Vikings look to keep streak alive
Aug. 18, 2004
SPOKANE, Wash. - It isn't the same group that has dominated the Great Northwest Athletic Conference for the past three seasons, but Western Washington still figures to be one of the best volleyball teams in the GNAC and the NCAA Division II Pacific Region once again this fall. The Vikings have never lost a GNAC contest winning 54 straight matches since the conference was formed. The streak is the longest active in NCAA Division II and the fourth longest in division history. Western, which received seven of 10 first-place votes in the GNAC Coaches' pre-season poll, returns four starters - only Saint Martin's and Seattle have more - including a pair of first-team conference all-stars in middle blockers Meghan Evoy and Kristy Carstensen. The Vikings outpointed its archrival Central Washington 106-83 in the balloting. Seattle University, last year's runner-up, received two first-place votes and finished third overall with 79 points. Seattle Pacific, which is sixth overall in the poll, received the lone remaining first-place vote. Central, which won its final five matches last fall to finish at 13-13, also returns two first-team all-conference players in setter Kate Reome and middle hitter LeAnne McGahuey. Also back for the Wildcats is GNAC Newcomer-of-the-Year Crystal Ames, a second-team all-star selection. "Everything still goes through Bellingham," CWU coach Mario Andaya said of the GNAC title chase. Seattle, which lost to eventual champion Cal State San Bernardino in the regional quarterfinals and was the only team to play a five-game match with the Vikings all year, has as many returning letter winners (9) and more starters (6), including first-team GNAC all-star Lizzy Safranski, as any team in the league. The Redhawks are also the only conference team with a new coach as Shannon Ellis, a 2002 grad of Brigham Young, takes over for Steve Nimocks. In addition to Evoy, Carstensen, Reome, McGahuey and Safranski, Mallory Bergstrom of Alaska Fairbanks also returns off of last year's first team all-conference unit. Bergstrom had a spectacular season leading the GNAC in kills (4.72) and earning AVCA All-America honorable mention honors as she recorded three of the Top 10 single-match kill totals in GNAC history. Bergstrom is one of four returning conference statistical champions from the 2003 season. Also back is Evoy, who led the GNAC in hitting percentage (.332), Laura Berdahl of Western Oregon, who led the conference in blocks (1.18) and Seattle's Erika Brunson, who was the pacesetter in aces (0.56). Nine of the GNAC's 10 teams begin the season next weekend, competing in tournaments, five of them in California. Western Washington, Seattle Pacific and Seattle all head to San Diego for the UC San Diego Invitational, while Western Oregon and Northwest Nazarene travel to Monterey Bay for the Monterey Bay Invitational. Meanwhile, Alaska Anchorage will compete in the Saint Leo, Fla., Invitational; Central travels to Minnesota for the Mankato State Bash and Humboldt State visits the 50th state for the Hawaii Style Classic. Only Alaska Fairbanks stays home to host a tournament. Saint Martin's begins its season Sept. 1 at home against Pacific Lutheran before also heading for Hawaii for a match against Hawaii Pacific and to compete in a tournament at BYU-Hawaii.
(Note: First-place votes in parenthesis. Points awarded on a 11-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis).TEAM PREVIEWS Western Washington (24-2, 18-0, 1st) The Vikings ran off a GNAC-record 24 consecutive victories last season between a loss in their season opener and another in the semifinals of the Pacific regional. Western, which was ranked as high as No. 2 and finished ninth in the final AVCA poll (and is ranked ninth in this fall's pre-season national poll), graduated All-Americans Liz Bishop and Nicola Parker off that team, but do return four starters including Evoy (6-0, Sr., Olympia, WA - Capital), Carstensen (6-1, Sr., Puyallup, WA), Brianna Murray (5-10, Sr., Everett, WA - Cascade) and Jamie Petersen (5-8, Jr., Kent, WA - Kentwood). Despite returning four starters, three-time GNAC Coach-of-the-Year Diane Flick figures her team's success is all in the past. "I sincerely feel like we're starting at ground zero," Flick (95-19, 4 years), who has the best winning percentage in school history (.833), said. "We're going back to basics again to re-establish the things that got us to the point we reached." The Vikings are young, despite the four