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Returning Experience Has Dragons Thinking Big in 2023

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By Steve Carpenter, Hutchinson CC Sports Information Director

 

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – For the first time in four seasons as head volleyball coach at Hutchinson Community College, Delice Downing possesses something that she hasn’t been accustomed to having with the Blue Dragons.

Returning experience.

Downing welcomed back six players from last season, four of whom played major roles in a 28-12 campaign in 2022. The Blue Dragons finished third in the Jayhawk Conference and finished in the Region VI Tournament semifinals.

“Having that experience back makes a difference, said Downing, who is 63-38 in her first three seasons at Hutchinson. “Those girls know what’s going on. They know how to get started. They know who we are playing and they know what the expectations of Hutchinson Blue Dragon Volleyball is. We haven’t had this much experience back since I’ve been here. We also haven’t had as many returners back who played key roles as freshmen.”

Among those returnees are outside hitter Taniya Golden, middle blocker Anna Dean, outside hitter Alejandra Briseno and setter Giovanna Ravanhani.

Golden is a 6-foot outside hitter from Omaha, Nebraska. Golden was the 2022 Jayhawk Conference Division I Freshman of the Year as well as a first-team all-KJCCC selection. She averaged a team-high 3.13 kills per set on .231 hitting.

Dean, a 6’1 middle blocker from Oswego, is Hutchinson’s top returning blocker at 0.82 blocks per set. Dean, a second-team all-KJCCC performer, hit .346 on 1.81 kills per set.

Briseno, a powerful 5-9 outside hitter from Jalisco, Mexico, battled injuries through the second half of the 2022 season, but had a strong first month as a Blue Dragon. For the season, Briseno averaged 2.21 kills on .229 hitting. She also had 30 service aces.

Ravanhani is a 6-foot sophomore setter from Sao Paulo, Brazil. Ravanhani will take over the full-time setting duties running a 5-1 attack. As the second setter in a 6-2 in 2022, Ravanhani averaged 3.46 set assists per set. She proved to be a strong blocker with 0.22 blocks per set and hit .217.

“I look forward to this year because of the experience we have coming back and the freshman class we brought in,” Downing said. “We got into the preseason rankings, Now we have to go out and prove it.”

The 2023 Blue Dragons were picked to finish second in the Jayhawk Conference this season and received a preseason No. 19 ranking in the NJCAA Division I Volleyball poll.

“I think those picks and rankings from definitely from last year’s bunch,” Downing said. “Our plan is to just play one match at a time. We like that we are being recognized. We always talk about ‘ Grit, Grind and Respect.’ We are getting some respect right now, but we are just taking it one match at a time, one set at a time, one point at a time. We will just try to keep climbing.”

As far as the make-up of the 2023 Blue Dragons …

Golden and Briseno will start as the outside hitters, but the Dragons could be deep on the pin with freshmen Emma Stubbs (5’10, Broken Arrow, OK) and Catalina Arce (5’9, Calle del Cauca, Columbia) joining the team.

Returning sophomore Ashlyn Long (5’10, Smith Center) had a tremendous off-season and has moved her way into battling for playing time as a right-side hitter. Playing mostly as a middle in 2022, Long hit .206 and averaged 0.92 kills and 0.71 blocks per set.

“She worked hard this summer and you can tell,” Downing said of Long. “Her vertical has increased two inches from last year. She is swinging high and around blocks. Keeping her confidence will be key, but she has great volleyball IQ. She’s going really good for us.”

Joining Long on the right side is freshman Callie Muff (6’0, Timber Creek, Texas), who Downing describes as “an explosive player.” Freshman Precious Johnson (6-0, Amarillo, Texas) is a strong blocker on the right side.

Dean is poised for a tremendous season in the middle and Downing hopes to utilize her more offensively to add to her strong block.

She will be joined by freshman middles McKenzie Murphy (6’1, Fort Scott), South Carolina State transfer Gabriella Panzetta (6-3, Vancouver, British Columbia) and sophomore Cameron Letcher (5’10, Kansas City, KS) will bolster play in the middle.

Downing said one of the priorities heading into 2023 was to improve the Blue Dragons’ overall block, which averaged just 2.04 blocks per set.

“Defense wins championships and it starts at the net,” Downing said. “We wanted explosive players, but we wanted quick pin-to-pin blockers in the middle. It’s not about how many blocks you get, it’s how you affect the shot.”

The back row will be totally freshman-oriented this season, but Downing said she has three quality players in the back to improve the team’s overall passing, thus making it possible to run a faster-tempo offense.

The libero will be freshman Isabella Rollandini (5’4, Broken Arrow, Oklahoma). The defensive specialists will be Alondra Velez (5’8, Mayaguez, Puerto Rico) and Jaidynee Vontress (5’8, Wichita).

“We have three really great DS’s,” the Blue Dragon head coach said. “One thing we really worked on getting some good ball control passers. We got some really good liberos and defensive specialists who can pass the ball.”

The Blue Dragons will open the season against McCook at 1 p.m. and Casper College at 7 p.m. on Friday. The Dragons close the McCook Tournament with matches against Gillette College (Noon) and Northeastern JC (4 p.m.) on Saturday.

Hutchinson opens the home portion of the schedule with a triangular on Wednesday at the Sports Arena on Wednesday with the Bethel College JV at 3 p.m. and Kansas Wesleyan JV at 7 p.m. The Blue Dragon open Jayhawk Conference play at home on August 30 with Dodge City at 6 p.m.

BLUE DRAGON VOLLEYBALL

No. 19 Hutchinson at McCook Tournament

Date: Friday-Saturday, August 18-19
Site: McCook Community College, McCook, NE
Blue Dragon Schedule
1 p.m. Friday – McCook
7 p.m. Friday – Casper
Noon Saturday – Gillette
4 p.m. Saturday – Northeastern JC
VideoAll matches streamed by McCook CC
Twitter: @bluedragonsport
OTHER: Alejandra Briseno returns to the Blue Dragons after an injury-plagued freshman season very motivated to lead the 2023 Blue Dragons into the new season.