Aug. 20, 2009
STORRS, Conn. -
The University of Connecticut volleyball continued its season preparations in Harry A. Gampel Pavilion on Thursday under the watchful eyes of the Huskies' coaching staff. UConn volleyball's season gets started next weekend when the team travels to Reno, Nev., participating in the Nevada Marriott Courtyard/Fairfield Inn from August 28 to 29.
Connecticut volleyball looks to reach new heights in the 2009 season, welcoming five newcomers to a squad that returns five starters and seven letterwinners. A season ago, the Huskies saw themselves register a 10-4 record in conference play en route to the No. 4 seed in their third-consecutive BIG EAST Tournament berth. In 2008, with a 21-11 overall mark, UConn finished the season with the most victories under head coach Holly Strauss-O'Brien and the most the program has earned since the 2001 season.
A core of players return to the floor this season with the intensity and drive to exceed expectations and continue the program's rise to the top of the BIG EAST, looking to fill the shoes of graduates Megan Frey and Kate Seabaugh. Frey started each match of the 2008 campaign and set new career single-season highs in her final year, while Seabaugh maintained a consistent presence on the floor playing in 32 matches. Seabaugh completed her business degree in three short years and elected to continue her graduate education at Cornell University.
Seniors Jessica Isaac and Chauntay Mickens are among the returning starters from a season ago as they look to continue to help the team on both sides of the ball. Together, with classmate Devon Farrell, the trio will lead the Huskies toward their objective of earning their fourth-consecutive BIG EAST Tournament berth.
The Connecticut volleyball newcomers will all play a part in helping the team reach its goals with sophomore transfer Samantha Arriaran
stepping up as the team's setter. Freshmen Keeley Abram
, Cayla Broadwater
, Kelsey Maving
and Mattison Quayle
will compete for time on the court adding to the depth of the Huskies' bench.
Behind the consistent striking of Rebecca Murray, the team's middle hitters will continue to contribute significantly to the offensive effort. Murray, acknowledged as the team's co-Offensive Player of the Year, followed her solid freshman season with a stellar sophomore campaign. Strauss-O'Brien looks for Murray to have a breakout junior season after leading the team with 113 total blocks, including 20 solos last year. Murray was second on the team with a .306 hitting-percentage and tallied 259 kills in 32 matches played.
"She continues to set an example on the court everyday," Strauss-O'Brien said. "She is a work horse and never tires out, she continues to push herself and those around her."
Her dedication to establishing more shots and increasing her strength and speed on the court will give Murray the tools to become a significant offensive threat for the Huskies this season. Allison Nickel will compete for playing time in the middle position as a sophomore this season.
"Allie is one of the hardest working players on the court," Strauss-O'Brien said. "Improving on her transition game this spring, combined with her selfless play and constant energy, we look for Allie to contribute to the middle position this season."
Recognized for her steady, improvement, work ethic and competitiveness, Nickel was presented with the team's Most Improved Player Award. The award further instills Nickel's position as a legitimate option off the bench in 2009. Also an option at the middle hitter position is Broadwater who the UConn coaching staff describes as an explosive athlete. A two-sport athlete in high school, the Williamsport, Md. native was named to the all-conference and all-county volleyball first teams for three straight years. Broadwater led Williamsport to three-consecutive conference titles and helped the squad capture the Maryland State Volleyball Championship title when she was a freshman. She graduates as the school record holder in season blocks after having led the team in that category in her final three seasons.
"Cayla understands what it takes to win mentally and physically," Strauss-O'Brien said. "Her natural blocking abilities and relentless work ethic will add great depth for us this year."
Outside/Right Side Hitters
Mickens, an All-BIG EAST Second Team selection in 2008, led the team with 347 kills and was the only one on last season's roster to average over three kills per game (3.07 kills/game). She added the team's Offensive Player of the Year Award to her accolades as a co-recipient with Murray at the team's banquet and will need to continue her impressive play in order to lead a youthful group of hitters this year.
"She has the ability to be a major terminator for us this season and we need her to be efficient consistently and aggressively," Strauss-O'Brien said of Mickens.
Farrell, who competed in 27 matches a year ago, has positioned herself as a legitimate third option as an outside hitter for the 2009 campaign.
"Devon brings an immediate spark and undeniable energy every time she steps onto the floor," Strauss-O'Brien said. "We look for her to become more consistent and more physical as an attacker in order to compete for a starting position."
To be among the starting six is not out of the realm of possibility for Farrell as her senior leadership will be immeasurably important during the year. Among the youthful group of hitters is Jordan Kirk. As a freshman, Kirk immediately earned a starting spot and fought to keep it throughout the year. She finished the season with 274 kills in addition to 82 digs and 40 blocks from the outside. After an impressive rookie season, Strauss-O'Brien sees the potential of Kirk to continue to excel on the court and put up big numbers for the Huskies.
"Jordan has made some significant gains throughout the past year and has developed into a crafty, consistent attacker," Strauss-O'Brien said. "We need her to consistently play at a high and aggressive level for her to excel as an outside hitter in the BIG EAST."
Joining Kirk among the team leaders in kills last year was right side hitter Lauren Lamberti who registered 250 kills in 32 matches, helping her earn a spot on the BIG EAST Honor Roll twice last year. "Berti has proven that she has the ability to be an efficient terminating attacker for us," Strauss-O'Brien said. "There is no doubt that she is at her best when she is continually giving energy to the entire team and letting her heart and competitive drive take control."