returning starters. Only two other letter winners return and combined they played in barely half of last season's games. "This season is going to be dependent on how quickly we assimilate our newcomers," Flick said, "and that's a big responsibility for our returning players." Evoy and Carstensen provide one of the best 1-2 punches at middle blocker anywhere in NCAA Division II. Both were second team Daktronics all-Pacific Region selections in addition to earning GNAC honors. Carstensen led the team in kills (3.84), blocks (1.12) and aces (34). She ranked second in kills and fifth in blocks in the conference. Evoy made just one error every 13.4 attempts in leading the conference in attack percentage, and finished second on the team in kills (3.66) and blocks (0.76). "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." Murray averaged 3.24 kills and ranked sixth in the GNAC in digs (4.31), but will move from the outside to the libero position this fall. "She's very good defensively and the libero position is tailor-made for her," Flick said. Peterson averaged 2.68 kills and 3.34 digs last year. "J.P. is smart, tough and a hard worker," Flick said. "She finds a way to get things done and now she has the experience to go with it." Returnees Krystal Knight (5-11, Jr., Sumner, WA) and Kristen Urdahl (5-8, Jr., Spokane, WA - Ferris) figure to join the starting lineup as the right side hitter and setter, respectively. Knight had 13 kills, nine service aces and eight blocks in 25 games last season, while Urdahl played in 36 games as an understudy to Bishop. "There's not going to be a hiccup at all at setter," Flick said. Redshirt Jaime Anderson (5-11, Fr., SeaTac, WA - Mt. Rainier) also figures to join the starting lineup at outside hitter. "She's solid in all the skills, She has very good court vision and a lot of shots in her hitting," Flick said. Another redshirt freshman, Lindsay Signer (5-11, Stanwood, WA), could play in the middle or on the outside, while four true freshmen - setter Karie Robinson (5-8, Everson, WA - Nooksack Valley), middle blocker Tiana Roma (6-0, Edmonds, WA - Edmonds-Woodway), defensive specialist-libero Courtney Schneider (5-9, Snohomish, WA) and outside hitter Siri Wuotila (5-10, Seattle, WA - Highline) - are also likely to play a role. Central Washington (13-13; 12-6, 3rd) Central rebounded from a 0-7 start and five losses in five-game matches to finish at the .500 level last year. Nine letter winners and four starters return from that squad. "Last year was a good building year for our players," CWU coach Mario Andaya said. "We have a good nucleus of kids that have been through adversity and success, so our team has a good foundation of players that we'll be able to build upon and I think we'll make a big impact in the conference this year." Andaya, who has a 104-120 career record in eight seasons, believes he has great depth and also may have the most athletic team in the conference. "We also have a good feel for the court and that is something we've been missing." Leading the Wildcats this fall will be setter Kate Reome (5-8, Sr., Nine Mile Falls, WA - Lakeside), who averaged 12.16 assists and 2.69 digs and had 22 aces in earning first-team all-conference honors. "As far as our veteran leadership is concerned, we have the setting position covered. I think Kate is one of the best setters in the country and we also have a solid backup in Lindsey Dollente," Andaya said. Providing depth in back of Reome and Dollente (5-7, So., Yakima, WA - West Valley) are freshmen Maggie Olson (5-8, Snoqualmie, WA - Mt. Si) and Amy Lou Meisen-Vehrs (5-9, Spokane, WA - North Central). In addition to Reome at setter, the Wildcats also return all-stars at the outside and middle hitter positions. Crystal Ames (5-10, Jr., Shoreline, WA - Shorecrest), a second team all-star selection and the GNAC Newcomer-of-the-Year, will lead a solid group of hitters on the outside. Ames ranked second on the team in kills with 340 (3.27 per game) and was the team leader in digs with 359 (3.45) a year ago. "Crystal is a great overall player," Andaya said. "She knows the court and can hit for power or finesse." Strengthening the position is the addition of Washington State transfer LaQue Branch (5-8, Jr., Yakima, WA - Eisenhower). Branch played in eight games for the Cougars two years ago and 18 last season. "She is a physical outside hitter and has a great vertical leap," Andaya said. "She can hit various attacks and provides us a dominant presence at the net blocking." In