2008 WWU Volleyball Preview
Aug. 1, 2008
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - There won't be any living in the past for the Western Washington University women's volleyball team.
The recent past is a nice place, as the Vikings reached the NCAA Division II national championship match in 2007, capping a season that saw them post a 26-5 record, win the Great Northwest Athletic Conference with a 17-1 mark, and also claim their first Pacific Regional title.
But when pre-season training begins for the 2008 campaign, the collective eyes of the Vikings will be focused only on starting something new.
"Some coaches shy away from the word `rebuilding'," said Western coach Diane Flick (9th year, 175-47), the 2007 AVCA Pacific Region and GNAC Coach of the Year. "I have no problem with it. Every year is a rebuilding year, there's always new people, a new focus, new chemistry. You can't realistically replace an experienced senior with a freshman and say things will be the same. I have no problem rebuilding, it's what we did to get here."
The foundation of the rebuilding project lies with three seniors who have all played major roles over the last two seasons.
Leading that group is senior middle blocker Tiana Roma (Edmonds/Edmonds-Woodway), an honorable mention All-American and first-team all-Pacific Region pick last season and a three-time GNAC all-star, earning first-team honors in 2007 after twice being a second-team selection.
Roma was third on the team in kills with 325 last year and led the GNAC in attack percentage at .358.
"The best word to describe Tiana last year was consistency," said Flick. "We could rely on her night in and night out, and we expect her to carry an even bigger load this year."
Also back at middle blocker is senior Angie Alvord (Laurel/Meridian). Alvord, a starter the last two years, was an honorable-mention all-GNAC pick last year, notching 296 kills and ranking second in the GNAC in blocks (1.38), third in attack percentage (.324) and fourth in service aces (.60). She was spectacular in the post-season, making both the Elite Eight and Pacific Regional all-tournament teams. Alvord averaged 4.4 kills a set in the three Elite Eight matches, and 1.5 blocks a set over the entire six-match tournament run.
"Look at Angie's run in the national tournament, and you see in a pressure situation, she rose to the occasion," said Flick. "Now her demon to fight is to do it on a daily basis."
The other experienced senior is right-side hitter Marissa Hill (North Bend/Mount Si). Hill, who averaged 1.67 kills and 0.91 blocks and ranked seventh in the GNAC in attack percentage (.249), had her season cut short by a knee injury in the national semifinals that required surgery.
"There may be a bit of a relearning curve, but her recovery has been remarkable," said Flick. "I think sitting on the plane (back from the Elite Eight) gave her an appreciation of what an opportunity it is to play. That's helped her not just in her recovery, but in what she gives to her teammates in leadership."
The other area where Western has a fair bit of experience is in the back row, where two sophomores have each spent a year as the defensive specialist. Allison Gotz (Bothell/Archbishop Murphy) averaged 1.65 digs last season, and will move into the libero spot vacated by the graduation of All-American Courtney Schneider, who was the national leader in digs the last two seasons and set a national career record for digs per set. Shasta Bennett (Brush Prairie/Prairie) averaged 2.09 digs and added 22 service aces in 2006 prior to redshirting last year. Her background as an outside hitter gives the Vikings an additional attacking option from the back.
"They fill those roles nicely," said Flick. "The only difficulty for them is the stigma of following a player who was the best to play that position in the entire country. They could be exceptional there."
At setter, junior Kari Rice (Toppenish/Eisenhower) has seen occasional duty over the last two years.
"Beyond stats or matches played, she's set with and against the No.2 team in the country every day in practice," said Flick. "That should give her experience."
The big question mark is at outside hitter. Senior Shanley Besett (University Place/Curtis) has the most experience, but has played in just 23 matches over her three-year career.
"Shanley had her best spring ever," Flick said. "She showed all-around improvement, not just in her playing skills, but also in leadership."
Sophomore Megan Amundson (Stanwood), who notched 35 kills last year and filled in admirably for Hill on the right side at nationals, is another candidate for time, as are sophomore Jordyn Bailey (Wenatchee) and freshman Alison Fairchild (Kent/Kentwood).
"It could be a position that will be done by committee," Flick said. "That group had a great off-season, we'll see what happens."
Sophomore right-side hitter Kathryn Mertens (Olympia) is the only other returnee. Completing the roster are three freshmen - defensive specialist Haleigh Adkins (Puyallup/Rogers), right-side hitter and middle blocker Emily Jepsen (Kennewick/Kamiakin) and setter Laurie Yearout (Spokane/Lewis & Clark).
The Vikings have had great success in the GNAC, winning four conference championships in seven years, but Flick said the conference could be tougher than ever this season.
"One thing that prepared us for the national tournament last year was the level of play in our conference," she said. "You're seeing teams from top to bottom doing well, and there are a lot of teams this year returning a lot of players."
VOLLEYBALL: Flick sets tone for Vikings
JOE SUNNEN, THE BELLINGHAM HERALD
Western Washington University volleyball coach Diane Flick isn't trying to make her team forget about last year's runner-up finish at the NCAA Division II National Tournament.
Far from it.
Sure, she wants the Vikings focused on the 2008 season at hand, but she's also covered the better part of a wall in her office with pictures and articles from that magical run last season. She wants this bunch to know the heights they could be capable of reaching.
"It was an exciting year," Flick said. "It's a testament to where this program is going and where this program is going to continue to go. Why forget something like that? I forget all the bad stuff, not the good stuff."
The Vikings opened fall practice on Monday, Aug. 11 with four seniors and two returning starters - Angie Alvord and Tiana Roma - and a roster filled mostly by sophomores and freshmen. The first step to winning another Great Northwest Athletic Conference title and earning a return trip to the postseason will be getting the younger players on the same page as the veterans.
"I think we're looking at the season realistically," Flick said. "We're not going to come in here as a seasoned, veteran team so we're working on the little things. The upperclassmen are doing a good job of mentoring our younger kids. We're working hard to get things done."
The Vikings spent some of Thursday's practice working on 6-on-6 drills. It was the first time this season Flick has really been able to see this squad's strengths and weaknesses in terms of team play.
"It showed me what we need to work on," Flick said. "But I think we're a little bit further ahead of where I thought we were when we came in."
Western's scheduled to hold a public practice on Saturday, Aug. 23 at 1 p.m. at Lynden High School. The Vikings open the season in California at the Cal State Monterey Bay Tournament on Friday, Sept. 5.
"Really, everybody who returns that didn't start last season played with or against the second best team in the country," Flick said. "They have some experience just being in the gym last season. This team will have that experience, but still when you're looking across the net at someone in a different colored jersey there will be nerves."
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