After guiding Marymount to a pair of Division IV California State Championship titles, Quayle will bring a winning mentality to Storrs as a viable option as an outside hitter in her freshman season. "Matti is a complete player with her versatile offense as well as her passing and defensive abilities," Strauss-O'Brien said. "She will automatically increase the level of play in the gym and that will allow her to contend for a position on the floor."
The Huskies' roster will boast a pair of options at setter with each entering their first season with the team. Arriaran, a sophomore transfer from the University of Oklahoma, is expected to hit the ground running as the 2009 starter. She totaled 160 assists in 23 matches with the Sooners, having her best match for the Big 12 team against Kansas with 62 assists.
"Sam delivers a smooth, fast ball and encompasses a fiery, tough court demeanor," Strauss-O'Brien said. "She is a winner with innate defensive skills and the ability to make quick decisions. Sam's play will make for an exciting offense this season." Potentially spending time at setter is Abram.
The 5-8 setter and defensive specialist was a three-year letterwinner at Marymount alongside Quayle. She, too, helped the team to a trio of Sunshine League Championship titles. In volleyball, Abram was an All-Sunshine League First-Team selection following her senior season.
"Her knowledge of the game combined with her competitive poise gives Keeley options to play several positions while competing for the setting position," Strauss-O'Brien said.
Isaac is expected to resume her role as the Huskies' libero and continue to etch her name in the season and career record books. She surpassed the 1,000-dig mark as a sophomore, thus far totaling 1,538 in her three seasons with the team. Isaac was given the team's Defensive Player of the Year Award for an unprecedented third time after leading the team with 469 digs in 2008.
"Jess has established herself as a true leader and a difference maker," Strauss-O'Brien said. "She has been an integral part of helping the team get to the top of the BIG EAST Conference. The exciting part about Jess is that her best volleyball is still ahead of her."
A proven leader on and off the court, her consistent passing and scrappy defensive skills helped hold opponents to a BIG EAST best .168 hitting percentage. Issac's drive extends beyond the gym as she is a three-time All-BIG EAST Academic selection, one of just six players in program history to have earned the honor three or more times in their career.
Isaac's invaluable leadership will be necessary to guide the defense with Hanah Corell striving for more time on the court, while Maving throws herself into the mix of options for the upcoming season. Corell made six match appearances as a rookie and will use her playing experience during the spring to garner more time on the floor this fall.
"Hanah brings great intensity and energy to the floor," Strauss-O'Brien said. "She fits the competitiveness of the program very well and will make a big impact because of her drive as well as her willingness to learn."
That willingness to learn and drive earned Corell some recognition from the Connecticut coaching staff and her teammates at the squad's annual banquet. Given to the player who most exemplifies the team's mission, Corell received the 2008 Foster Family Unsung Hero Award.
An impressive six-time letterwinner at Sweet Home, Maving has a wealth of experience in her first season with the Huskies. She led her high school squad to a pair of Section IV New York State Public School Championships and was twice named to the All-Western New York First Team. Elected as the team's Most Valuable Player in 2005 and 2007, it is likely Maving will spend a significant time on the court and could challenge Isaac for starting time at libero.
"Kelsey is full of guts, athleticism and heart," Strauss-O'Brien said. "Her tenacious defense and her steady passing are going to be an integral part of our success this year."
Expectations are high for the 2009 season as the experience and talent of veterans and newcomers will blend into a highly competitive Connecticut volleyball team. The drive and determination of the student-athletes will be tested early on. Designed with the mindset of an NCAA Tournament appearance, the schedule features six teams that were a part of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.
The Huskies open the year against some stiff competition on the West Coast at the Nevada Marriott Courtyard/Fairfield Invitational in Reno, Nev. where they will immediately face a pair of 2008 NCAA Tournament teams. St. Mary's (Calif.) and California are among the four teams UConn is scheduled to play. On the final day of the four-day stint in Reno, Nev., the Huskies face 2008 national semifinalists California, a team that lost a single set before falling in three to eventual NCAA Champion Penn State. Tournament play resumes in Storrs when the team hosts the UConn Toyota Classic at Harry A. Gampel Pavilion to open the year at home. The first team the Huskies will face is another squad with NCAA Tournament experience in Long Island while also planning to take on New Hampshire and Texas Christian.
The schedule picks up just four days later with UConn's first single match of the season at Harvard before hitting the road to compete at the Dayton Flyer Classic. In addition to taking on the host institution Flyers, who were a NCAA Tournament team in 2008, the Huskies will face Creighton and Samford. UConn returns home for a 7 p.m. match against Northeastern, before participating in Boston College's tournament. The Huskies open the tournament against the Eagles before taking on the University of Rhode Island and intrastate rival Hartford.
The BIG EAST regular season conference slate begins where last season so bitterly ended, against Notre Dame. The Huskies host the Fighting Irish in the opening weekend of conference play as well as DePaul. UConn will also host matches against Marquette, Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh this season, traveling to face South Florida, Georgetown, Villanova and St. John's. Midway through the conference slate, the Huskies travel to intrastate competitor Fairfield on Oct. 14, marking their final non-conference match of the regular season. The month of November is one full of travel for the Huskies as they will take on Rutgers, Seton Hall, Cincinnati and defending BIG EAST Champions Louisville on the road. This season, the Cardinals will host the BIG EAST Tournament in Louisville, Ky. Nov. 20-22.