Western looks for third straight GNAC title and Pacific Regional appearance
July 1, 2003
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - If good things come in threes, then the 2003 season figures to be a good one for the Western Washington University volleyball team, as the Vikings seek a third straight trip to the NCAA Division II Pacific Regional and a third consecutive undefeated season in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference.
Western was 23-3 last year, rolling through the GNAC with an 18-0 record that extended their unbeaten streak in conference play to 41 matches, the longest current streak in NCAA II and the seventh longest all-time at that level.
And there's more than numerical logic supporting the Vikings, as two All-Americans return among four starters and nine letter winners for coach Diane Flick (4th year, 71-17), the 2002 AVCA Pacific Region Coach of the Year and already the third winningest volleyball coach in Western history.
Flick said the streak has little impact on the season.
"I really want to look at this year as a new beginning, the streak is in the past not the future," she said. "This is a new team, some of those players weren't here, the ones that were are different because they are more experienced. We need to start a new streak"
The All-Americans returning are senior setter Liz Bishop (Seattle/Mount Rainier), a first-team NCAA II selection by AVCA and a second-team choice by Daktronics, and senior libero Nicola Parker (Auburn), a third-team pick by Daktronics. Both were also first-team all-Pacific Region selections and first-team Verizon District VIII all-academic picks as well as being GNAC all-stars.
Bishop ranked fifth nationally in assists, averaging 13.59 a game. Her 3,025 career assists rank third in school history, and she needs just 166 more to pass Kris Little for second place on Western's all-time list. Bishop also contributed 2.61 digs and had a .361 attack percentage.
"Liz has the complete package but the most important thing she has is the respect of her teammates," said Flick. "That's a skill, and it is one that not everybody has. Liz does it within her own style, so it comes naturally for her."
Parker took to the new libero position and defined it, ranking fifth nationally in digs with a school-record 5.44 a game. Parker, who ranks sixth in Western history in career digs with 893, struggled with a back problem through the off-season, but appears fully recovered.
"The injury was a challenge for her, but it will probably make her a better player in the end," Flick said of Parker. "Sitting and watching can teach you a lot and it was a good learning experience for her."
With Bishop and Parker in the lineup, it means the Vikings have two All-Americans handling the ball on both the initial pass and the set almost half the time. Western ranked fourth in NCAA II in assists (15.35 avg.) and fifth in both digs (21.98) and kills (16.59).
"When you have two specialist positions receive All-America status, it is a tribute to the group as a whole," said Flick. "They are keys to what we do, but without contributions from other players, they look very un-All-American."
At the net, Western is particularly strong at middle blocker. Junior Meghan Evoy (Olympia/Capital), a starter the last two seasons, was a first-team AVCA all-region pick and GNAC all-star last year, averaging 3.91 kills and 0.77 blocks as well as having a .291 attack percentage, ranking third in the final category and fourth in kills.
Junior Kristy Carstensen (Puyallup) brought power where Evoy provided creativity. Carstensen averaged 3.01 kills and a team-best 0.88 blocks a game.
"Combined they're one of the better middle corps in the region, if not the country," said Flick. "Kristy brings a little more heat, Meghan more vision, but they both have some of both, which makes them tough. Kristy had an outstanding off season and has positioned herself to be the best she can be this fall. Meghan's like Ol' Yeller, she's very reliable. You can count on her."
Returning at outside hitter is junior Brianna Murray (Everett/Cascade), who averaged 2.50 kills a game and ranked 27th nationally in digs at 4.57 a contest. A smart, creative player, Murray's back-row skills are of high enough quality that it's almost like having another specialist on the floor.
"Bri is an outstanding ball-control player," Flick said. "She gives us great leadership in just finding ways to win."
Sophomore Jamie Peterson (Kent/Kentwood) had some impressive moments last season, twice notching eight kills in a match.
"She improved a lot this spring," Flick said. "She's a very intelligent player, and is one of the hardest hitters to block because her timing is different from most hitters."
Also likely to see time at the outside spot are two newcomers - sophomore Julie Marsh (Cheney), who played 22 matches in helping Whitworth reach the finals of the NCAA Division III West Regional; and freshman Jaime Anderson (SeaTac/Mount Rainier), who was a first-team Class 3A all-state selection.
Perhaps the most open position on the floor is the right-side hitter. Sophomore Rachelle Cooper (Port Orchard/South Kitsap) was the regular there in 2001, averaging 2.90 kills and 2.18 digs, prior to sitting out last season because of ankle problems. Sophomore Krystal Knight (Sumner), who saw limited action last year, and freshman Lindsay Signer (Stanwood) are also battling for the spot. One of those three might also see time as a backup in the middle.
Back at defensive specialist is sophomore Megan Tevis (Puyallup/Emerald Ridge). She averaged 2.53 digs last year and had 38 service aces, the most of any returning Viking.
"Megan Tevis is probably the quickest player I've coached," Flick said. "She provides a secret weapon defensively because she's so fast."
The backup setter is sophomore Kristen Urdahl (Spokane/Ferris), who saw action primarily as a serving specialist last year. Flick called her the most improved player of the off-season.
That sort of improvement, though, is something Flick saw from the entire squad. Only falling in the opening round of the regional tournament put a damper on last season, but that loss gave the team a target.
"They're hungry for the next step and they trained like it," she said. "Losing definitely provided some motivation. The players are hungry for more and it really is up to them to take us to the next level."
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