addition to Ames other returnees from last year's team on the outside include Stephanie Powell (6-2, So., Puyallup, WA - Bellarmine Prep) and Jaecee Ramsay (5-10, So., Klickitat, WA). Powell had 17 kills in 14 games last season. "Her power above the net is very dangerous and she has a reach as high as anyone in our conference," Andaya said. Ramsey played in just one game a year ago and along with freshman Erika Stevens (5-8, Fairbanks, AK - Lathrop) will provide the Wildcats with good depth. In the middle, LeAnne McGahuey (5-10, Jr., Wenatchee, WA) returns after leading the Wildcats in kills (344, 3.31) and blocks (87, 0.84) and earning first team all-conference honors. "This could be one of our best years in the middle position. We have LeAnne coming off a stellar year . She is going to be a great leader, but she still has a lot of room to grow as a player, which is pretty scary," Andaya said. Andaya also added a couple outstanding recruits in Cristina Null (6-0, Jr., Federal Way, WA - Decatur) from Bellevue CC and six-footer Bree Brandt from Meridian High School in Bellingham. "Null is probably the hardest hitter on our team; she thunders the ball and moves very quickly;" Andaya said. "She is going to be a threat in the middle and a presence defensively at the net. Brandt is one of our top recruits and will compete for playing time right away." Also in the middle is Laura Lindsley (5-10, Jr., Issaquah, WA - Skyline), who has been in the program three years and has become one of the most knowledgeable players on the court. On the right side, the Wildcats return Kristin Pasley (5-9, So., Kent, WA - Kentlake), who had 153 kills (1.50), 251 digs (2.46) and 55 blocks during a breakout freshman season and could be one of the dominant blockers in the conference, according to Andaya. Also back is Sophie Krahn (6-0, So., Brush Prairie, WA - LaSalle), who played in three games last season. Defensively, Darcy Scheidt (5-9, Jr., Milton, WA - Fife) will likely handle the libero position. "She was voted a team captain despite not being a starter last year, and she proved herself in crucial situations towards the middle and end of last year," Andaya said. Last year, Scheidt had 97 digs in 77 contests. Julie Henderson (5-6, So., Morton, WA - Mossyrock), who played in 33 games, and freshman Lorissa Barbee (5-10, Maple Valley, WA - Tahoma) could also see some playing time at the position. Seattle (17-9; 13-5, 2nd) Though the Redhawks have a new coach, the players and the system will basically be the same as Seattle bids to earn a second consecutive NCAA Division II post-season berth. "We return every starter and this team is composed of women who are competitive, experienced, intense and dedicated to what they are doing," SU rookie coach Shannon Ellis said. Middle blocker Lizzy Safranski (5-9, Sr., Portland, OR - St. Mary's Academy) is among three returning 2003 all-stars on what is - with nine letter winners and six starters - the most experienced team in the conference. Safranski averaged 2.87 kills and 3.17 digs and also led the team in blocks a year ago with 87. "Lizzy can do anything on the court," Ellis said. "Back row, front row. She can do it all. She is a very versatile player." Joining Safranski in the middle is Janeen Fitzgerald (6-0, Jr., Gresham, OR), who ranked second on the team last year in hitting with a .254 percentage. "This should be a stellar year for Janeen," Ellis added. The Redhawks also have returning all-stars at the setter and libero positions. Erika Brunson (5-9, Sr., Portland, OR - Central Catholic) ranked third in the conference last year in assists, averaging 12.25, to earn second team all-star honors and needs just five more assists to reach the 3,000 career mark. "Erika can put the ball anywhere on the court," Ellis said. "She can also block, which is a huge advantage for a setter, and she runs a fast offense." Also back at the setter position is Marisa Vierra (5-6, So., Oakland, CA - Bishop O'Dowd). Vierra had 104 assists in 26 contests a year ago. Maggie Safranski (5-6, Jr., Portland, OR - St. Mary's Academy) was an honorable mention all-league selection at the libero position last year when she averaged 4.73 digs per contest and will lead the Redhawk defensive effort. "Maggie is possibly the best libero in the region," Ellis said. "She has great reactions; she's quick and she can read the play." Another libero is Melissa Mulick (5-7, So., Gaston, OR - Forest Grove). Mulick, who appeared in 13 games last season, could have an increased