EC Volleyball’s New Chapter Begins

Photo courtesy of Blake Baxter.
Photo courtesy of Blake Baxter.

EUREKA — A new era in Eureka volleyball began Monday morning when first-year coach Nick Mackall hosted his first official practice at Christine Bonati Bollwinkle Arena.

The Red Devils are excited to explore all the new possibilities.

"I thought it went well," junior Caitlin Miller (Washington, Ill./Washington) said. "I like that we were very focused, I felt like, all practice.

"I thought everyone's attitude was really good and the intensity was there. We could pick up communication a little more, but it's the first day of practice."

There's been a different energy swirling around the program since Mackall took the reins and started crafting his vision last spring.

The Red Devils are returning seven players on a roster of 11 following a 6-22 campaign in 2018. After losing several key producers and contributors, the new coach knows it's going to take time to gel as a squad and reach their overall potential.

But he likes where they stand in the early stages.

 "We won't be rock stars in September, by any means." Mackall said. "But with what athletes we have right now, we're obviously going to better than I believe a lot of people will see us.

"I'm not going to take a lot of stock into what the SLIAC preseason poll is going to be."

Senior McKenzie Reiners (Milford, Ill./Milford) is one of two seniors on the roster and the only one who is entering her fourth year with the program. She says that Mackall's addition has forced her teammates to adapt to new philosophies – and raise their game.

 "I think going in, it's a bit nervous having a new a coach and everything," she said, "but I'm excited to see where we can go.

"It's hard in the respect that he's asking us to do things in a different way that we're not used to. But it's exciting at that point, too, because we are challenging ourselves."

Of EC's seven returners, five have considerable experience to build upon this season.

Reiners, a 5-10 middle hitter, played in all 106 sets for the Red Devils last year. From Mackall's perspective, she was one of the top defensive players at net in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, leading the team with 74 total blocks and tying with Miller with 23 block solos. This season, the coach is looking for her to take a significant step forward as an offensive weapon.

The 6-foot Miller has had extensive playing time the past two years in the middle, but Mackall believes that, between her athleticism and offseason work on her back-row play, she could be effective anywhere on the floor. She's the maroon and gold's active leader in total blocks (154), block assists (107), block solos (47) and kills (127).

Now an upperclassman, she's eager to help lead the team and forge a culture of accountability.

 "I'm excited to see what this team can do," she said, "because we all have a view of a common goal now — and everyone's on the same page and wanting to work for it."

Fellow juniors Sara Worrell (Jacksonville, Ill./Routt), Katlyn Arrenholz (Delevan, Ill./Delevan) and Annaliese Miller (Chenoa, Ill./Prairie Central) will also be counted on to play critical roles.

Worrell and Arrenholz are both setters who saw extensive playing time last season.

After a solid freshman season of averaging 5.47 assists per set in 22 matches, Worrell saw her sophomore campaign cut short due to injury midway through the season. Mackall is expects her to become a commanding on-court leader, in addition to providing stellar defense in the back row.

Arrenholz (3.57 assists per set) was a contributor off the bench as a freshman and gained significant playing time after Worrell's injury last season. A skilled distributor, at 5-8 she can also provide a more formidable block.

Annaliese Miller, meanwhile, is yet another athletic presence for the Red Devils who is primed for a breakout year. After two-years as a role player, the 5-8 outside hitter will have opportunities to show what she can do all over her side of the net.

The Red Devils and their new coach are looking forward to seeing what kind of progress they can make before their season opener at Monmouth on Sept. 4.

"Once we figure out how to use our athleticism to our advantage, offensively and defensively, we might be a force people don't see coming," Mackall said.  "We'll see what happens — I'm excited to see what we have."