For Heidelberg University Volleyball Coach Jason Miller and his team, the 2012 campaign was a season-long battle to maintain their reputation as a national power in Division III Volleyball.
They had to overcome key losses to the roster and one of the most difficult schedules in the nation. Nearly one-third of their games were against opponents who advanced to the NCAA Tournament.
Heidelberg started the 2012 season 9-1 before dropping back-to-back matches to Washington and Calvin.
The Student Princes responded by winning four of their next six, highlighted by a thrilling come-from-behind five set victory over Chicago.
Heidelberg earned the fifth seed in the OAC Tournament and defeated Marietta to advance to the OAC Semifinals.
Heidelberg would lose in the semifinals but despite the loss, the Student Princes still earned the at-large bid into the tournament for the seventh straight season.
In the NCAA Regional, Heidelberg would lose to tournament runner-up Calvin.
"We set our goals every year to win a conference championship and to advance to the NCAA tournament," said Miller, who completed his 13th season at the helm for the Student Princes. "We were pleased to advance into the NCAA tournament, however we were disappointed we couldn't grab a conference championship. We did make significant improvements during the year and are looking forward to next season."
Next season will begin without the services of three key seniors on the 2012 squad, Marian Bevington (Celina/Parkway), Rachel Ferguson (Brighton, MI) and Jacki Street (Grafton/Midview). All three enjoyed superb seasons which cemented their legacy in the annals of Heidelberg Volleyball.
Bevington was named All-OAC First Team, AVCA All-Great Lakes Region and AVCA All-American Honorable Mention. With 411 kills on the season, she moved into second place on Heidelberg's career kills list with 1,414. She also ended her career with 444 blocks, good for third on the all-time list.
Ferguson served as the primary setter for the team, recording 767 sets. For her career, Ferguson recorded 2,565 assists, third all-time.
Street eclipsed the 1,000 kill plateau during the season. For her career, Street recorded 1,071 kills, eighth all-time. She was named All-OAC Second Team in 2012 and Honorable Mention in 2010 and 2011.
"Our three seniors where not only great volleyball players, but more importantly great students, and great leaders," said Miller. "They will be missed as student-athletes but also missed as great friends."
After losing three key components from the 2011 season, Miller knew he would have to rely on some of the younger players to step up.
"It's tough for any program to rebound after losing big players, but we had several players that made the starting line-up for the first time this season," said Miller. "As the year went on, they began to understand what is needed from them in order for us to remain a national caliber program."
Two players will return for their senior seasons in 2013, Amber Welfle (Norwalk/St. Paul) and Alexa Frank (Tiffin/Calvert).
Welfle has already climbed to ninth on the all-time kills list with 900 kills, while Frank sits in seventh with 1,283 assists. Welfle was named All-OAC Second Team in 2011 and 2012.
"We will look to Amber and Alexa to lead the way next year," said Miller. "They both have been performing at a high level for us the last three season and will be looking to go out on their senior year atop the OAC."
Miller, along with his assistants Kiara Ruffing, Amanda Atchison and Jackie Reinhart, are hard at work recruiting the incoming corps of volleyball players.
"With only returning ten players from this fall it will be extremely important for us to bring in a larger but talented group of freshman," said Miller. "We have a bunch of outstanding prospective student-athletes. Hopefully the stars align and we are able to land some of them."