role this fall. On the outside, Ellis will rely on Megan Kaysinger (5-11, Sr., Brush Prairie, WA - Central Catholic), who was a 2002 GNAC honorable mention selection, and Sarah Sommerman (6-1, Jr., Kent, WA - Kentridge). Both players are considered power hitters. "They hit the ball hard. I expect them to carry the load offensively," Ellis noted. The two combined for 599 kills last season with Sommerman, who earned GNAC Freshman-of-the-Year honors two years ago, leading the way with 309. Kaysinger had a team-best 29 kills in a win over CWU and finished with 290 kills. Another offensive threat on the outside is Amelie Krahn (6-2, Sr., Brush Prairie, WA - LaSalle). The tallest player on the squad at 6-2, she ranked fourth in kills with 177. Five freshmen - libero Lauren Kagimoto (5-2, Honolulu, HI - Maryknoll), outside hitter Nikole Thompson (5-10, Marysville, WA - Marysville-Pilchuck), middle blocker Josie Christiansen (5-10, Coquille, OR) and Owena Kauhane (6-0, University Place, WA - Curtis) and setter Kana'i Bento (5-9, Honolulu, HI - Kamehameha) - will add depth to the squad. Alaska Fairbanks (13-10, 10-8, 4th-T) Outside hitter Mallory Bergstrom (5-11, Sr., Bend, OR) had one of the most prolific seasons in Alaska Fairbanks school history last year, leading the team in kills (425), kills per game (4.72), digs (360) and digs per game (4.00) and is a bonafide threat to win All-American honors this season. "Mallory is just a tremendous talent," fifth-year UAF head coach Phil Shoemaker (59-33; Overall, 302-335, 21 years) said. "She has all the things you look for in a volleyball player. Her desire to succeed and her never-ending work ethic is tremendous. "Physically, she has all the tools. He jumps very well and has a very quick arm swing. She knows the game of volleyball and has a good awareness of what is going on around the floor." With Bergstrom, honorable mention GNAC middle hitter Carlin Smith (6-1, Sr., Brea, CA - Brea Olinda) and outside hitter Danielle Hitzeman (5-10, So., Vacaville, CA), the 2003 GNAC Freshman-of-the-Year, leading the way, the Nanooks possible could have the strongest team in Shoemaker's five-year tenure at Fairbanks. UAF finished second in both 2001 and 2002 in the GNAC under Shoemaker's leadership before falling to a tie for fourth with UAA last year. "We've got a very good nucleus of players to build this team on and each of them have a lot of playing experience," Shoemaker said. "However, you never know what will happen with your new people and you always hope to stay away from injuries." Bergstrom, who set a GNAC record last season with 27 kills in a three-game match, will be supported by Smith, who had 149 kills and ranked second on the team in blocks with 68. Hitzeman finished second on the team in kills in her frosh season with 316 and also led the team in service aces with 37. She also ranked second in digs, averaging 3.19 per game. Joining Bergstrom and Hitzeman on the outside will be Crystal Wheelock (5-7, Jr., Anchorage, AK - East), Chelsea Ward (6-0, So., Homer, AK) and freshman Jenna Jones (5-8, Fr., Fairbanks, AK). Wheelock handled the libero role last year and averaged 3.06 digs per contest but will move to an outside hitter role this season. Ward is a transfer from the University of New Haven where she played in 78 games, while Jones was a standout at West Valley High School. Replacing Wheelock in the libero role will be either Jessica King (5-9, Hailey, ID - Wood River) or Danielle Ryder (5-8, Juneau, AK - Juneau-Douglas). Both players are freshman. In the middle, Smith will get support from April Blandford (6-0, Jr., Valdez, AK), who played in 41 games for the Nanooks last season, Colorado College transfer Erica Starr (5-11, So., Fairbanks, AK - West Valley) and highly touted freshman Mallory McCormick (6-0, Regina, SK - Collegiate Balfour), who has an extensive background at the Canadian provincial level. Dasa Capova (5-9, So., Prague, Czech Republic) will take over the setter duties after playing a backup role to Jessica Clemons. Capova battled an early season injury a year ago and ended up averaging 5.84 assists in 43 contests. Kayleen Stenehjem (5-11, Jr., Anchorage, AK - Dimond) will provide depth. "We're going to be talented at the setter position with Dasa leading the way," Shoemaker said. "She learned a lot last season and I think she has matured into a solid competitor." Alaska Anchorage (16-10; 10-8, 4th-T) This will be the 25th season for UAA volleyball, but the team that takes the floor for the