PELLA — A .500 record in its abbreviated spring season has the Central College volleyball team focused on getting back to the top of the American Rivers Conference this season.
The Dutch have won 17 league titles since 1982, the first year of women’s competition in what was formerly named the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Last spring’s team would have returned to the conference tournament for the first time since 2016 after earning a 4-4 mark in its conference matches, but there was no tournament due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was probably the biggest heartbreak from the spring,” coach Jeanne Czipri said. “Getting to play in it this year is one of our team goals.”
A wealth of veterans, including 17 letterwinners, and an infusion of new talent has optimism high.
“The level of our play in preseason has risen each year that I’ve been here,” Czipri said. “We looked better on day five this year than we did two years ago. We looked better on day three this year than we did three years ago. It’s really exciting but we’re just trying to take it one day a time and focusing on playing cleaner and smarter volleyball. Our team chemistry made some meaningful strides last spring, and we are trying to continue to build off that and continue to develop and strengthen our culture.”
Central will play 28 matches, highlighted by the always difficult conference schedule and hosting a pair of tournaments to book end the regular season schedule.
“We’ve got some matches that we know we should be able to win,” Czipri said. “We’ve also got some matches we want to win and some matches that we anticipate being big challenges for us.
Amanda Smith (junior, Tipton) started seven of eight matches as the team’s setter in the spring, averaging 9.68 assists per set.
“What we love about Amanda is that she’s athletic and is a playmaker, Czipri said. “She’s competitive with a great demeanor on the floor.”
Adisyn Illg (junior, Johnsburg, Ill.) is a program veteran and somebody who Czipri believes could make an impact on the court this season.
“Addison does a great job of maintaining a good tempo and is a ferocious competitor,” Czipri said. “We’re excited about what we are seeing from her.”
Right side hitter/outside hitter
Earning honorable mention all-conference for the third time in the spring, Krissa Larson (senior, Waverly, Waverly-Shell Rock HS) has been a mainstay in the Dutch lineup throughout her career as an outside hitter. She was second on the team with 92 kills in the spring.
“Krissa is a coachable player and is so hungry to keep developing her all-around game,” Czipri said. “She really wants to play six rotations and has put in some focus and work to make that a possibility.”
A laundry list of names are in contention for action as a pin hitter. Czipri cited senior Ruth Hruska (Brookfield, Ill., Riverside-Brookfield HS), junior Natalie Gaszynski (Huntley, Ill.) and sophomore Gracie Daniels (Broken Arrow, Okla.) as returners in the mix.
“We’re trying to figure out how to use them best,” Czipri said. “Ruth is super resilient and has a lot of talent, whereas Natalie has a springy fast arm swing and a full toolbelt of shots. Gracie is another fierce competitor with an exciting demeanor on the floor.”
First-year players are also an option here, including Taryn Hintz (sophomore, Primghar, South O’Brien HS). Hintz played softball last year and is transitioning back to volleyball.
“She has one of the heavier arms in the gym,” Czipri said. “It’s just getting her caught up and back in the swing of the game and improving her volleyball IQ.”
After transferring in last year, Hallie Uhlig (senior, Colorado Springs, Colo., Palmer Ridge HS) made an impact with 23 blocks. She also chipped in 29 kills.
“Hallie is a very unflashy player,” Czipri said. “She doesn’t make a lot of noise until you look at the stats and you see the impact she has on our defense. We are hoping to see her add to her game and be an offensive threat as well as a defensive force. “
Czipri is also excited about what she’s seen so far from Lauren Brown (sophomore, Underwood) in practice.
“She has come in ready to play and is showing a fantastic work ethic and attention to detail,” she said.
Rachel Pella (junior, Kansas City, Mo., Park Hill HS) and Elyse Johnson (sophomore, Kirskville, Mo.) also spent time with the varsity roster in the spring.
“Rachel is a fireball and has a cannon for an arm,” Czipri said. “Elyse is a selfless and dialed in teammate.”
Senior Sydney Burgardt (Britt, West Hancock HS) earned her spot as a team captain, even with limited time in the varsity lineup.
“She has a really special talent of connecting with each one of her teammates,” Czirpi said. “She brings a lot of joy, laughter and positivity to the gym. She is really the glue behind the scenes.”
An all-conference selection in the spring, Landry Luhring (senior, Grundy Center) has been the team’s libero for the past two seasons. She led the American Rivers Conference with 176 digs, averaging 6.29 per set. It’s just not statistics where Luhring makes a difference for this team.
“Landry continues to learn and grow as a leader,” Czipri said. “She has great composure, knowledge of the game and is competitive as all get out.”
Juniors Sam Worley (Olathe, Kan., Northwest HS) and Kate Pachner (Akron, Colo.) each made appearances as defensive specialists in the spring and showed promise.
“Sam has seen some decent time in her first two years and is definitely making some great plays in the gym right now,” Czipri said. “Kate made massive strides in the spring. She’s one of our captains, so her leadership and work ethic impacts and inspires the team.”
Newcomers are in line to make an impact in the back row as well.
“There’s some freshman that we will have to make a lot of hard decisions about,” Czipri said. “We have some incredible competition at this position with some really tough and skilled players.”
The Central volleyball coaching staff will have six members in 2021, including two newcomers. Czipri is entering her fifth season and top assistant Hali Hillegas is in her second season after spending the spring with the team.
Erin Dilger is a 2020 Central grad who was a four-time letterwinner for the Dutch. The 2019 team MVP is joining the program as a part-time assistant coach. Also new to the sideline is Joanna Settles. Settles played for Coe College from 1995-1997 and most recently served as the head coach at Pella Christian High School for the 2019 and 2020 seasons.
“Erin has always had a love for the Central volleyball program and we’re excited she’s back in town,” Czipri said. “It’s also great having somebody like Joanna in town who played at the Division III level and is so excited about volleyball.”
Cyndi Boertje (third season) and Nicole Green (second season) round out the staff and add special and extremely valuable strengths to the program in their own way.
“It’s super important for all of our players to get individual feedback and I think with six people on staff we’ll be able to do that once we get into the regular swing of the schedule,” Czipri said.
Central opens the season with a triangular in Rock Island, Illinois on Wednesday, Sept. 1.