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Daily improvements along with commitment bring depth to volleyball team early in season
Adam McLaughlin
Antelope Staff
Photo by Garrett Ritonya
Squiers has recruited well since coming to UNK in 1999.

Deep. That’s one word to fittingly describe the UNK women’s volleyball team. From front row to back, depth has helped propel UNK into the No. 5 ranking of the Division II polls. But it’s the attack line up front that makes this team stand out.

Coming off a season opening sweep at the Best Western/Runza Fall Classic, UNK quickly found their strength to be up front with girls of height and hitting power. Whether coming from the outside edge, or the middle, talent and depth is a term head coach Rick Squiers agrees on. It’s a part of his team that he hopes will be a strong point all season long.

 “I would say we are deep,” Squiers said.  “It is part of our philosophy to make sure we have competition in every position. It also allows us to play a lot people and keep them fresh in a long season.”

Since 1999, Squiers has been one of the school’s most successful coaches. He’s counted on strong outside hitters to lift his teams, from NCAA All-American’s Erin Gudmundson to Erin Arnold. But this year his team is stacked with girls of equal talent from starters to role players. Squiers said he’s always recruited athletic players with high potential, and prefers a roster “full of intelligent, self-motivated and competitive people.”

This year, his team fits that mold. They’re tall and lengthy up front with an average height of 5’9”. They spike and block efficiently. It’s a group of girls led by Jeri Walkowiak, Erica Burson, Kelsey Werner and Nikki Scott that Squiers calls special.

Over the years, he’s added girls as pieces to his puzzle. Here and there, everyone counts. In Nebraska, volleyball is a pool of talented girls. Squiers said there is a lot to sell about having great volleyball traditions and outstanding programs that sway recruits.

This year, nearly all girls see playing time too. There are many combinations of girls that Squiers can throw out there. Specifically, 84 formations in all between his loaded front row. But “quality playing time” can decisively describe these types of moments. This is a balance of girls that all gel, according to Squiers, whether it’s a senior like Burson or a freshman like Jena Isaacson stepping into the spotlight.

“The team has really bought into the team concept,” Squiers said. “This is one of the best groups of people we have had since my arrival at UNK. They are committed to each other and willing to sacrifice for the group.  I admire this about them.”

Rightfully so, all attackers feed off a good setter. Squiers attributes his frontline success so far to junior Cola Svec. He labels her one of the most accurate setters in the country, which puts hitters in good situations.

It’s still early in the year, and after nine games, UNK is 8-1. Squiers said this team is still developing in many ways.

“We are always working on ball control and blocking, but our team can also progress in its daily focus and intensity.  That seems to be the difference at the top levels.”

Instead of getting ahead of pace, Squiers stressed that his team has a ways to go yet.

“We try not to ever let it be about winning, rankings, or how we finish,” Squiers said. “We stress daily improvement and commitment to the team concept.  If talented people with do this, the rest will happen on its own.”

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