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2005 Season Preview

With Holly Strauss entering her first season as head coach and Tim O’Brien joining the staff as an assistant, the Huskies will begin a new chapter of Connecticut volleyball history in 2005. “It is encouraging to have a new and energized staff in tact as we approach our 2005 season,” said Strauss. “Full of visions, goals and changes, we could not be more thrilled to take over the UConn volleyball program with assured stability, confidence and fight. Our goal as a staff is to provide the best possible experience for our athletes.”

During her stint as interim head coach in 2004, Strauss helped the team to its longest winning streak since 1998 as the team won eight-straight matches through the month of October. This season, she seeks to push her athletes to reach new heights and help them grow on and off the court. “Our philosophy is clear and simple,” said Strauss. “We are here to teach life lessons through volleyball. Our main objective is to compete with confidence and poise and to help each individual of our program become the best student, volleyball player and person possible.”

In the upcoming season the Huskies will have great depth in the middle. The team returns three veterans at the position in senior Megan Crawley (Georgetown, Texas) and juniors Kaity Craig (Terryville, Conn.) and Megan Silver (Snohomish, Wash.) while also adding two-time All-State Minnesota performer freshman Megan Frey (Chaska, Minn.).

Crawley led the squad with a .322 hitting percentage in 2004 and was second in kills per game with 2.95. “Megan’s speed and athleticism combined with her competitive mentality and senior leadership will anchor us in the Middle this year, ” said Strauss. She also currently stands second all-time in program history with a career hitting percentage of .316.

Silver was a key reserve for the Huskies last season, appearing in 23 matches with nine starts and had a breakout match against Holy Cross posting career-highs with 10 kills and an attack percentage of .714. “She has really improved as a powerful attacker and strong blocker, her experience and relentless efforts will be very important to us,” said Strauss.

In 2004, Craig was UConn’s top blocker posting 98 blocks over 79 games and was second behind Crawley with a .319 hitting percentage. “Our ‘Connecticut Kid’ has persevered through injuries and displayed significant improvement over the past two years. Her size and determination will add tremendous depth to the us in the middle this year.”

Frey comes to Connecticut from Chaska High School in Chaska, Minn., where she earned accolades at the conference, state and national level. “We are expecting Frey to come in and challenge the upperclassmen raising the overall level of play. She’s an offensive, natural middle and will be a great addition to our program,” said Strauss.

The Huskies will have a nice mix of youth and experience on the outside in 2005. Senior Heather Ashley (Smithburg, Md.) returns for her final season and sophomores Brittany Stewart (Dolton, Ill.) and Sadé Chambers (Baldwinsville, N.Y.) both return after stellar freshman campaigns. UConn also adds two freshmen at the position as well in Sarah Singer (Waukesha, Wis.) and Lorelle Schaub (New Brighton, Minn.).

Ashley ranked second on the squad last season with 232 kills and has appeared in 202 games in her three-year career, making her the Huskies’ most experienced outside hitter. “Heather’s experience and heavy arm swing will be important for us this year. Look for Heather to make significant contributions during the season.”

In 2004, Chambers cracked the starting lineup as a freshman and was one of just two players to start all 28 matches. “Sadé’s strength, size, and raw athleticism will be a terminating force for us this fall on the left side.” Chambers also posted the third-best hitting percentage on the squad at .283.

Stewart proved to be a key contributor for the Huskies in her first year as she posted 10-plus digs on 22 separate occasions last season. “Brittany is one of our best all-around players. Stew’s versatility and knowledge for the game paired with her competitive mentality creates an offensive and defensive weapon for us on the outside,” said Strauss.

Singer, a two-time All-State Wisconsin selection, comes to UConn from Waukesha, Wis., out of Catholic Memorial High School. “Sarah’s a powerful attacker and a savvy volleyball player. We are expecting her to enter our program adding depth and force to our left-side attack.”

The Huskies’ second addition at outside hitter is New Brighton, Minn., native Lorelle Schaub who was named the states’ top blocker by the Star Tribune and was honored as the conference’s MVP her senior season at Irondale High School. “With Lorelle’s size, and blocking abilities, we are looking forward to her balancing our front line out on the right-side. Her vibrant personality and selfless play will be an energizing addition to our program.”

Strauss will look to sophomore Julie Pickard (Hillsborough, N.C.) to serve as the Huskies’ libero/defensive specialist this season. Pickard saw limited action in 2004, appearing in just 41 games, but managed to rank third on the squad in digs per game with 3.07. “This year Julie will play a large role for us as a defensive player. Julie’s natural athleticism and love for the game has the ability to impact every play,” said Strauss.

UConn’s two setters from last year both return for the 2005 season, senior Jenny Neelands (Gainesville, Fla.) and sophomore Nicole Boyd (Arlington, Texas).

In 2004, Neelands appeared in a career-high 102 games and compiled 1,139 assists on the season, which ranks ninth in program history among single-season totals. “After running the team for her first full season last fall, Jenny has developed into an experienced setter and leader. Look for Jenny to command an exciting offense this season.”

Boyd saw limited action in her freshman season, appearing in 14 games, but Strauss has seen growth and promise in the young setter. “Last fall gave Nicole a good idea of where she was and where she wanted to go and she wants to play at the highest level possible. This spring Nicole has been working extremely hard and has gained significant strength.”

The Huskies will open the 2005 season on the road in Clemson, S.C., at the Clemson Tournament on September 2 and 3. UConn will face the host Clemson Tigers in its first match and then will take to the court against Kentucky and Western Carolina on day two.

The following weekend, the Huskies will play host to the UConn Toyota Classic, featuring UConn, New Hampshire, Brown, Seton Hall and Manhattan. Connecticut will play Brown and New Hampshire on Sept. 9, day one of the Classic, then face Manhattan College on the 10th.

Connecticut will break from its tournament schedule on Tuesday, Sept. 13 with a single match against Yale at Gampel Pavilion before traveling to the Rhode Island Tournament on Sept. 16 and 17.

The Rhode Island Tournament features tough competition as the Huskies will face Arizona and Strauss’ alma mater North Carolina, and then close out the tournament with a match against the host Rams.

The Huskies will begin their BIG EAST schedule on the weekend of Sept. 24 and 25 with a road trip to Louisville and Cincinnati, two of the newest additions the conference for 2005.

UConn will then return to Connecticut and travel to Fairfield for a non-conference matchup on Sept. 28 before traveling to Seton Hall on Oct. 2.

October 4-23 features the heart of the Huskies home schedule as the team will play six out of eight matches during that stretch at Gampel Pavilion. UConn will play host to Harvard, DePaul, Notre Dame, Northeastern, Syracuse and Marquette in that span with just a brief break in the home schedule on Oct. 14 and 18 to travel to Albany and St. John’s.

The squad will then round out the regular season with the remainder of its conference schedule, traveling to Georgetown, South Florida, Rutgers and Villanova before closing out at home with matches against Pittsburgh and West Virginia on Nov. 11 and 13.

“We have put together a great challenging schedule for our 2005 season,” said Strauss, “How we get through September will tell us about the character of our team and the fight that we have in us. Wins and losses in September will not be as important as the quality of volleyball we play.”