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Sophomore middle blocker McKyla Brooks scores a kill against UMass Lowell on Oct. 30, 2015 at Pritchard Gymnasium ERIC SCHMID/ STATESMAN FILE

Rare is the women’s volleyball team that starts six underclassmen. Even rarer is the women’s volleyball team whose libero is taller than its star middle blocker.

For the 2016-17 Stony Brook Volleyball team, both anomalies apply.

While the latter is more of a quirk than an issue — 5-foot-8-inch sophomore McKyla Brooks has athleticism that can more than make up for her vertical shortcomings — the former presents a legitimate concern: this team is one of the least experienced in all of NCAA volleyball.

But head coach Coley Pawlikowski sees her team’s youth as an asset, not a hindrance, and will look to get all her rookies playing time early in the year to adjust to the college game.

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“It’s baptism by fire,” Pawlikowski said. “All five of our freshmen got on the court [in the opening weekend tournament] and I think they had a really good preseason. They’re learning by the example that we’re trying to create on and off the court.”

The Seawolves were ranked No. 3 in the America East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, behind Albany and New Hampshire, the defending champion. Because they are a young team, others in the conference may not be aware of Stony Brook’s style and ability, perhaps making them a dark horse to compete.

“Maybe,” Pawlikowski responded to the dark horse theory. “I kind of like being in that position going into a season.”

The sophomore class will act as the leadership on the court. All three true sophomores — Brooks, setter Morgan Kath and outside hitter Taylor Wilson — started in their freshman seasons, with each garnering at least one weekly award.

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“This is our year to step up,” Brooks said. “And prove that we can be good leaders to the incoming freshmen.”

Among the five-member freshman class are three starters: opposite-side hitter Maria Poole and outside hitters Liz Pulver and Jordan Gels.

Poole, a 6-foot-2-inch Norwegian with international playing experience, provides a left-handed presence on the right flank, increasing the potency of the offensive attack.

According to Pawlikowski, Gels has the defensive versatility to be a six-rotation player out of the gate for the Seawolves. Pulver is a strong three-rotation player who will be looked on to develop her game more roundedly.

Among the four seniors that graduated the team last season, perhaps the most difficult to replace is Kathy Fletcher, who was a high-volume hitter, leading the America East with 400 kills. Instead of depending on one single player to pick up the number of attacks, Stony Brook will take a by-committee approach to
the offense.

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Player to Watch: Morgan Kath

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Sophomore setter Morgan Kath (No. 3, above) hits the ball in a in a game on Nov. 18, 2015. ERIC SCHMID/STATESMAN FILE

For the second straight year, sophomore setter Morgan Kath will be tasked with orchestrating the Stony Brook offense.

Kath hopes this year will be different than 2015, when her season was cut in half by a broken foot that sidelined her from action for over a month.

“I think while I was watching my team, I think I learned a lot about how we play on and off the court,” Kath said. “It’s not just the sport of volleyball, it’s the whole aspect of communication and camaraderie, it’s all part of volleyball.”

Kath adds versatility as a setter. The team’s former setter, Nicole Vogel, who graduated last year, was more of a digger on the defensive side of the ball. Kath, being 5-foot-10-inches, is adept on the front line and can contribute on the block as well for Stony Brook.

“We’re really excited for her to be back,” Pawlikowski said. “She’s super athletic, pretty dynamic. Her location is something that we’re working on but her athleticism is unbelievable. Sometimes she’ll create an offense that’s pretty exciting. She has a lot to offer and the level she can play above the net is something to be excited about.”

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In 72 sets played during her freshman season, Kath averaged 9.19 assists per match.

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