Seawolves will have very little history behind it. While the Seawolves do return experienced players along the front row in seniors Katina Ozrelic (6-0, Sr., Bend, OR - Mountain View) and Jenny Mitchell (6-0, Sr., Everson, WA - Nooksack Valley), seventh-year coach Kim Lauwers (93-78) must make up for the loss of five starters and their regular libero from last year's team that won 16 matches. "Because of our relative lack of experience, this has been a challenging season to prepare for, but it will also be difficult for opponents to know a lot about us," Lauwers said. Ozrelic, who averaged 2.38 kills and 0.79 blocks, is the lone returning starter from last year's team, but outside hitter Carolyn DeKay (6-1, Jr., Eagle River, AK - Chugiak) returns from UAA's 2002 starting unit after sitting out last season. She averaged 3.47 kills two years ago. Ozrelic was UAA's second-leading percentage hitter last season with a .256 average and ranked third in kills. She also ranked second in blocks. Mitchell, meanwhile, contributed 1.43 kills per contest and should see an increased role this fall. The left-hander will be the Seawolf team captain. DeKay took the 2003 season off to have her first child and returns with her powerful attack from the left side. DeKay, who ranks 15th in school history with 614 kills, led UAA in kills and attack percentage (.236) during her sophomore season. Also returning on the front row will be Jill Weinman (5-11, Sr., Lebanon, OR - Chemeketa), who averaged 1.46 kills in a key reserve role a year ago. Newcomers who will have an impact include outside hitter Michelle Boeckman (5-10, Jr., Canby, OR - Clackamas CC), who has the skills to replace O'Lita McWilliams, who had 407 kills last season, in the starting lineup. Boeckman will push for a spot in the starting lineup as will a pair of redshirt freshmen - outside hitter Jenny Carpenter (5-10, Soldotna, AK) and middle blocker Alina Marshall (5-11, Boise, ID - Eagle). Former Seawolf basketball player Mindy (Mendenhall) Lindquist (6-0, Sr., Springville, UT) will give UAA extremely good depth in the middle. Three players are battling to replace Kasey Kuelper, who finished her career with 2,625 assists, as the starting setter - redshirt sophomore Stephanie Martinez (5-9, Austin, TX - Anderson) and freshmen Bethan Murphy (5-7, Spokane, WA - Mead) and Anne VanOrden (5-7, Anchorage, AK - East). "All three setters bring a unique set of skills to the court," Lauwers said. "It will just be a matter of who responds best to the tough challenges of that crucial position." Along the back row, Diana Gordon (5-7, Jr., Palmer, AK) and redshirt freshman Rachel Knecht (5-5, Anchorage, AK - Service) will vie to wear the libero's distinctive colors. Gordon, who may see time at outside hitter, averaged 1.5 digs in 15 matches last season. Kalie Davis (5-8, Jr., Anchorage, AK - East), the Most Improved Player on last year's team, will see plenty of time as a defensive specialist. Last year she averaged 2.27 digs and had a nearly 2-1 aces-to-service errors ratio. Redshirt freshman Kortney Kuelper (5-4, Anchorage, AK - East) will add valuable depth along the back row. Seattle Pacific (15-10; 8-10, 7th) With four starters back from a squad that went 15-10 and had the biggest improvement in number of wins (six) of any team in the conference from the previous season, SPU coach Kellie Ryan (68-40, 4 years) is hoping her squad can make its third NCAA appearance during her five-year tenure. "This is the first year of eight regional berths and that's our goal, to get back to the tournament," Ryan said. SPU has a total of eight returning letter winners and three of them - outside hitters Chelsey Myers (5-10, Jr., Minden, NV - Douglas) and Jessica Bauder (5-8, Sr., Richland, WA - CBC) and middle hitter Katie Ralph (6-0, Jr., Port Orchard, WA - South Kitsap) - all earned honorable mention all-league honors last season. "It's a really talented, really athletic team," Ryan said Bauder led the team in kills last season with 347 (3.58 per game) and also ranked second in digs with 325 (3.35 per contest. Myers, who had 30 kills against CWU to tie the school's single-match record, averaged 3.22 kills and 3.03 digs. Freshman Alyssa Given (5-10, Salinas, CA - Notre Dame) will be an outstanding addition to SPU's outside hitting attack and could prove to be bombshell once she settles in. Team captain Ralph and letter winner Whitney Dibble (6-1, So., Reno, NV - Galena) will be stationed in the middle, while Kathleen Monda (5-11, Sr., Woodinville, WA) will