Fittest loser
Article updated: 8/21/2013 10:24 PM

Harper aims to continue winning tradition

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By Jonathan Cregier

With succesful programs, tradition emerges over time.

The Harper College women's volleyball program certainly has one, and it involves winning.

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Coming off of last season's 36-15 overall and 10-2 North Central Community College Conference season, the Hawks enter today's South Suburban Invitational ranked No. 6 in the NJCAA Division III preseason poll.

"Are we good enough to warrant it?" asked Harper coach Bob Vilsoet.

Only time will tell.

Despite losing stalwarts Kelly Sommers and and Sara House along with several other sophomores who contributed, the Hawks open the season with a wealth of experience.

All six returning sophomores look to have their names penciled into the starting lineup early.

"Several of them came back improved," said Vilsoet.

Including Dundee-Crown graduate Rebekah Hischke, who will move from inside to outside this fall. Depending on the situation, she may also slot back to inside.

"She got better, and it shows," Vilsoet said.

After being voted all-region and all-conference a year ago, Veronica Dabrowski will be a focal point of the Hawks' attack. Her role, Vilsoet says, is crucial Harper's success, and he likes what he sees out of the decorated sophomore in practice.

"She is playing well (and) is back with a veangance," Vilsoet said.

The Hawks will be without All-American Erin Hellweg, who is red-shirting this season.

Harper has added several key components to the roster. No freshman may be counted upon more than two-time Daily Herald all-area choice Alex Messner. She figures to add depth to the left and right side of the Harper attack along with providing strong defense.

One of the most interesting position battles in summer practice has been at the setter position, where freshman Lindsey Murphy has pushed Valerie Bazemore.

Melina Villaber (outside hitter) is another newcomer with ample upside. "This girl can play" Vilsoet said.

Right-handed outside hitter Sara Baldwin (Barrington) arrives with plenty of playing experience to go along with her 5-foot-11 frame at outside hitter.

The North Central Community College competition again figures to be tough: The conference features two teams ranked in the NJCAA poll.

The Hawks and No. 1 Madison Area Technical College will match up twice this season -- in Palatine on Sept. 19 and in Madison on Oct. 17.

The Hawks will get their first glimpse of defending NJCAA Division III national champion Rock Valley and new coach Kyle Shondell on Sept. 24 in Rockford. Shondell takes over the program from Abby Jenkins, who has been hired by Rockford East High School.

The Hawks will participate in four key tournaments this season. Two are new to the Hawks' schedule.

"We will be logging more miles than normal, in search of better compition," Vilsoet said.

The first tournament is Aug. 31 at NCAA Division III school Wisconsin-Whitewater. Next up is at Rochester Area Technical College (Minn.). And per usual, the Hawks will travel to downstate Oglesby to take part in the Illinois Valley Tournament in mid-September, and the Lincoln Land Ivitational in Springfield later in the season.

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