Gooden improves team design with promising new freshmen


In what may be his biggest hit to date, “Superstar,” rapper Lupe Fiasco asks the question: “Did you improve on the design? Did you do something new?”

That’s one question that every sport team asks itself in the offseason, and it’s one that NIU volleyball head coach Ray Gooden is doing his best to answer.

With a strong crop of returning players, as well as a group of freshmen with lots of potential, Gooden is looking to improve on the designs of his team’s 2008 season.

To date, Gooden has inked four incoming freshmen as well as two new assistant coaches in Coley and Dan Pawlikowski, both of whom were coaching at North Park University previously. All this for a team that finished last year at 18-14, is returning the MAC-leader in kills per set and could have the potential to compete for a MAC title.

The four players that have been signed so far include a trio of six-footers in Mary Kurisch, Meghan Romo and Margo Schwartz. The trio should help to add depth to an already-robust front row which saw the loss of seniors Irene Johnson and Katie Walsh.

Adding strength to NIU’s defensive game will be incoming defensive specialist Sue Hayes who comes from one of the most successful programs in the nation. In her four years, Hayes led Mother McAuley High School, in Chicago, to a 48-0 conference record and a second and third place finish in the state championships.

“The most complete player out of that group is Sue [Hayes],” Gooden said. “For a couple years now, we’ve had really good defensive players, and I think Sue [Hayes] is going to be the next one in line with that.”

While Hayes may be the player who is best prepared to step in immediately, the athleticism of the three others will allow them to contribute in key spots and give the Huskies invaluable depth off of their bench.

According to Gooden, one of the biggest challenges for this team will be getting the incoming freshmen and returning players on the same page quickly. With three of the four recruits having attended NIU summer camps, however, the transition may be easier than expected.

“Some have communicated through text and through e-mail, so we’re going to try and make that transition as seamless as possible,” the seven-year coach said. “The freshmen, though inexperienced, come in with a good chance to help us out. Some are going to be asked to help us out right away, but all can challenge to help us out right away.”

The increased depth is one of the things that is most exciting to Gooden about this 2009 team. While nothing is for sure, Gooden is confident that he has the pieces in place to improve on the design of his 2008 team.