Colorful Teal ready to lead Pack
RENO – When 2004 North Tahoe High School graduate Teal Ericson began starting for the University of Nevada volleyball team as a freshman, it wasn’t hard to see her enthusiasm as she crashed home one of her supercharged 249 kills.
When the Wolf Pack began their first day of practice Tuesday at the Virginia Street Gym, it was apparent the 20-year-old junior’s enthusiasm hasn’t waned a bit. Asked by a pair of reporters how her summer had gone, the 6-foot-1 right side outside hitter seemed positively invigorated.
“It was the best summer of my life. I had a great time,” Ericson said. “I’m back in the mood, man. Nothing against you guys, but I want to get out there right now.”
That kind of alacrity should serve the Pack well. Nevada finished in fourth place in the Western Athletic Conference last year with a 10-6 league record (18-13 overall) and was eliminated by Stanford in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Although Nevada has the 23rd best recruiting class in the nation, according to volleyballprep.com, it will also be without departed seniors Salaia Salave’a, Christine Harms and Lindsay Holda.
“We’re really going to miss them,” Ericson said. “Every year we miss the seniors. But we’re determined every year to get better and improve. The team has six freshmen coming in. They’re impressive from what I’ve seen. Every year (the freshmen) look good. And we have good chemistry among the remaining members. I think we’ll all get along really well this year.”
The getting-to-know-each-other process will be facilitated by the team’s annual preseason trip to a big house in Zephyr Cove.
“We’ll stay there three or four days,” said Ericson, who was named first-team all-state and Northern Nevada 3A Most Valuable Player following her senior year at North Tahoe. “It’s a really good experience. It helps us to bond. It’ll be 16 girls all living together in one big house.”
Sounds like the makings of a new reality show.
“In a couple of weeks maybe,” Ericson said with a laugh, “but we’ll be there only a couple of days.”
Ericson, a history major with a double minor in Spanish and English with an emphasis on writing, had an even stronger year as a sophomore last year, notching 365 kills. Now, with fiery team leader Salave’a gone and a class of freshmen coming aboard, Ericson will have to make another adjustment.
“I was a little intimidated (coming in this year),” Ericson said. “I’m a junior now. I’m going to have to take more of a leadership role than I have in the previous years. I’m ready right now.
“I think we’ll take on a more combined team role. Instead of one dominant player, we’ll have to spread it out more. It’s hard to be as dominant a personality as Salaia, but I know I’d like to step up in that role.”
That wouldn’t bother 10-year Wolf Pack coach Devin Scruggs one bit. The winningest coach in Nevada history (158-107), Scruggs has guided Nevada to all five of its NCAA Tournament appearances and loves leaders.
“I’m looking forward to see how Teal performs this fall,” Scruggs said. “I wasn’t around her in the summer. I hope she had the opportunity to work out. I’m looking for her to be a leader on the court. She needs to be, especially with (senior right side/outside hitter) Carly (Sorensen) not being able to go all-out to start the season.”
Sorensen, who played with Ericson on the Silver State/Capital City and Sierra Nevada volleyball club teams, is one of three Nevada players coming back from injuries.
Sorensen had surgery to repair her right rotator cuff in March, junior middle blocker Karly Sipherd – who like Ericson burst on the scene as a freshman – had double knee surgery, and senior setter Tristin Johnson (formerly Adams) is returning from an MCL injury.
Johnson, who also played club volleyball with Ericson, said she thinks it’s her teammate’s time to shine.
“It’s Teal’s show now,” Johnson said. “She likes power. She likes to have it. She’s good out there. Teal is not like anybody I’ve ever met or played with. Since I was a sophomore (at Fallon) and she was a freshman in high school, I’ve seen her evolve as a player.”
Sorensen said she values the ebullient Ericson as a person and a teammate.
“She’s a great person,” Sorensen said. “On the court she does what she has to do and does it well.”
Ericson, who like Sorensen hits the ball with titanic force, has high expectations for this Wolf Pack team.
“We want to get first place in conference and focus on the NCAA Tournament,” Ericson said. “But first we have to make it. We have to put ourselves in position to get a good seed, then good further than we have before.”
Joining the four returning starters – Ericson, Sorensen, Johnson and Sipherd – and eight letter-winners will be four highly touted recruits, 5-foot-10 setter Sonnie Sei, of Loyalton; 6-1 middle blocker Sage Aune, of Sandy, Utah; outside hitter Lelani Kleman-Maeva, of Honolulu, Hawai’i; and 6-1 left-handed right side/outside hitter Jorgan Staker, of Taylorsville, Utah.
“They are very similar to a class that was ranked No. 14 in 1998 – the team that had Suzanne Stonebarger on it,” Scruggs said of her team that finished 22-7 in 1998 and went on to be the first Wolf Pack team to make it to the NCAA Tournament. “This group will absolutely make an impact at some point.”
Scruggs said both the Nevada coaches and players will have to work harder this year, but she expects them to compete every game.
So does Ericson, who like she said, is back in the mood, man.
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