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Penn College Hopes for Breakout Women’s Volleyball Season

During her first three years as coach of the Pennsylvania College of Technology women’s volleyball team, Bambi Hawkins saw slow but steady improvement. Last season, the Lady Wildcats turned the corner by posting their first winning season ever, 10-5, and reaching the Eastern Pennsylvania Collegiate Conference playoffs for the first time. At the end of the season, Hawkins said, “We have some strong players and just need to improve in a couple of areas and we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.” She thinks that this will be the year.

“I think we could go all the way. Absolutely!” said Hawkins, whose squad will compete in the Commonwealth Campus Athletic Conference with other Penn State-affiliate schools this season.

“There are some other strong contenders, but I don’t think they have the depth that we do,” continued the coach. “These young ladies have experience already. . . . A lot of the freshmen have skill levels almost equal to the sophomores and juniors on the team. . . . They need some refinement of that, and they need it a lot in the area of teamwork,” Hawkins said. “Anytime you put a team together the meshing of the players is going to be a big factor. We have already seen major improvement in the way the team is gelling together and in the skills of the young ladies. They’re willing to learn, and that’s a major battle for a lot of coaches.”

This year’s team includes 14 players, seven of whom are back from 2003. Returning starters are Amber Geckle (a junior setter from Indian Valley), Melani Grady (sophomore setter/Youngsville), Maria McNett (sophomore outside hitter/Canton) and Liz Mast (sophomore outside hitter/Twin Valley). Geckle earned all-EPCC honors a year ago.

According to Hawkins, that group will be complemented by the middle hitting talent of freshman Janell Thompson (Northern Potter) and sophomore Courtney Eisenhofer (Schuylkill Haven), Maria Bova (freshman/Bethlehem Catholic), a defensive specialist who likely will move into the libero position, and Emily Weaver (junior outside hitter/Ephrata).

The coach said that strength and depth will be added to the outside hitting options with freshmen Annie Allton (York Catholic), Sara Gamble (Northern Potter) and Natalie Plavi (Elderton), middle and outside hitter Erin Pillar (senior/Youngsville) and junior Jennifer Sterner (Spring Grove) and freshman Cara Vito (Panther Valley), who can play a variety of positions. Sterner is a third-year veteran.

“There will be some serious competition for starting positions because the talent levels are similar for a large number of the players,” said Hawkins. “(Assistant) Coach (Michelle) Bowers and I are going to enjoy working to find the best combinations of players that work well as a team.”

With the new league affiliation comes four-year eligibility for Penn College players and Hawkins views that as a definite plus.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Not only do we have additional players who wouldn’t have been eligible, but it’s more appealing for the girls. They just don’t always want to play two years. I’ve had players transfer from here so that they could continue to play.”

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