Volleyball Season Opens Friday with Holiday Inn Invitational
The 2008 volleyball season will be another edition of “new faces in new places”. Last season saw nine newcomers compared to five returnees and this year new head coach Chad Callihan welcomes eight first-year players and six veterans hoping to reverse the 10-21 record the team posted in 2007.
“Preseason is always important but this season, with eight new players coming in and even with the returning players learning new offensive and defensive systems, it’s going to be vital for us for us to have good practices early on and get folks acclimated and used to the way we like to do things and what we’re looking for out on the floor. It’s going to be an interesting preseason but I think it’ll be fruitful.”
Callihan makes his return to the Southern Conference after a season at Georgia as assistant coach. The 2004 SoCon Coach of the Year hopes to bring new life to a program that reached the NCAA Tournament in 2001 and 2003.
“We feel like we’re going to have some ups-and-downs early on but we want to make sure we’re continuing to get better each day. We feel like we have enough talent if we can continue to get better, allow the newcomers to get used to the collegiate game, by the end of the season we can be competing for the SoCon championship.”
Of the six returning players, three are seniors. Mae Chabra and Christy Dowd are entering their fourth year in the program and third in a primary role. Bianca Julio transferred in before last season and was the team’s top kill producer.
“(Their leadership) will be important. That’s one of the things we tried to stress during the spring season we were limited in our numbers but we talked about how we like to do things, the accountability that we want our team to have... With five new freshmen coming in and three transfers, we’re definitely going to be leaning on the three seniors to provide some leadership and show the qualities that we’re looking for in our group as a whole. We’re hoping they’ll be able to lead us on and off the court, help mold our younger players and give them an idea of what the expectations are.”
The three GSU matches can be seen via Eagle Vision. Click here for a full tournament schedule and here for more information on Eagle Vision.
The strength of the team will be at the net as the Eagles return their top two middles from last season, sophomores Michelle Uzoh and Sarah Gildersleeve.
“It’s important that we have the depth at that position. They’ve got some experience because we are going to be a young group. I don’t know that both of those players will still be in the middle Sarah has the opportunity to play at right side and potentially at outside so I’m looking at it like they both have a year of experience on the floor as opposed to being just at the middle position.”
Uzoh appeared in 108 games in her rookie campaign, the most among returning players, and led the squad with a .316 hitting percentage and 99 blocks. Her hitting percentage was third-best in the conference.
“She’s a dynamic athlete. I think she probably just scratched the surface as a freshman of the type of player she could be. She’s someone we can hopefully lean on in crucial situations and she’ll be able to come through for us. She’s definitely as athletic as anyone in the conference. It’s just a matter of her continuing to mature and get comfortable with the position that she’s playing. There’s certain aspects of her game that are a little bit raw so she’s still developing. But as she gets more comfortable out on the floor she’s going to be as good as anyone we see.”
Gildersleeve was second on the team behind Uzoh in hitting percentage (.264) and blocks (69) in 105 games.
“Sarah is versatile. I was actually more impressed with her ball control in the spring. She has the potential to pull back and be one of our primary passers. She played middle last year; she’s worked on her footwork this spring and I think that’s going to help her play quite a few positions. She’s good on the one foot which is something we like our right side attackers to do quite a bit. I feel good about Sarah in the sense that we’ve got so many uncertainties right now, with her versatility that will help her find a spot somewhere on the court.”
Pushing Uzoh and Gildersleeve will be sophomore transfer Leah Kettelson and freshman Parker Small. Kettelson played in 106 games last season at Division II Armstrong Atlantic State while Small was a part of a state championship squad at Providence (N.C.) High School.
“They’re going to come in and compete. They add depth at the position and it’s pretty wide open right now. They’re good athletes and they’re going to come in and work hard.”
The team’s deepest position is outside hitter where returning starters Julio and Dowd, who ranked first and third on the team, respectively, in kills per game, stand out amongst a young group.
Dowd will be looking to rebound from a sub-par 2007 season that saw her kills total drop by 170 and her attack percentage drop almost 100 points, one year after earning All-SoCon honors. She still ranked third on the team in kills per game (2.43) and second in aces (39).
