July 12, 2004
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - It isn't the exact same group that has utterly dominated the Great Northwest Athletic Conference for the past three years. But the Western Washington University volleyball team still figures to be among the best in the West once again.
The Vikings were 24-2 last year, running off 24 consecutive victories between a loss in the season opener and another in the semifinals of the Pacific Regional of the NCAA Division II National Tournament. Western was as high as No.2 in the AVCA NCAA II National Poll, and was No.9 in the final ranking. All-Americans Liz Bishop and Nicola Parker have graduated, but four starters are back, led by senior middle blockers Meghan Evoy (Olympia/Capital) and Kristy Carstensen (Puyallup), and a third senior, Brianna Murray (Everett/Cascade), who moves from outside hitter to libero.
Western swept through the GNAC with an 18-0 record for the third consecutive year, and the Vikings' string of 54 straight conference victories is the longest active streak in NCAA II, and the fourth-longest in division history. But for Western coach Diane Flick (5th year, 95-19), the three-time GNAC Coach of the Year, that's all in the past.
"I sincerely feel like we're starting at ground zero," said Flick, who has the best winning percentage in school history at .833, and is second in career victories. "We're going back to basics again to re-establish the things that got us to the point we reached."
Despite four starters returning, the Vikings are truly young. Only two other letter winners are back, and combined they played in barely half of last season's games. After that, the roster is all freshmen, and at least one or two of them figure to see regular action.
"From a coaching standpoint, we have two goals," Flick said. "One, to continue the tradition with those who have contributed to building it. Second, to prepare for upcoming years with our young and large class. This season is going to be dependent on how quickly we assimilate our newcomers, and that's a big responsibility for our returning players."
Evoy and Carstensen provide the Vikings with as good a pair of middle blockers as can be found anywhere in NCAA II. Both were second-team Daktronics all-Pacific Region selections and first-team all-GNAC picks last year.
Carstensen led Western in kills (386, 3.84 avg.), blocks (99, 1.12) and service aces (34), ranking second in the GNAC in blocks and fifth in kills. Evoy was second on the team in both kills (322, 3.66) and blocks (67, 0.76), being seventh in the conference in kills, and leading the league in attack percentage (.334), committing attack errors just once every 13.4 attempts.
Both are well-ranked among Western career leaders. Evoy is third in attack percentage (.308), eighth in kills (993), and ninth in blocks (227). Carstensen is ninth in attack percentage (.246), 11th in blocks (181) and 15th in kills (618).
"I'm extremely spoiled as a coach, this will be Meghan's fourth year as a starter and Kristy's third," Flick said. "They play a complete game and are involved in every single play - they are consistently available to be set and the other team has to worry about that, which opens up other options.
"Kristy can provide us with an emotional lift when we need it, Meghan can provide us with calm. Between them, they keep us balanced with whatever we need."
Murray averaged 3.24 kills a game and was sixth in the GNAC in digs (375, 4.31). She was the top non-libero in the conference in digs last season, and figures to be among the national leaders this year with the shift in position. An honorable mention all-GNAC selection last year, she ranks 12th in Western history in career digs with 795.
"She's very good defensively and the libero position is tailor-made for her," said Flick. "And the key thing is that as a senior, she has really matured and become a leader. There's been quite a metamorphosis."
The other returning starter is junior outside hitter Jamie Petersen (Kent/Kentwood), who averaged 2.68 kills and 3.34 digs.
"J.P. is smart, tough, and a hard worker," Flick said. "She finds a way to get things done, and now she has experience to go with it."
Junior Krystal Knight (Sumner) figures to be the right-side hitter. Knight was a super-sub who provided an extra blocking or attacking threat late last year, notching 13 kills, nine service aces and eight blocks in 25 games.
"She got to play under pressure last year, now the challenge will be to do it night in and night out," said Flick of Knight. "She did some good things in the off-season and she'll be a pivotal point in our success."
The only other returning letter winner is junior setter Kristen Urdahl (Spokane/Ferris), who Flick believes is ready for prime time after serving as the understudy to Bishop the last two years.
"There's not going to be a hiccup at all at setter," said Flick. "For two years, Kristen has set against one of the best teams in the country every day in practice. She has the best work ethic on the team and I have all the confidence in the world that we're not going to miss a beat."
Redshirt freshman Jaime Anderson (SeaTac/Mount Rainier) figures to move into the starting lineup at outside hitter.
"She's solid in all the skills," Flick said of Anderson. "She has very good court vision and a lot of shots in her hitting. Once she gets out of her own way, she could be one of the best players in the conference - when she settles in and plays, she's unstoppable."
The other redshirt freshman is Lindsey Signer (Stanwood), who could play the middle or outside.
"Lindsey's effort can never be questioned," Flick said. "Every day, she goes as hard as she can. She'll never let a mistake get to her, she just moves on."
Four true freshmen are also likely to play a role. They are setter Katie Robinson (Everson/Nooksack Valley), middle blocker Tiana Roma (Edmonds/Edmonds-Woodway), defensive specialist/libero Courtney Schneider (Snohomish), and outside hitter Siri Wuotila (Seattle/Highline).
Robinson was a first-team Class 2A all-state setter as a junior and a second-team selection as a senior. She might also see time as an outside hitter in some situations.
Schneider, an honorable mention Class 4A all-state pick at outside hitter, is likely to see time as a back-row defensive specialist. Roma, who like Schneider played in the East-West All-State series, provides depth behind Carstensen and Evoy; and Wuotila will contend for time at the outside spots.
"They're all extremely athletic, but also extremely intense," Flick said of the freshman class. "That's good when you have a group of people who need to learn how you do things."
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