2002 WWU Volleyball Preview
Aug. 13, 2002
BELLINGHAM, Wash. - The last two seasons have been ones of rapid progress for the Western Washington University volleyball team.
The Vikings were 24-5 last year, winning their first league championship by rolling through the Great Northwest Athletic Conference 18-0, reaching the Pacific Regional semifinals of the NCAA Division II National Championship and setting a school record with a 20-match winning streak. In two seasons under coach Diane Flick, Western, which had its only losing season of the last 17 years immediately prior to her arrival, is 48-14.
But why stop there?
"With every new year you build off the year before," Flick said. "We've established a level of expectation and a starting point for things to come. We've taken a big step conference-wise, a little nibble regionally, and there's still many more plateaus yet to reach for."
Although just five letter winners return, all were regulars, including senior outside hitter Shannon Rowland (Bellingham/Meridian), who was a first-team American Volleyball Coaches Association all-Pacific Region pick and the GNAC Player of the Year; and junior setter Liz Bishop (Seattle/Mount Rainier), a first-team all-GNAC pick and a second-team Verizon District VIII Academic all-star.
"We have less numbers, but we have a deeper team, because we have people that play multiple spots," said Flick. "Everybody understands what's required and what they need to do.
"We have all the tools and opportunities to have a great season. It's up to us to take advantage of that."
Rowland led Western and was second in the GNAC in kills (414, 3.98 avg.), and was the conference leader in service aces (0.89), setting school records for aces in a season (93) and match (12). She ranks ninth in school history in career kills (822), just 406 from the school record, and figures to become the seventh Western player to reach 1,000 kills. Her 117 career aces rank 10th in school history.
"She's someone who has to be a focus for the other team," Flick said. "She hits a very heavy, fast ball - whether it's in or out, you have to get out of the way. Not only does she have power at the net and on her serve, but she's also a great passer and defensive player. Shannon's improved her consistency and she's still getting more shots in her bag of tricks. She's not even close to reaching her peak yet."
Rowland is joined at outside hitter by two players who redshirted last season because of injuries. Senior Niki Smith (Beaverton, OR/Aloha), a starter two years ago, missed last year because of a back ailment. In 2000, Smith averaged 2.61 kills a game and was second on the team in both aces (39, 0.62) and digs (369, 3.18). Sophomore Brianna Murray (Everett/Cascade) sat out last season with a shoulder injury after transferring from Bellevue CC, where she was a first-team all-NWAACC North Division pick.
"Brianna is a very good passer and very smart," said Flick. "She plays a lot of doubles and has a good feel for the game. Niki is a real good blocker and solid passer. Her physical ability is there, now it's just the mental part of coming back."
Bishop, who started all 110 games Western played last season, led the GNAC in assists (1,390), averaging a school-record 12.64 per game. She already ranks fifth in Western history in career assists with 1,761 and is just 479 from third place.
"Liz is the consummate workhorse who is always trying to get better," said Flick. "She has the complete package. She has leadership - the team really respects her. Tactically, she has a great feel for the game and how to play against what the other team is doing. Physically, she has great hands and is continually adding to her repertoire."
Joining Bishop at setter is freshman Kristen Urdahl (Spokane/Ferris). Urdahl helped Ferris finish second in the Class 4A State Tournament, and played in the Washington State all-star series.
Returning at right-side hitter is sophomore Rachelle Cooper (Port Orchard/South Kitsap), who stepped into the starting lineup as a freshman and was second on the team in kills (307, 2.90) and third in blocks (0.48). Cooper, who can also play in the middle, is recovering from an off-season ankle injury and will be backed up by freshman Krystal Knight (Sumner), a first-team all-South Puget Sound League North Division all-star last year.
"Rachelle put up good numbers for a freshman," said Flick. "She's a good blocker and her defense has improved quite a bit."
At middle blocker, the Vikings have two sophomores with very different styles. Meghan Evoy (Olympia/Capital) was an honorable mention all-GNAC pick last year, leading Western in blocks (88, 0.82) and attack percentage (.303) while contributing 307 kills (2.87). She will be joined by Kristy Carstensen (Puyallup), who redshirted last year after transferring from Western Oregon.
"Meghan has great court vision, she sees beyond the blocks and hits in the holes," said Flick. "She doesn't bring fast, furious heat, but beats you with guile and smarts. Nothing rattles her. Kristy provides good heat. She hits a really heavy ball and is a solid blocker."
Junior Nicola Parker (Auburn) was a regular in the back row last season, leading the Vikings and being sixth in the GNAC in average digs (313, 3.04). With the new libero rule coming into effect this season, she could be on the court almost all the time. On the flip side, liberos are not allowed to serve or hit overhead attacks, which would take two elements away from Parker's game. She had 25 aces last year, and had 15 kills in 93 attacks, mostly on back row outlets.
"She has the smarts for the game, she's really honed in on the position," said Flick. "Having her energy and personality on the court helps us. We have to study it and find out whether we're better having her in for six rotations with limited skills, or for three with the full complement."
Western has typically used two defensive specialists in its rotation, meaning freshman Megan Tevis (Puyallup/Emerald Ridge) also figures to see regular action. Tevis, who had 77 assists in a match as a high school setter, was a state all-star series participant.
The Vikings enter the season riding a 22-match home winning streak at Sam Carver Gymnasium that dates back to late in the 1999 season. They'll get to test that streak quickly, as after opening the season on Aug. 30-31 at the Cal State San Bernardino Invitational, Western hosts its own Viking Invitational on Sept. 6-7, facing UC Davis the opening night, and Cal State Stanislaus and 2000 NCAA II National Champion Brigham Young-Hawaii the following day. It's the first time Western has hosted a regular-season tournament since 1979.
"It's nice to be on our home court and to be playing quality competition; it's a great way to prepare for our conference," said Flick. "One of our goals is for the community to see us. What better way to do that than to bring in good teams."
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