Follow The Leader
Senior outside hitter Maigan Larsen is ready to tackle a larger leadership role as Kent State volleyball opens its 37th season of competition this weekend at the SIU Edwardsville Invitational. The Golden Flashes take on the host Cougars at 12:30 p.m., followed by a battle with Wofford at 5:30 p.m. Friday (Aug. 26). Kent State concludes its opening weekend with a 10 a.m. match against Western Illinois and a 3 p.m. tussle with Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 3 p.m. Saturday (Aug. 27).
When Maigan Larsen walks onto the floor at the SIU Edwardsville Invitational this weekend, she will look around her and see plenty of new faces in the Kent State volleyball lineup.
The outside hitter out of Lancaster, Wis., is the lone returning senior – and one of just four returners, period – as the Golden Flashes embark on their 37th season of competition under fifth-year head coach Glen Conley. With eight newcomers – including seven freshmen – there are more players who have not competed at the NCAA Division I level than have.
Instead of shying away from the biggest challenge of her four-year career wearing the blue and gold, Larsen has embraced the chance to show her green teammates the ropes and welcomed them with open arms.
"They're all great girls," said Larsen of her new teammates. "Coach did a great job of recruiting them. Their work ethic has made it easy to work with them. I love having them here because it's refreshing and it's a new start."
With so many newcomers and the loss of 75% of the 2010 squad's offense, outside expectations for the '11 team have been tempered, as the Golden Flashes were picked to finish sixth in the Mid-American Conference East Division in the conference's preseason coaches' poll. The result within the program, though, has been a buzz of hopeful excitement and the determination to win with the young talent instead of in spite of it.
Having Larsen back and leading the charge is definitely a big plus for this young team, from both a statistical and an intangible standpoint. The three-year letterwinner started all 32 matches of Kent State's matches in 2010, finishing third on the squad with a career season-high 226 kills, 1.93 kills per set, 204 digs, 1.74 digs per set, 262 points and 2.24 points per set. Larsen also totaled a career season-high 45 blocks (four solo, 41 assisted), 21 set assists and 12 service aces and reached double digits in kills 10 times and double digits in digs nine times, achieving six double doubles. She is a high-energy sparkplug and an effective teacher on the court, flying around at full speed at all times and always quick to offer pointers and encouragement to her younger comrades.
"We pegged Maigan as a leader when she came in as a freshman," said Conley. "She had developed those qualities already during high school and club volleyball. A leader is somebody who says, 'Do what I do.' They're willing to stand out there and take on challenges, and that's Maigan. "
Larsen's and the program's goal remains capturing the first MAC title in program history.
"I want to get to that tournament and lead these girls to a championship," said Larsen. "We want to make being a big part of that tournament an every-year thing."
With a leader like Larsen, Kent State's odds of starting that every-year tradition are greatly increased.
Kent State fans will have the opportunity to get their first look at Larsen and the rest of the Golden Flashes in 2011 next Tuesday (Aug. 30) when the squad welcomes Youngstown State to the M.A.C. Center in the season's home opener. The match is slated to get underway at 7 p.m. Stop by the Athletic Ticket Office in the M.A.C. Center or call (330) 672-2244 for more information.