CONCORDIA, Kansas — The Cloud County Community College volleyball team will take on a new challenge with a familiar face in 2018 as Deb Monzon returns as head coach to guide the T-Birds during their transition to the NJCAA Division II level.
Monzon, who previously worked the Cloud County sidelines from 1983-1996, was hired back as the head coach last December. She brings a career record of 529-200 and is on a mission to revamp a T-Birds team that struggled through a 4-28 season in 2017.
"I'm very excited to enter a new era here and bring volleyball back to life," said Monzon, whose team gets its season underway at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday against Butler Community College. "We've been very fortunate in our recruiting efforts with who we've been able to bring in. I feel like we have some depth and that will be one of our strengths this year."
Michaelis was a KJCCC West Honorable Mention player a season ago, finishing with a school record of 450 digs and a team-leading 26 service aces.
Monzon said she expects Michaelis, alongside freshman defensive specialist Willow Hunt, to solidify the back line of defense again this season.
Cloud County finished 19th in the KJCCC in digs per set last season and improving the T-Birds defense as a whole has been a key focal point during the summer and fall practices.
"The biggest thing that we're stressing here all year long is defense because defense is what's going to win us games," Monzon said. "If we pass the ball, the set is going to be there and our hitters will be able to hammer away. Then we'll be able to really show off what our strength could be. But if we don't pass well and we don't serve, none of that will come together."
Zenger, Fundaro and Gilbert are all expected to play expanded roles for the T-Birds, offensively, after the graduation of the team's four kills leaders in 2017 (Elizabeth Nobert, Irem Bat, Drew Mann and Katelyn Ruth.
Unfortunately for the T-Birds, they will be without Stark, last year's starting setter, to begin the season as she continues to rehab from a knee injury.
The good news is Monzon believes the incoming freshman class provides the depth to plug holes and withstand current and potential injuries during the course of the season.
"We've got a lot of kids who can play and could see time for us," Monzon said. "We're going to have some great practices. There's not that drop off in talent level. I think we can go 12-13 girls deep and I think we've recruited in at least 3-4 immediate impact players."
Schroeder, a First-Team All-State player for Concordia High School, will assume the starting setter role, while Williams, a fellow Concordia native, and Ohlde out of Linn, Kansas each provide athletic weapons in the front row.
With the amount of depth and talent level on this year's crop of T-Birds, the goals have been set high for the 2018 season.
"I feel like we could be competitive at the Division I level this year, so going to Division II my expectations are pretty high," Monzon said. "If we step up our game like I expect us to, I think we're going to be a factor in the KJCCC East. We actually sat the girls down the first night we met and one of the team goals was to win 20 games and one was to win the KJCCC East. I think we're as good as anybody."
The road to a KJCCC East crown won't be easy, and the T-Birds have scheduled accordingly. They open up action at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at home against an old KJCCC West rival in Butler before beginning a grueling road grind that includes three tournaments during the first four weeks of the season.
"Our September is tough. We'll play in three tournaments by the middle of September and I like these tough tests early on in the season because it gives us a reference point on where we need to be, especially if we go in there and get beat up a little bit," Monzon said. "It'll give us a refocus on what we need to do in the month of October to get ready for the playoffs."