Here’s some excellent news for Lions fans everywhere: fourth-year head coach Aaron Mansfield has managed to assemble a 2021 squad that is filled with talent and promise.
His newly-minted team is impressive, and it is a necessary development given the modified playoff format of this year’s postseason tournament. Forty-eight (not 64) teams will be represented, and considerably fewer at-large bids will be offered a place in the competition. Mansfield’s squad will almost definitely need to win the WCC outright to guarantee a bid. The women's team looks to build off of a pedestrian 16-16 record last season, where they finished .500 in conference play and failed to beat a single ranked opponent.
There are, however, encouraging developments taking place. Since Sept. 28, Mansfield has been holding practice every single day. And when asked who he was most excited to see play come January, he wasn’t stingy with his praise, practically naming his entire starting lineup to a long list of projected contributors.
“We’re excited about all of them," Mansfield said. “First and foremost, we have two freshmen setters: Isabella Bareford and Audrey Klemp … I firmly believe we have the two best setters in the conference on our team. We’re very fortunate to have found two kids that are extremely skilled.”
That’s one of the most exciting things about this new group: Mansfield’s weapons offer a wide variety of skill sets and implements of athletic destruction, and several of his vaunted starting six are young talents.
“They’re just grinders. They want to get better, they want to be great. Setting is such an important part of having a successful team ... it’s your quarterback, it’s your point guard.”
Another intriguing prospect is outside hitter Kari Geissberger, a 6’5’’ freshmen who was the #18 recruit in the country last year. Coach Mansfield couldn’t contain his enthusiasm when the conversation turned to her, stating: “She’s going to be a game-changer, and she’s already doing stuff in our gym that is entirely unique to her abilities.”
Mansfield also gets back middle blocker Meredith Teague, who is coming off a major ACL injury but appears to be 100% again. Injuries are part of the game and always have been, but nearly all first place teams in WCC history have enjoyed injury-free seasons. Injuries often doom decent teams and even demoralize great ones.
“Our middle blocker position, Meredith Teague, is returning from her major ACL surgery. Before she got hurt last year she was hitting over 300, and was in the top 5 in hitting percentage in our conference. [But] she’s back, she’s healthy, and she’s ready to go,” said Mansfield.
In addition, sophomore outside hitter Rose Booth started for LMU as a freshman last year and was in the top three in kills for the conference before she got hurt. The injury bug was not kind to the Lions last year, but Booth is reported to be operating at a high level again.
Other bright spots include middle blocker Emmelyn Walters, who carved out a starting role for herself last year and was named to the All-Freshmen team. University of Alabama transfer Erin Curl has also been integrated seamlessly and is said to project a “blue-collar, hard-working mentality.” It would also be an oversight not to mention junior defensive leader Ella Boehle, who, by all accounts, provides much-needed veteran savvy to the team.
Can Coach Mansfield’s latest side contend for a WCC title and a long-awaited tournament bid? Their ceiling, on paper, is higher than it has been in years. Buckle up for a special season, folks.