“She’s got to be healthy physically. She’s battling a foot problem now and I think she had some lingering issues last fall with just being healthy. And she’s got to be stronger mentally. Her spirit may have been broken a little bit. We have to get the kids more comfortable on the floor and not looking over their shoulder. She just lost some confidence and mentally we have to get her back to the point where she feels good on the floor and trusts herself a little more.”
Julio stepped in immediately last year and became the focal point of the offense, racking up the most kills (284) and attacks on the team (937). She racked up double-digit kills a team-best 14 times and had 243 digs.
“She had shoulder surgery in the offseason and we’ve taken the approach that anything we get from Bianca will be an added bonus. I’ve almost prepared myself mentally that we don’t play with her at all this season. If we do have her back, obviously we become stronger at that position and add more depth.”
Freshmen Bethany Sanford and Hayli Ketner will be pushing for playing time. Sanford was a two-time Arizona all-state performer and Ketner’s 2005 Dorman (S.C.) team won a state championship.
“We’ve got some good young players at outside, I think experience is the main thing. When we’re looking at depth, we’ve got the players, we just don’t have a lot of players with experience. We’re going to make some mistakes out there early on but we just have to make sure that we’re being patient with those young players. If Bianca is back then we’ve got a great corps of outside hitters.”
The Eagles lose three-year starter Gorana Bacic, who led all outside players with a .220 hitting percentage last season, and will try to replace her with two freshmen: Hannah Nelson and Lauren Claybaugh.
“We’ve got a number of players who can play there and do a good job. Sarah is a player that can slide in there, Hannah is a left-handed right side from Atlanta she’s got experience playing that position and Lauren is from California and just finished fifth in the Open division playing right side, so we feel like we have some good players that can slide out there. That’s probably the position where I feel like we have the most depth.”
Getting the ball to the outside hitters will be senior Mae Chabra who already ranks third all-time in school history in assists. Her 1,029 helpers in 2007 are fifth-best in a single season at GSU.
“It’s great (having a four-year player at setter). It’s exactly what you’d hope for as a coach. Mae has done a great job over the years here. She had a good spring while we didn’t get to compete a lot against other teams, we were able to focus on our training and the way we want to run things. It was really good for Mae just to be able to break things down and we could talk about what we were hoping to get and talk about decision making. There were a lot of things that happened during the spring that’s going to make her a better player and it allowed her to get comfortable with what we’re trying to do.”
Pushing Chabra will be sophomore newcomer Blaire Brueggemeyer who is coming off a solid rookie season at Central Florida that saw her average 9.67 assists per game.
“Blaire coming in gives us a great competitive environment at the setter position, day in and day out. She played at Central Florida this past season, a Conference USA school, and started 25 or 26 of their matches. She’s got a year of experience under her belt, is used to playing in a fast system, so preseason for both players is going to be fun, exciting and competitive. If we go with a 5-1, it’s going to be who does the best day in and day out of the preseason.”
Callihan will look to junior college transfer Cristin Haines to replace departing seniors Flavia Pereira and Bailey Coleman on the back row. Haines ranked 17th in the nation last season in digs per game. Callihan says a number of players could see time there.
“We’ve got Cristin coming in as our libero, so there will be some competition for that spot with other players. Should Blaire end up setting, Mae has some great characteristics of a back-row player and can do some good things. Hannah Nelson has good ball control, Hayli Ketner has good ball control, so while we haven’t tagged them on the roster as a DS or libero, we have some players we feel can step in and compete for that spot.”
Sophomore Lindsey O'Connor, who saw limited action in her rookie season, will be making the transition to libero after playing at outside hitter last season.
Four tournaments, including two at home, highlight the nonconference schedule. The Eagles welcome Jacksonville, Presbyterian and Central Florida in August and Charleston Southern, UNC Wilmington and Eastern Michigan in September.
“It’s a competitive schedule. I think it’s exactly what we needed. It’s a good schedule within the region and gives us an opportunity to play some teams a little closer to home. There’s going to be a lot of adjustment with new staff, new players coming in and I didn’t want to compound that with a lot of travel early on. The opportunity to host two home tournaments is fantastic it’s just one less thing we have to worry about. It gives us a chance to focus on what we’re trying to do on the court each day.
“It’s some good competition for us. We’ve got good teams coming from a lot of different conferences, so it’ll be a good test for us early.”
- Category: Volleyball
- Published on Wednesday, 27 August 2008 00:05