The 2005 season was a banner year for the Cowley College volleyball team as they captured its first conference title since 1986, and advanced to the national tournament for the first time in 27 years. However, a loss to Johnson County in the national championship game has the squad eager for another shot at claiming the title. “A lot of us were really upset after losing that game, so I think they are hungry for it,” Cowley head coach Joanna Pryor said. “I think the best part is having experience at the national tournament now, which should give us an advantage over other teams.”
Cowley returns six players from last year’s team, including all-American Eliane Domingos, who was named the Jayhawk Conference Eastern Division Freshman of the Year. The Lady Tigers also return setter Marina Tosi, the nations leader in assists, to go along with middle hitter/outside hitter Renee Breckenridge and libero Ashleigh Hurt, who are coming off solid freshman campaigns in which they were named second-team all-conference. Sophomore Kelsey Talbott will make the transition from outside hitter to right side hitter, while Brooke Brownlee should see more playing time as a sophomore. “We have six sophomores with a lot of experience and as long as they maintain leadership on and off the court, I think that this team will mix well together,” Pryor said.
Joining the sophomores is a strong freshman class, which is led by freshman Lilian Rezende, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from Franca, Brazil. Rezende will hope to help the Lady Tigers make up for the loss of two-time All-American Fernanda Domingos, who is now playing for the University of Alabama Birmingham. Pryor likes the versatility of the freshman she recruited. Courtney Shanklin, a 5-foot-10 freshman, is a good example of that versatility as she could be used as either an outside hitter, middle hitter, or right side hitter. “Our freshmen know what they have to do to play and they will play any position to do that. We lost some really good players, but I think we have some people that can step into those spots.” Pryor said. Along with Tosi, Pryor landed another talented setter in Andrea Mitchell from Bentonville, Ark. “Andrea is so quick, she seems to get to every ball and knows what to do with it,” Pryor said.
The Lady Tigers are also excited about adding sophomore transfer Stephanie Walcher into the mix. Walcher spent her freshman year playing at East Texas Baptist University, and will be used as an outside hitter/defensive specialist at Cowley. Nikki Winningham, a 5-foot-10 sophomore transfer that competed in track as a freshmen at Oklahoma State University, and Valerie Cox, a 5-foot-11 freshman from Norwich High School round out the Lady Tigers squad. Cowley will once again play a tough non-conference schedule against several NJCAA Division I programs, and will face stiff challenges in the conference and district. Pryor believes the difficult schedule will prepare the squad for the national tournament. “I think we can do as well or even better than we did last year barring any injuries,” Pryor said.