Fredonia Blue Devil women's volleyball head coach Geoff Braun can remember the first time he met Paulina Rein, then a high school senior at C.W. Baker.
"I remember going to watch Paulina play her senior season at the state championship," Braun said. "With her ability to perform well under pressure and her vocal leadership, I remember thinking that this is the type of kid we need in the program."
Now a junior on the Blue Devil volleyball team, Rein is ready to step into a leadership role. After graduating three senior captains from the 2013 squad, Braun named Rein as the solitary captain to replace them.
"It's a nervous excitement at the start of the season," she said. "Even after the first two practices, we look like a quick, competitive team. I'm excited to have more responsibility and leave a mark with the 2014 team. I'm really just excited to see what our team can do. We have a long way to go, but we'll be in shape and be competitive. Our training is more competitive this year and I think we'll be better at dealing with adversity."
Though he's only named one captain for 2014, Braun will also need his three other junior players to provide leadership, none more so than Kelly Edinger. The team's setter since her freshman year in 2012, Edinger will play a critical role in the Blue Devils' success.
"Kelly has improved steadily over her first two years," Braun said. "She puts in a tremendous amount of work in the offseason and puts a lot of pressure on herself to succeed. For an athlete as strong as Kelly, she is humble and unselfish - two traits I love in the leader of our offense."
Libero Lauren Hokaj and middle blocker Jessica DiChristopher are the two final junior leaders. Hokaj was one of the top defensive performers in the SUNYAC her freshman year, but was derailed by an injury last season. DiChristopher has been a staple in the middle of the net since 2012. Braun expects both to make great strides this season.
"I'm extremely excited for Lauren and Jess to start their junior years," Braun said. "They are each more comfortable with the pressure that comes with a leadership role and are both poised to have a strong year."
The Blue Devils will also return four sophomores, including the team's Most Valuable Player in 2013, outside hitter Sara Madison. The three other sophomores are all primarily offensive threats: Megan Collins, Saverina Chicka and Liza Beardsley
"The sophomore class brings so much energy and positivity," Braun said. "I am proud of their maturity in embracing the new members of the team."
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The new team members consist of four freshmen, including twin sisters Rachel Poirier and Courtney Poirier. The Poiriers were the first recruits to commit to the Blue Devils after leading the West Seneca West Indians for the past two years. Kristen Stanek joined the team shortly thereafter following a high school career that featured two seasons of All-ECIC First Team accolades. Jane Garrity rounds out the group after finishing her high school career as a strong middle blocker for her team, also called the Blue Devils.
Lindsay Bryer has transferred into the Blue Devil program following a successful freshman campaign at SUNY Canton, where she was a six-rotation player. Bryer has experience playing several positions and Braun will look to her for her versatility on the court.
The 2013 season did not end as expected for Braun's squad. After finishing the regular season 25-9, which featured a 15-game winning streak, the team exited the SUNYAC tournament in the quarterfinals in a three-set loss to Cortland. The disappointing loss motivated the coaching staff to develop a new vision and value system for the team that Braun expects to propel them to the next level.
"The 2013 regular season," he said, "was one of the most successful we've ever had and that won't be forgotten. The quarterfinal loss last year reminded us that nothing can be taken for granted. SUNYAC volleyball is deep and talented. Everything will have to be earned.
"We've been inspired to re-focus our core values and introduce some changes to our practices and offseason training program. With these changes, and the character of the student-athletes in our program, we are as strong as we've ever been."
The Blue Devils open their season today at the Cortland Red Dragon Classic with matches against Richard Stockton at 3 p.m. and Juniata at 5 p.m.