The combination of youth and experience is a commonly used talking point when it comes to dissecting a teams roster.
Coaches often talk about striking the balance between the two and hope their roster has as good a combination of the two as much as a chef tries to strike the right balance of spices in an entrée.
But just because a phrase is a cliché doesnt mean its not true occassionally. And when it comes to Fort Lewis College volleyball, the Skyhawks just might have the starkest division of youth and experience of any roster around.
After graduations, transfers and other defections shaped what was left of the 2009 roster, the Skyhawks were left with seven returning players, all of which fall in the junior and senior classes. In 2010, those seven will be joined by a cast of seven freshmen and a sophomore, Heather Chivers, who wasnt a member of the 2009 squad.
With half the team having played together for at least three years and the other half brand new to college volleyball, it could have produced a divisive culture around this years Skyhawks. But fortunately, according to senior setter Adriana Saiz, after just five practices, the freshmen are meshing well with the returners.
Theyre really cooperative girls, so it makes it a lot easier, Saiz said. On top of that, theyre ... looking for that leadership.
Head coach Shelly Aaland agreed with her senior, one of three on the roster. Entering her seventh season, the former FLC standout said the team is becoming a cohesive unit quicker than any other team shes coached.
I have to say this is the best Ive seen ... where the upperclassmen have really embraced the fact that we can be good right away with these new players, Aaland said.
With such a large new contingent, a greater onus falls on the upperclassmen to be stronger leaders. Junior outside hitter Jessica Wilson said those who arent vocal have to take the tried-and-true lead-by-example approach.
Its really important for us to get them ready and just push them as hard as we can so all of us are ready for every game, the former Durango High School star said.
By the same token, the freshmen will need at least a few of their members to step up and play active roles early on in their FLC careers. The nice part about the sizeable freshmen numbers, according to Aaland, is they cant slough off and hide their imperfections behind a large senior core.
I think it really helps with the competitive spirit off the bat, because freshmen cant hide behind upperclassmen because theres too many of them, Aaland said. Its fun to see how this group will develop so much faster, because theyll have to.
Even with eight newcomers, plenty of firepower returns for a Fort Lewis team that started slow but rattled off five consecutive wins to end the season. Most notable of the bunch is another DHS alumna, Chelsea Flaming, a first-team All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference selection in 2009 and a preseason all-league selection in 2010. The senior outside hitter averaged 3.75 kills per game in 2009 and led the team in kills in 2008 and 2009.
Saiz led the team with 750 assists last year. Wilson was second on the team in digs last year to Kelly McDonald and had 191 kills, and senior Taylor Hilberry and her 250 kills also return.
Some freshmen should see the court this year as well. Aaland said the battle for starting right-side blocker includes freshmen Julie Oberriter, Taryn Pearce and Hannah Starbuck.
Its a squad that should come with a bit of versatility. The newcomers have bounced around from spot to spot early on, and several players played out of position after injuries forced FLCs hand early in 2009.
Therere so many (freshmen) who can play any position, Wilson said. And were going to need some of them to be playing right away.
Saturdays alumnae game, which will take place at 11 a.m. at Whalen Gymnasium, is a bit early for Aalands liking, but she said it should provide her with a chance to see how the new squad performs in a competitive atmosphere for the first time, especially against former Skyhawks like Nicole Schwab, a former All-American, and Adrianne Dettler, a former All-RMAC libero.
Itll give us a real good idea as long as I dont get too caught up in the scores of each game, Aaland said.
Itll be the last time the Skyhawks play at home for a month. Fort Lewis has a backloaded home slate, with just one home tilt in September. Its a bit of a double-edged sword for the Skyhawks, who have a tough road early but know that several chances to play in front of the home crowd loom if they can put together a strong September.
A better start than the 2-11 record out of the gate in 2009 is a must if FLC hopes to find themselves in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007, an experience only Hilberry, Flaming and Saiz have enjoyed of the current Skyhawks.
Aaland said her goals are set at winning the West Division of the RMAC, while Saiz is taking aim at something a bit loftier.
This year, were going to strive to win the (RMAC) championship, she said. And hopefully further on after that, too.