Volleyball Release - Week 1
This Week in the Big West - August 25-31, 2014
All-Big West Honoree Returns:
Cal Poly welcomes back Taylor Gruenewald, who earned All-Big West Honorable Mention and All-Freshman accolades last season. The Southlake, Texas, native finished the 2013 season ranked sixth in the league with a .302 hitting percentage while ranking 19th in kills with 266. She also led the team with 74 total blocks (0.69 blocks per set).
Diaper Dandies Put Up A Fight:
The highly-touted incoming class includes Caihla Petiprin, a 6-foot-1 middle blocker, and Raeann Greisen, 6-foot-2 outside hitter. The Junior Olympics champion teammates may be diaper dandies but look for both to make a strong showing at their respective position as they battle for starting roles.
The Future Is Bright:
In 2013, the Mustangs produced an eight-win turnaround season with a 12-17 mark and tied for fifth in the Big West Conference after registering a 6-10 record. The coaching staff, which includes head coach Sam Crosson and assistant coaches Caroline Walters and Chris Tamas, is approaching this year as an extension of what was created over the last two seasons at Cal Poly.
CAL STATE FULLERTON
Filling The Void:
CSF’s lineup took a hit in the offseason, losing 2013 All-Big West Conference honorees Bre Moreland and Alyse Hensley and setter Julie Consani. Hensley and Moreland finished among the Big West leaders in kills and kills per set in 2013. Hensley’s final kills per set average was 3.14 and Moreland’s was 3.16, both top 10. A few members of the 2014 incoming class, which received High Honorable Mention honors by PrepVolleyball, will be vying for the spots left by the All-Big West duo. Consani finished 2013 ranked second in the league in assists with an 11.08 average, which earned her the 10th spot in CSF’s single-season record book, while concluding her Titan career with 2,077 career assists to sit sixth in the school’s annals.
It is safe to say that MB Holland Crenshaw has made huge strides between her freshman and sophomore seasons. In her first season donning blue and orange she finished fifth on the team in both kills (119) and points (186) and a year later she moved up to third in both categories with 219 kills and 262.5 points.
Lead By Example:
CSUN welcomes back three-time All-Big West First Team selection Casey Hinger. Last year she became the first CSUN DI player to earn national accolades multiple times in her Matador career following her second-consecutive AVCA All-America Honorable Mention selection. In 2013 the middle blocker paced the Matadors in kills, kills per set, points and blocks.
Two-time All-Big West First Team member Natalie Allen returns to the lineup in 2014. Bouncing back from a season-ending injury in 2012, the senior opposite displayed her dominance on both sides of the ball last year, ranking second on the team in kills (344), digs (334) and points (408). She also notched a team-high 14 double-doubles.
A Look Back:
The Matadors are coming off one of their most memorable seasons that witnessed them capture a share of the Big West title with UC Santa Barbara and Hawai’i, post their highest conference win total since joining the Big West in 2001 at 13-3, and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2004. CSUN’s 24 regular season wins was the third-most wins in the school’s DI era and the highest win total since the 1992 squad posted a 27-8 mark.
LONG BEACH STATE
Last season LBSU paced the Big West with a 2.70 blocks per set average thanks in part to 6-foot-2 middle blocker Chisom Okpala, who registered a 1.15 mark to rank third in the league. Along with her defensive prowess, she was a force to be reckoned with on offense, boasting the league’s second-best hitting percentage of .351. Her talent on the court helped her garner a second-consecutive American Volleyball Coaches Association’s All-Region accolade.
LBSU Opens With A Bang:
The 49ers are put to the test right out of the gate this year as they head to the midwest for the season-opening Illini Classic to face host Illinois and North Carolina, who both finished 2013 ranked in the Top 25, and Southern Illinois. The two-day event may be a litmus test on how the 49ers may fair when they enter the always-competitive Big West Conference portion of its schedule.
LBSU fans will see a multitude of familiar faces this year. Joining Okpala on the 49ers’ lineup are outside hitter Alex Reid, who finished second on the team last season with a 2.90 kill average, and opposite Bre Mackie, who notched 2.19 kills per match. Mackie also ranked second on LBSU’s squad last year with a .273 hitting percentage.
New Face At The Helm:
UC Davis women’s volleyball welcomes Dan Conners, most recently the top assistant at the University of Illinois, as the new head coach for the Aggies. His appointment marks a return to the Golden State, who spent three years as an assistant coach with the Cal State Northridge men’s volleyball team from 2003-06. Conners has also served on the staffs at three elite women’s programs during the past eight seasons: Illinois, Nebraska and UCLA. He replaces Jamie Holmes, the 2009 Big West Conference Co-Coach of the Year who guided UC Davis to 100 wins during a six-year tenure. Holmes resigned from her position during the offseason.
