PRINCESS ANNE, Md.— From 2002-2012, the Hawk volleyball squad averaged 21 victories a season, made repeated trips to the MEAC final, and won a pair of MEAC titles. Over the last two seasons, despite a furious rebuilding effort, the team is still striving to recapture the glory from that decade of excellence. UMES athletic officials said they believe this fall, an overhauled roster complimenting a quintet of players with successful Division I experience will give UMES an excellent chance to do just that.
Officials said Toby Rens was the original architect of the first early 2000s teams that found success. In his first season back at UMES in 2014, he guided an upstart squad to an eight win improvement, ultimately finishing the campaign at 11-18. Since then, he nearly overhauled the entire roster with seven newcomers hailing from a wide variety of global destinations.
Rens has earned 311 wins in his career, an average of over 19 per season, to go along with a .568 winning percentage. 60 of those wins came during his four non-consecutive seasons at the helm of the Hawks, including a 49-55 record in his first tenure from 2001-2004.
The Hawks Returning to the Nest
Two seniors are making their way back to Princess Anne for their final season as Hawks. Petra Jerabkova (Prague, Czech Republic) will be on the court for the first time since 2013, when she competed in 29 sets. In that span of time she earned 1.90 kills per set while amassing 117 assists, which still ended up second most on the team. Joining Jerabkova will be Ashley Smith (Huntley, Ill.), who ended the 2014 season with 262 kills and 235 digs, good for second and fourth on the team, respectively. This will be Smith’s third season donning the Maroon and Gray.
Junior Haley Robinson (Honolulu, Hawaii) hops on again, also for her third season. As a sophomore Robinson was a dominant force on the offensive side with a .262 kill percentage, nine solo blocks and 64 blocking assists. Her 73 total blocks and kill percentage both ranked second on the team.
A pair of sophomores, Kirstin Fink (Tucson, Ariz.) and Alana Polk (Houston, Texas), are rejoining the Hawks following a successful freshman season for both women. Fink was the primary setter with 452 assists, but she also tallied 215 kills while leading the team with 28 aces. Polk joined Robinson as an offensive superstar, finishing the season with 160 kills. Additionally she led the team with a .266 kill percentage and 111 blocks, which was one of the highest totals in the MEAC.
Hawks Getting Their Wings
Seven new players will be on the UMES roster for the 2015 season, with more than half of the team arriving internationally. Freshman Lucia Babic and Marta Klafuric hail from Croatia, Zuzana Ondruskova comes from the Czech Republic, junior Mere Serea arrives from Fiji by way of New Mexico and senior Andjela Reljic arrives from Serbia via Henderson State in Arkansas. Babic and Ondruskova will assist the Hawks as outside hitters, Klafuric and Serea will serve as middle blockers and Reljic will be a possible libero.
Stateside, Bishop McNamara grad and Upper Marlboro resident sophomores Ashanti Price will transfer from Lincoln and serve as another option at libero. She joins West Coast freshman Rachel Kayongo (Northridge, Calif.) as new members of the 2015 class. Kayongo will fill a position as an outside hitter.
The Upcoming Season
UMES will play 29 regular season matches this fall, with 18 of those matches taking place at the William P. Hytche Athletic Center on campus. The team opens up their home schedule against Rider and UMass Lowell at the Maroon and Gray Tournament in Princess Anne Aug. 28 and 29. Six more home matches follow thru Sept. 12. Later that month, the Howard Bison come to the Shore to open the MEAC schedule with a Friday night bout on Sept. 25.
After a senior night matchup versus Coppin State on Nov. 1, the Hytche Center will play host to the 2015 MEAC Volleyball Tournament from Nov. 20-22. The winner receives a berth in the NCAA Tournament.