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BOWLING GREEN - Ask Denise Van De Walle about this weekend's volleyball tournament at Bowling Green State University and her answer will ultimately tail off to the uncertainty surrounding the Falcons' setter position.
So will her response to most other questions regarding her team. The setter, and sometimes setters, are vital to BGSU's chances of improving on a breakthrough season in which it finished 26-6 despite playing just one senior.
But replacing all-conference setter Chrissy Gothke remains BGSU's biggest obstacle 10 matches into the new season.
"I feel that we definitely have good team chemistry and we are stronger in some ways, but we're still trying to figure out how we're going to run the offense and who's going to run that," Van De Walle said. And that's so critical."
Van De Walle says she hopes the situation, which she likened to replacing a quarterback, becomes less muddled after this weekend when BGSU hosts the Best Western Invitational.
DePaul, Duquesne and Valparaiso will converge at Anderson Arena for the round-robin tournament that occurs tomorrow and Saturday.
Those three matches will be influential in determining how the offense functions when the Falcons (5-5) begin conference play next week.
Freshman Sam Fish and junior Meghan Mohr have split time at setter and have also shared it when BG runs a 6-2 formation.
"We've let both run the 5-1 and the 6-2," Van De Walle said. "We're still trying to figure out what's best because we've had success at all three. It's been crazy."
It's certainly been crazy for Fish, the newest and perhaps most important member on a team that last year won 17 straight matches. Fish, from North Branch, Mich., leads the team with 236 assists, averaging about three more a match than Mohr, who also plays at right side hitter.
"Sam has really stepped up to the challenge and has really filled a void for us," said senior Stephanie Swiger, a Findlay native and a 2006 first-team All-MAC selection. "Obviously she's going to learn right along with the rest of us and it's our job to help her along."
Fish was a spectator at the SeaGate Centre in November when the Falcons fell to Ohio University in the MAC final, a match in which Gothke, now an assistant coach at BGSU, recorded 31 assists.
"I knew that I had some big shoes to fill with Chrissy," Fish said. "She is amazing. She still jumps into practice and blows everybody away."
A difficult schedule has not blown away the Falcons, even though their five losses are just one less than they had all of last season. They went 1-2 at the Dayton and New Mexico Invitationals and posted a 2-1 mark at Cal State Fullerton.
Van De Walle, now in her 25th season, said she upgraded the schedule "100 fold" to accommodate her team's needs.
"I thought we played some great competition. Every match was close and I felt it really prepared us for MAC play," said sophomore Corey Domek, who leads BG with 129 kills.
BGSU begins the league portion of its schedule Thursday at Miami and will use this weekend as a dress rehearsal. The Falcons open the tournament against DePaul at 7 tomorrow night.
"It's a great opportunity for the team to come in here, the final tournament of the pre-conference, and win it," Van De Walle said. "To move that record from 5-5 to 8-5 going into the conference would be ideal."
Freshman Liana Jennings of Stow has left the BGSU women's basketball team, coach Curt Miller confirmed yesterday.
Jennings, a second-team all-Ohio guard, told Miller she wants to move closer to home and play for a smaller division program. She was granted a release from her scholarship to play at John Carroll University.
"We're certainly disappointed not to work with her," Miller said. "Her time at BG ended before it got started."
BGSU has two scholarships to offer in the upcoming recruiting period. Maribeth Giese, a post player from Cincinnati, verbally committed earlier this offseason.
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