play on the right side. Ralph led the team in blocks last season with 93 and ranked fourth in the conference, averaging 0.96 per contest. She also contributed 227 kills. Dibble had 104 kills and 45 blocks. Monda had 125 kills and 113 digs a year ago. "Our focus will be on that first contact," Ryan said. "If our first touch is accurate, it allows for us to involve all three hitters and enables us to run the quick offense." Running the offense will be sophomore Jenna Von Moos (5-10, Stanwood, WA), who led the team in assists (8.81 per game), while sharing setting duties as a freshman. Also returning is libero Tiffany Butac (5-2, So., Pearl City, HI), who had 238 digs (2.87) and outside hitter Shelby Gihring (5-10, So., Kent, WA - Kentlake), who had 24 kills in 26 contests. Four freshmen - Given, outside hitter-middle hitter Rachel Biornstad (6-0, Kent, WA - Kentlake), middle hitter Liz Shuyler (6-0, Selah, WA) and outside hitter Angela Wodrich (5-10, Richland, WA) - complete the roster. The Falcons are relatively young with just two seniors. "Even though we are a young team, we're not inexperienced," Ryan said. "Our newcomers got their feet wet (last season) and now they know what to expect." Western Oregon (9-18; 4-14, 8th) Three fourth-year seniors are among five returning letter winners who will lead Western Oregon's volleyball team this fall. "We have an interesting mix of veterans and newcomers," WOU coach Judy Lovre, who has a 481-200 career record in 16 seasons at Monmouth, said. Leading the Wolves will be libero Tiffany Mapston (5-4, Sr., Banks, OR - Valley Catholic), middle blocker Laura Berdahl (5-11, Sr., Nikiski, AK) and outside hitter Kim Tower (5-11, Sr., Stayton, OR - Regis), all beginning their fourth seasons. Also back are a pair of sophomore letter winners - middle blocker Shannon Burmeister (6-0, Roseburg, OR) and setter Nicole Kludt (5-9, Prineville, OR - Crook County). Mapston, a four-year starter, is the lone returning all-star, earning second team all-conference honors last season when she ranked second in the conference in digs, averaging 4.85 per game. Berdahl was the team and conference leader in blocks (1.18 per game) and also paced her team in service aces with 31, while Tower led the team in kills, averaging 3.16 per contest. Burmeister contributed 67 kills and ranked second on the team with 63 blocks, while Kludt saw limited action last season playing in just 18 contests. "All of our returnees are very talented and are ready to carry the load," Lovre said. "But, we will also definitely have spots to fill and we need our new people to be able to step in and contribute right away. We had a great recruiting class, and I think they are perfectly capable of that." Transfers filling the immediate impact category include setter Shawn Paulino (5-6, Jr., Amity, OR) from Gonzaga University and outside hitter Mandy Veley (6-0, So., Yakima, WA - Eisenhower) from Yakima Valley College. Paulino redshirted last season after starting parts of two seasons for the Bulldogs. In her latter season at Gonzaga, she had 152 assists in 50 games. Veley first attended Washington State, but did not play for the Cougars, prior to earning NWAACC all-star honors at Yakima. Freshmen vying for playing time will include libero Claire Carpenter (5-5, Gresham, OR - Centennial), defensive specialist Julie Heard (5-8, Jr., Juneau, AK - Juneau-Douglas), middle blocker Amy Hunt (6-1, Coos Bay, OR - Marshfield), right side hitter Mary Martineau (5-9, Redmond, WA) and outside hitter Stacie Matz (5-10, Tacoma, WA - Wilson). The Wolves, looking to improve on last season's 9-18 record, have positives and question marks. "We are very athletic, have enthusiasm and will play good defense," Lovre said. "But we also have a lot of unknowns with so many new people. We definitely think we can improve from a year ago, but we have to have new people fill key roles." Northwest Nazarene (12-16; 9-9, 6th) With six freshmen joining seven returnees, Northwest Nazarene's theme this fall is "ComingTogether". "Our emphasis. . .