August 26 – TOWSON, Md. – The 2016 version of the Goucher College volleyball program will open a new chapter for the Gophers, as first-year head coach Kait Kozak looks to lead the team into the future.
"A big strength of mine is the ability to build a sustainable culture within a team," commented Kozak on her blue print for year one. "I hope to create an environment of growth, hard work and commitment while empowering our players to be leaders."
Kozak enters her first year with the Gophers with an impressive track record of helping cultivate winning cultures. In her first stint as a head coach with Western New England University, Kozak took a .500 team and, in one season, led the Golden Bears to a 26-9 regular season record and an Eastern College Athletic Conference DIII New England Championship.
She coached just two seasons, earning the most wins in program history while being named the Commonwealth Coast Conference Coach of the Year in 2009. Two seasons later she was invited to work alongside Head Coach Larry Bock at the US Naval Academy.
In five years at Navy, Kozak helped turn around the midshipmen program from a six-win team in 2011 into a Patriot League Championship finalist in 2014. That year, Navy tallied an 11-5 record in conference play, posting their first winning season since 2008.
Now, as a head coach in Division III once again, Kozak will look to bring that same winning mentality to a Gopher squad that finished seventh in the Landmark last season.
"In year one, we want to teach our athletes how to adapt to their new roles within our system," commented Kozak. "We are looking to establish a base in which we can build future successes."
One of the biggest keys for the Gophers in the 2016 season will be to solidify their defensive efforts; to do that they will look to senior Meredith Johnson. Last season, Johnson played in all 30 matches as a defensive specialist, totaling 517 digs. Johnson ranked fourth in the Landmark Conference in digs per set, averaging 4.66 in 111 games.
"We have to get really good at ball control in the upcoming season and Meredith is going to help us achieve that," remarked Kozak of her libero. "Johnson is great at reading the game and will provide the foundation for our defense-first mentality."
In addition to Johnson's leadership, the Gophers will also look to Malia Bruce for a veteran presence. "Malia will be the glue that is going to hold us together this season," commented Coach Kozak. "She is one of those players that just wants to see everyone succeed. Her energy is infectious and the example she sets is something that a team needs to really build a program."
On the offensive side of the ball, the Gophers will look to junior Kelly Budge to provide pressure on opposing defenses. Last season, Budge led the team in service aces (36) while ranking second on the roster in total kills (251).
"Kelly's big arm and go-for-it mentality will allow us to make some runs over the course of the season," remarked Kozak of her outside hitter.
Along with the cast of returners, Goucher will look to a trio of newcomers to step into some key roles, including freshman setter Olivia Rhodes, as well as outside hitter Sarah Weeden and defensive specialist Virginia Estes.
"We are going to need our newcomers to step up and play hard for us this season," said Coach Kozak. "The new players will need to bring grit and poise everyday as they transition into the college game."
The Gophers will open the season at the Eastern Mennonite Invitational on Friday and Saturday, September 2 and 3. Their first home date is schedule for September 7 against Dickinson, while their lone home Landmark Conference matches of the season will take place on Saturday October 1 in a tri-match with Catholic and Scranton.
"Our biggest responsibility this season is to put in the blue print to build a successful culture within the program," remarked Kozak. "We want to create both a challenging and fulfilling environment for the players.
"It is important that we bring our best every day and not only turn the team into a success on the court, but off it as well."