Kolo (Edwardsville, Ill).”
Mathes-Peters said she uses statistical analysis in practices to see which players are being efficient.
“We have many other players who are just now starting to pick up their game or have been injured a bit and are not at 100 percent,” Mathes-Peters said. “We really will have a tough battle for all the hitting positions because once a few of the girls pick up on hitting and blocking the faster tempo sets they will be up for those starting positions as well.”
The Falcons will hold an alumnae scrimmage Aug. 15 at 6 p.m.
“I am very excited to see how we play in our Blue and Black Alumnae match,” Mathes-Peters said.
Head Coach Kean Barclay said the early workouts have been going well.
“Training has been encouraging so far,” Barclay said. “I’m excited at the overall depth we’ve got for this season. The quality in the team is an improvement from last year and it’s going to be fun to see the guys push each other to get to the next level. “
Barclay said there will be plenty of chances for newcomers to step up and impress.
“With 17 freshmen, we’re expecting guys to be able to perform right out of the gates and we’re going to need some quality leadership from our five returners. I’m thrilled to have all the guys here on campus and I think it’s going to make for an eventful season.”
Returning sophomores this season are Matt Lauber (Union), Dylan Cassidy (Lucan, Dublin, Ireland), Aaron Bannister (Baxter, Kidderminster, England), Albert Cantu III (Mt. St. Mary, Moore, Okla.) and Gino Bono (Northwest).
“So far I’ve seen some excellent potential in a few freshman players like Emmanuel (Okpara) and Jake (Erwin),” Barclay said. “They’ve impressed me over the first two days, and I’m hoping more guys will rise up to this level.”
Okpara is from St. Mary’s Porlaoise in Kilminchy, Ireland while Erwin is a Borgia graduate.
The freshman group includes Union graduate Nathan Saleniuc, who is trying to earn a spot on the roster.
The Falcons host Harris-Stowe State University Saturday, Aug. 16, in a preseason match at 4 p.m.
The first real match will be Aug. 24 at home against Heartland. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.