Aug. 4, 2006
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - With no seniors on the roster, Western Washington University volleyball coach Diane Flick admits the Vikings' best days may potentially be a year away.
But that doesn't mean Western can't be very good right now. Despite the lack of seniors, there's still seven players back from a team that was 18-9 overall, 13-5 in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, including junior libero Courtney Schneider (Snohomish), who was a Daktronics third-team All-American, and sophomore middle blocker Tiana Roma (Edmonds/Edmonds-Woodway), the 2005 GNAC Freshman of the Year.
To top it off, the Vikings closed last season with 12 victories in their last 15 matches after a 6-6 start.
"We're young by class, but those young players got a lot of experience last year," said Flick, who has led the Vikings to three GNAC titles in the last five years. "It's a two-year plan - with no seniors, we need to take every opportunity to learn. The pinnacle isn't November, it's a year from November."
Schneider set school and conference records for digs with 646, ranking fourth nationally in the category by averaging 6.59 a game. She also added 29 service aces in route to being a first-team all-Pacific Region and all-GNAC pick.
"Courtney is great at reading situations so her range doesn't have to be the entire court, plus she has a very good first step," said Flick. "She's had a great off-season, she's began to exert leadership, which is something you hope for as a junior."
Roma led Western in kills (255, 2.74 avg.) and blocks (99, 1.06) as a freshman. After a slow start, an excellent performance in a match at Seattle Pacific proved to be a turning point.
"That was kind of a breakout for her, and she sustained that the rest of the season," Flick said of Roma. "You hope that's just the starting point for her sophomore year. She should be the anchor of our middle core."
Junior outside hitter Jaime Anderson (SeaTac/Mount Rainier) has been a starter for parts of the last two seasons, and now seems primed to come into her own. Anderson had 171 kills and 140 digs last year.
The other returnee to see extensive time last season is junior setter Katie Robinson (Everson/Nooksack Valley). She saw only part of that action at setter, averaging 2.62 assists a game, but was also a defensive specialist, notching 158 digs and leading the GNAC in service aces (59, 0.62 avg.).
Three more letter winners, all sophomores, return. Of that trio, right-side hitter Marissa Hill (North Bend/Mount Si) saw the most action, playing 45 games in 16 matches and having 149 kills, including 20 against Barry (Fla..) and 16 against Chico State.
Middle blocker Angie Alvord (Lynden/Meridian) played in 33 games in 17 matches, notching a season-high 12 kills against Saint Martin's. Outside hitter Shanley Besett (University Place/Curtis) saw action in eight matches.
Added experience comes from two transfers, both from Whatcom CC. Junior right-side hitter Mary Martineau (Redmond) lettered at Western Oregon in 2004, then was a first-team all-North Region pick for Whatcom last year, averaging 3.28 kills a game. Junior Emily Castro (Bellingham/Meridian) played two years (2003-04) for the Orcas, averaging 4.56 kills a game and earning North Region MVP honors as a sophomore.
Completing the lineup are four freshmen.
Setter Kari Rice (Toppenish/Eisenhower) was the Big Nine Conference Player of the Year as a high school senior as Eisenhower High School reached the state Class 4A championship game. She'll compete with Robinson for the setter spot, and like Robinson, she brings versatility, as at 5-11, she could see time in some rotations as a right-side hitter.
Shasta Bennett (Brush Prairie/Prairie) was a second-team Class 4A all-state pick as a high school senior, figures to provide depth and versatility at outside hitter; and Andrea Watanabe (Kent/Kentwood), a first-team all-South Puget Sound League selection, provides a second back row specialist to play in tandem with Schneider.
"With the people we've brought in, we have the deepest team spot one through 13 that we've had," Flick said. "Each position can be subbed out and we won't miss a thing. We need to hone everyone's skills in the right direction, get people doing multiple things well, and we'll increase our depth."
The Vikings have traditionally played a tough non-conference schedule under Flick's leadership, and that continues in 2006. Western opens its season at the UC San Diego Invitational, playing five matches, including four against the top five teams in the California Collegiate Athletic Conference last season.
"With a young team, you can't teach experience, you have to gain it playing," said Flick. "We'll play some of the top teams in California, and we'll see where we need to improve. We need a vision, to see what's out there, to see what level we need to compete at."
The UCSD tourney will be important in the Pacific Region rankings, from which eight teams earn a berth in the NCAA Division II National Tournament. The national champion has come from the Pacific Region four of the last eight years.
"The GNAC gets stronger every year, with more parity, and we definitely play in the strongest region in the country," said Flick. "That's great for us. You only get to be national champions by playing the best competition, and we do that every year in both region and conference."
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