The 2016 Clark University volleyball season is one that is shrouded in some mystery. Are they one-year wonders or is head coach Mickey Cahoon's squad one that is ready to take that next step and join the hierarchy of NEWMAC volleyball.
Clark returns a host of talent from last season's squad, including a pair of All-Americans in sophomore Rachel Webb (Celina, Texas) and junior Marina Ramos (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico). Ramos, a first-team all-conference selection, ended her sophomore season ranked 25th in the nation in kills per set (4.15), while Webb handed out 10.55 assists per set – good for 17th in the country.
It's not just the two All-Americas returning to the fold for the Scarlet and White, senior libero Mia Cattaneo (Santa Barbara, Calif.) will be back in her familiar position, manning the back line of the Cougar defense. A season ago, she set a school record for digs in a season (484), was named second-team all-conference and surpassed the 1,000 dig mark and is now less than 150 digs away from becoming the school's all-time leader.
So Long, Shannon
The Cougars only lost one student-athlete from a season ago but that loss is huge. Shannon Glass-Smythe is the program's all-time leader in kills (1,064) and was a key figure for four years.
Senior team linchpin Tori Whitney (Sunderland, Mass.) was named the captain of this year's team. One of five seniors on the team, Whitney has played a huge role in the program's ascension over the last few years.
"Tori is an exceptional person and teammate," said Cahoon. "Her integrity and the way in which she raises everyone up around her make her the perfect person to be captain this season."
If the Cougars do make a run at the program's first ever NCAA Tournament berth, they will have earned it. Their schedule is a who's who of talent-rich teams in New England and outside of the region. Included in the slate are five teams that are receiving votes in the first AVCA Division III National Poll (MIT, Springfield, Mary Washington, Amherst and Heidelberg) as well as five other teams that won 20 or more games a season ago (Babson, Endicott, Framingham State, Western Connecticut State, WPI ).
Caught In A Webb
Rachel Webb burst onto the scene as a freshman and quickly became one of the league's elite setters. Despite missing five matches, Webb finished first in the league in assists per set (10.55) and was second in the league in overall assists (897) – a total that already has her ranked tenth on the school's all-time list.
Last season began with a hot streak and truly didn't end until the conference championship. Clark opened the season with 12 straight wins and never looked back racing to their best season in nearly two decades. The Cougars were exceptional on the road, going 10-1 away from the Kneller Athletic Center and 11 of their 22 wins were by a 3-0 score.
After securing the No. 3 seed in last season's NEWMAC Tournament, the Scarlet and White dispatched Wellesley in front of a raucous crowd, 3-2 before handing Springfield a 3-1 loss in the conference semifinal match – the program's first-ever win over the perennial national power and an appearance in the title match for the first in program history.
The coaches of the NEWMAC must still believe in the Scarlet and White. The Cougars finished third in the preseason poll, even receiving one first-place vote in a poll of the league's head coaches.
Season To Remember
Not many people can claim the success that Marina Ramos had in 2015. She was named NEWMAC Player of the Week three times, was featured in Sports Illustrated, set a school record for kills in a season, was named first-team all-region and honorable mention All-America while guiding the Cougars to a berth in the NEWMAC Championship. Not bad.
Now in his tenth season, head coach Mickey Cahoon has methodically built the Cougars into one of the true up-and-coming programs in the region. In 2015, he took home coach of the year honors, becoming one of a few select coaches in league history to win coach of the year in two separate sports (Men's Tennis, 2012). In addition to his league award, Cahoon moved into sole possession of second place on the school's all-time list coaching wins list (104).