(is) on having our six freshmen come in and step-up to make an impact with our seven returnees," stated NNU fourth-year head coach Deb Bradburn (35-46, 3 years). Bradburn feels good about where her young team is at. "What has been very impressive so far has been the way the freshmen have come in and adjusted to our team philosophy and expectations and their own expectation as far as wanting to play a high level of volleyball." The high level of volleyball that Bradburn is after will be led by senior outside hitter Lindsay Miller (5-11, Creswell, OR), who averaged a team-best 3.54 kills last season and also averaged 1.31 digs and 0.53 blocks. "Lindsay will undoubtedly be one of the strongest outside hitters in our conference this season; she is a powerful hitter and just a weapon for us on the outside," Bradburn said. Completing the front row attack with Miller will be fellow seniors Lilly Carreon (5-11, Marsing, ID) and Carrie James (6-0, San Diego, CA). Carreon averaged 2.30 kills and 1.19 digs and had 70 blocks from her middle blocker position last season, while James, who will play on the right side, averaged 1.81 kills and had 67 blocks. "With Lindsay on the outside, Lilly in the middle, and Carrie on the right side, we will put a very strong front row across the net," commented Bradburn. "With Carrie as our right side, she has lots of experience and will be our most dominating blocker at the net, and Lilly is very versatile in the middle and she knows how to use power, but also finesse." While the Crusaders have a strong rookie crew, Bradburn will look to a pair of sophomores to contribute right away. "Complimenting Lilly (Carreon), when she goes back row, will be Chelsea Lewis, and Aubrey (Harrington) will come in to the season as our sophomore setter, so we are looking to be strong with that pair," Bradburn said. Lewis (5-11, Bellevue, WA - Newport) averaged 1.77 kills last season, while Harrington (5-6, So., Eagle Point, OR) had 200 assists in 97 contests. Rounding out the experienced part of the Crusader roster are defensive specialist Chelsey Murray (5-9, So., Brush Prairie, WA) and libero Molly Mull (5-10, Jr., Estacada, OR). Mull had 132 digs in 88 contests last season Joining NNU as freshman are middle blocker Amanda Boschma (5-9, Kuna, ID), libero Kristy Wigren (5-8, Olympia, WA), setter - libero Ame Powell (5-9, Spokane, WA), right-side hitter Amy Carroll (5-11, Billings, MT), setter Loni Loveland (5-10, Middleton, ID) and outside hitter Allison James (5-10, San Diego, CA). Improving on last season's 12-16 (9-9 in GNAC, 6th place) record is the goal. "While we understand that we have a lot of new team chemistry, we know from experience that we can compete with the top teams in the conference. We definitely have the goal of finishing in the top half of the GNAC," Bradburn said. Humboldt State (5-21; 3-15, 9th-T) An influx of newcomers should help provide depth at every position this fall for Humboldt State's volleyball team. HSU third-year head coach Sue Woodstra is optimistic her team can improve last year's 5-21 record based on a good recruiting class and a solid group of newcomers. "We've improved our size and our athletic ability, and we're much deeper in every area," Woodstra said. "We also have solid leadership provided by those returning players who have shown a willingness to step us." Among a group of nine returning letter winners are three starters, including outside hitter Jessica Murray (5-9, Crescent City, CA - Del Norte), who averaged a team-best 3.60 kills, 2.36 digs and 0.47 blocks to earn honorable mention all-league honors last season. "Jess is ready to have a great year, both personally and team-wise," Woodstra said. Murray will be supported on the right side by letter winner Stacy Knisley (5-9, Jr., Yorba Linda, CA - Esperanza) plus two new players - freshman Mallory Briney (6-1, West Linn, OR) and Dana College transfer Courtney Lee (5-9, So.). Kinsley played in 61 games last season and had 31 kills and 30 digs for the Lumberjacks. In the middle, the Jacks will look to Kristen Kinzer (5-8, So., Arcata, CA) to lead the way. Kinzer, who has great athleticism and leaping ability, paced HSU in blocking last season with 59 blocks (0.62 per game) and also had 140 kills. Also back is in the middle is Erin Jackson (6-0, Jr., Lake Forest, CA - Lutheran) and Erin Phillips (5-11, So., Folson, CA). Jackson played in just five games last season because of a stress fracture after contributing 129 kills two years ago. Phillips played in only 19 games, but has developed into a solid performer. Briney and another newcomer, 6-0 Lynsey Adams further strengthen the position. "Kinzer is a very quick player and the others have impressive power," Woodstra said. "All together that group provides a great combination of styles and abilities." Left vacant by the graduation of standouts Rachael Halverson and Julie Shaw, the outside left will be occupied by returning senior Kristina Barnum (5-8, Sr., Vacaville, CA) and a variety of other players. Barnum played in 35 games last season and had 49 kills. "Her experience puts her ahead of the others," Woodstra said. Others expected to contribute on the left side include Knisley, Lee, Adams and Katie Norkunas (5-9, Fr., Milwaukie, OR - St. Mary's Academy). Returnees Maya Domoto (5-3, Jr., Charlotte, NC - West Charlotte) and Jacque Skinner (5-4, Sr., Bakersfield, CA) will handle the libero position left vacant by the graduation of Kandis Benton. Domoto played in just three games last season, while Skinner had 44 digs in 33 contests. On-court direction will come from a pair of setters, including returning letter winner Tonya Fedrick (5-6, Jr., Sonoma, CA - Sonoma Valley), who had 316 assists (4.27 per game) and 109 digs in 74 contests last season, and freshman Ashley Jucksch. "Tonya set several games for us last year and has the edge in direct experience with our hitters," Woodstra said. "Ashley is a little taller and brings more blocking to the lineup. They compliment each other well." Saint Martin's (8-21; 3-15, 9th-T) Saint Martin's won its final two matches last season and hopes to carry over that momentum this fall. "We've come together as a team," Saint coach Clyde Reis (25-80, 4 years) said. "Everyone believes in each other and that they can win." "I'm very optimistic about our chances in the GNAC. With our returning players and new recruits, we have size, quickness and more firepower." The Saints return seven players from last year's squad, include five starters, more than anyone else in the conference except for Seattle. Among the returning starters are outside hitter Andrea Athey (6-1, Sr., Sumner, WA - White River) and middle hitter Emily Wofford (6-0, Sr., Olympia, WA - Capital), who both earned honorable mention all-league honors a year ago. Wofford led the team in kills with 316 (2.87 per contest) and also ranked second in blocks (0.92) and was the team leader in service aces with 38. "Emily is very consistent on both ends of the net and has turned into a seasoned player that knows what it takes to be successful at this level," Reis said. "We need to get her more involved offensively this year; the more quality touches she gets the better our offense will be." Athey ranked second in kills last season with 277 (2.54 per game) and had 223 digs (2.05). "She really came on strong in the second half last season. We will use her on both ends of the net this season and she will be a force to deal with," Reis said. Other returning players for the Saints include libero Jacque Buchanan (5-5, Sr., Olympia, WA - Capital), middle hitter Christy Hurley (6-3, Sr., Lacey, WA - Pierce), middle blocker-outside hitter Lauren Kreiger (5-10, So., Olympia, WA), setter Lisa Hall (5-7, So., Olympia, WA) and right side hitter Randi-Lee Rezents (5-8, Jr., Kaneohe, HI - Saint Andrews Priory). Buchanan had 422 digs (3.84 per game) and will anchor the Saint defense. "She is a true leader by example," Reis said. "She is the hardest worker on the team and our best defender." Hurley ranked third last year in kills with 251 (2.28) and was also the team blocker leader with 104 (0.95). "She is one of those players you can match up against your opponent's best and in most cases come out ahead," Reis said. Kreiger was hampered by a strained ankle for half of last season, but still managed to average 2.51 kills and 3.79 digs. Before getting hurt, she had 26 kills against Hawaii Hilo and earned all-tournament honors in the Colorado Crossroads tournament. "She was one of our team leaders in almost every statistical category before getting hurt," Reis said. Hall averaged a team-best 7.71 assists last year and also had 291 digs (2.67). "She understands our system very well and did a great job of running the offense," Reis said. Rezents played in just 23 games last season because of injuries. Two newcomers will make impacts this fall - outside hitter Kristen Ponce (5-7, Fr., Honolulu, HI - Kamehameha) and New Mexico Highlands transfer Stephanie Beck (5-11, Sr., Shelton, WA). Ponce will bring an explosive style of play. "She is gifted with a quick arm swing and incredible hops and she can flat out bang" Reis said. "Defensively, she is as quick as a cat and is a passing machine. She will make an immediate impact." Beck is an all-around player, who will also contribute right away. She was listed on the roster each of the past two seasons at Highlands, but did not play in any matches.
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