‘Lee’ding The Pack:
Senior middle blocker Victoria Lee is expected to headline a veteran Aggies roster in 2014. Last year the All-Big West First Team member tallied an explosive .403 attack percentage to finish first in the Big West Conference and 22nd in the nation. Her impressive number was the Big West’s highest single-season hitting percentage since UC Irvine’s Sami Cash blasted a .442 clip in 2004.
Anteaters Take Hit To Roster:
In 2014 the Anteaters will play without 2013 All-Big West Honorable Mention member outside hitter Aly Squires and middle blocker Shannon Fleming, who combined for 691 points, 35% of the team total, in 2013. Along with the impressive point total, Fleming registered a conference-best .39 service ace average and ranked sixth in the Big West with 113 blocks, while Squires tallied 337 kills to also land the sixth spot in her respective category.
Ace In The Hole:
Lead by Shannon Fleming, UC Irvine posted a league-leading 1.49 service ace average in 2013. Unfortunately the Anteaters lost Fleming due to graduation, but two freshmen stood out and are primed to help the Anteaters pace the Big West once again. A year ago Cassidy Pickrell ranked fourth with a .32 mark and Shelley Anderson grabbed the 10th spot with a .24 average.
On The Rise:
UC Irvine has shown improvement over the past two seasons as its 14 wins last year was three better than 2012 and a four-game improvement from the 2011 season. The Anteaters, who were just one win away from a .500 winning percentage in 2013, are in good position to continue their growth as they welcome back 13 players.
Headlining the 2014 UC Riverside women’s volleyball roster that returns 10 letterwinners is junior Ashley Cox, who paced the Highlanders last season with 227 kills and a 3.07 kills per set average. The middle blocker recorded a team high 248.5 points in 2013 but was also clutch on defense, finishing second on the team with 134 digs.
Another Scoop Please:
Maddie Hubbell returns to the lineup after a stellar freshman campaign where she registered a 3.93 dig average to rank fourth in the Big West Conference. En route to a 369 dig total in 2013, which placed her seventh in the league, Hubbell recorded double-digit digs in 21 contests, which included four 20-plus dig match. She also tied for third on the team with 11 service aces.
Taller Than Average:
One of the seven newcomers set to make waves in the Highlanders’ 2014 roster is Helena Peric, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from Smederevo, Serbia. The coaching staff feels the junior college transfer brings maturity to the youthful roster and some much needed height. UCR’s lineup has been on the shorter side over the past few years with the 2013 lineup averaging 5-foot-8.
UC SANTA BARBARA
First Time Is The Charm:
In 2013, under the helm of first year head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch, UCSB posted a 13-3 Big West record to tie for first place with Hawai’i and CSUN, giving the Gauchos a share of their first Big West title since 2005. The Gauchos earned the conference’s AQ to the NCAA Tournament after winning a head-to-head tiebreaker, marking the first time the Gauchos advanced to the postseason since 2009. Returning a majority of their young, but talented roster, the Gauchos will be tough to beat as they attempt to defend their title.
During their freshman season in 2013, Phoebe Grunt and Allie Sullberg paced UCSB in blocks and finished in the conference’s top 10. Grunt, an All-Big West Honorable Mention member, registered a league-best 1.28 blocks per set average while Sullberg, All-Big West Freshman Team selection, placed fifth with a 1.14 mark. The duo combined for 252 total blocks last season.
UC Santa Barbara welcomes back to the lineup 2013 Big West Freshman of the Year Ali Spindt, who posted a 2.81 kills per set average while hitting .237. She also ranked second on the team with a 2.93 dig average and a 3.2 points per set average.
Along with being tabbed the preseason favorite by the Big West coaches poll, the Rainbow Wahine, led by the NCAA Division I wins leader Head Coach Dave Shoji (1,128), are ranked 17th in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) preseason Top 25 poll. Hawai’i is the lone Big West team represented in the top 25, while a trio of teams were listed in the ‘others’ receiving votes category. In 2013, Hawai’i led the league in four statistical categories - hitting percentage (.278), kills (14.44), assists (13.44) and opponent hitting percentage (.171).
Roster Depleted in Offseason:
Hawai’i may be entering 2014 as the preseason favorite, according to the Big West coaches poll, but this year may pose more of a challenge than previous years. In order to keep their 19-consecutive conference titles intact, UH needs to fill the void of four All-Big West members lost in the offseason, including two-time Big West Player of the Year and All-American Emily Hartong. The outside hitter tallied a conference-best 507 kills, while averaging the nation’s seventh-best kills per set average of 4.69. The setter position is also open for Hawai’i following the graduation of Mita Uiato, who paced the league with an 11.11 assist average a year ago.