In the 19 seasons Tom Hilbert has been at the helm of the CSU volleyball program there have been three seasons in which the CSU volleyball team only had one senior on the roster.
The 2016 season marks the fourth such occurrence.
Cassidy Denny stands alone at the top of the pecking order for this year’s squad. The senior defensive specialist from Sacramento, California was fourth on the team last season in digs with 244 total digs, good for 2.39 per set while also reaching double-figures in digs eleven times.
Denny has been a mainstay in the Rams rotation since the beginning of her time in Fort Collins. As a true freshman she started 17 matches and rocked a .952 serve percentage, a figure that ranks sixth all-time in CSU single-season history. During her sophomore season, Denny started all but one game and played every single set. As the lone senior this year, Denny’s contribution to the team will likely need to go behind statistics and service aces.
“I mean with 15 girls total including me, and me being the only senior, obviously the juniors are doing a really good job of stepping up and helping me lead,” Denny said. “But I’m the ultimate leadership role and I think it’s been going well. I get along really well with these girls. They make it easy to lead them.”
Part of the responsibility in her leadership role will come with an added twist this season as well. The Rams have a total of seven new players on this year’s roster, including six true freshman and McKenna Thornlow, a transfer from North Texas. Many of these new players, including several of the true freshman will be expected to contribute and will see court time right off the bat. However, the adjustment to playing with so many new faces has been easier than expected, Denny said.
“We have seven new people, so that’s harder than it would have been,” she said. “But Breanna (Runnels) and I actually get along really well and then Katie (Oleksak), the setter of course, I’m always in her ear and she’s like ‘tell me if that’s good or bad’ or anything and I’m like ‘ok I’ll get a better pass so you can get a better set. ‘Everyone has gone along well really with them so it’s easy to take them under my wing because they’re all great girls.”
Denny’s teammates rave about her knack for taking them in and making sure they feel welcome in their first experience at CSU. Junior McKenna Thornlow, who transferred from North Texas even lived with Denny for a short while. Denny was the one who reached out and exchanged text messages with her to ensure she felt a part of the team.
“She made me feel like I as a part of the team already,” Thornlow said. “She’s just been a really big influence, brining me in and making sure I’m okay all the time. I really did appreciate that. She’s a great teammate.”
The last time CSU sported only a single senior was in 2011. The lone senior was Mountain West player of the year Katelyn Steffan. That year the Rams wound up going 24-6 and winning both the regular season and conference tournament champions.
It remains to be unseen what type of success this year’s squad will achieve, but one thing is certain, Denny will have a unique role and will be required to be a calming factor and an example for her younger teammates when adversity strikes.
“That senior has to fight the good fight all the time,” head coach Tom Hilbert said. “We’re going to be inconsistent and Cassidy’s not going to be able to pull us out of all those situations. There’s six other players on the court. She has to do her best to lead us through those difficult times. She needs to bring maturity and composure and she needs to play at a high level.”
Denny said that Hilbert has asked her to take on a greater role on the court this year as the team’s only returning defensive specialist and one of the most experiences players. But the natural leadership role is something she has undoubtedly undertaken herself.
“She’s done it on her own,” Hilbert said. “We started talking about leadership with her a year and a half ago. She’s a very outward personality, she has no problem saying and doing things.”
While Denny remains as the lone senior, she is not guaranteed to hold the starting spot on the floor. She is joined in crowded position by other defensive specialists in: junior McKenna Thornlow, sophomore Katie Craig, freshman Amanda Young and redshirt sophomore Mariah Green.
Collegian Sports Reporter Michael Roley can be reached by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @michael_roley