Aug. 17, 2007
Finishing no lower than third in the first two seasons as a conference member certainly raises expectations for any team, it also puts a target on your chest. That is the position the 2007 Golden Hurricane volleyball team is in, after finishing third in its first season in Conference USA and winning the regular-season crown last year.
The University of Tulsa squad has yet to lose a home C-USA match. Only Louisville and USF have won more consecutive home league matches, than TU currently.
"We expect a certain level of excellence," said TU head coach Ed Allen. "We expect our players to be able to compete at a high level and be able to maintain their focus not only through an entire match, but the entire season as well."
Playing well consistently in 2006 helped the Golden Hurricane set a school record with 13 conference victories. A record made more prominent, considering Tulsa won only 15 league matches in its first 10 years as a conference member from 1992-2001.
"Our team is improving athletically on a daily basis," said Allen. "We are more athletic at certain positions this year as compared to last year. However, we will be a young team this season that will make mistakes early as the newer players adjust to new system and faster game."
A constant theme through out this season will be patience. Six freshmen join a team that returns only two starters and a libero. Granted one returnee is a two-time AVCA All-American Honorable Mention selection, a second returnee is second-team All-C-USA honoree and a third returnee posted the second most digs in school history.
"Teaching this team how to maintain focus and how to deal with adversity will be huge in our development as a squad this season," said Allen. "Becoming impatient will be extremely detrimental. That being said, we are not going to sacrifice the excellence we expect from our student-athletes either."
Senior Julia Silva returns for her third tour of duty with the Golden Hurricane. The Brazilian already owns the school record for assists in a single season as well as the second-best single-season performance. She is also the two-time AVCA All-American Honorable Mention selection spoken of earlier.
A coach on the court, Silva became the first TU setter to record over 1,300 assists in consecutive seasons by breaking her own school record for assists in a single season. Playing in all 120 games last year for the Golden Hurricane, Silva recorded 1,414 assists while posting at least 27 assists in every contest.
In addition to three triple-doubles on the year, Silva finished with 19 double-doubles including eight straight to end the season. She posted a season-high 71 assists against Texas-Arlington while also setting a career-best with 24 digs against the Mavs as well.
"One of the finest setters in the country, Julia has done a tremendous job of leadership for a young but talented team," said Allen. "An excellent decision maker, she is also a heady player that understands the game."
Freshman Jessie Ayers comes to TU after enjoying a successful prep campaign at Plano East High School. A four-year letterwinner, she finished as the all-time leader for career assists for the Panthers. Ayers also holds school records for most starts and most matches along with most assists in a single match. As a four-time all-district honoree, she was also a two-time team MVP for the Panthers.
"Jessie is a very positive player," Allen said. "She will provide great leadership in the future after learning a lot this season, benefiting from a gifted setter such as Julia."
A pair of freshman and one returnee will via for playing time on the outside. Senior Fabiola Nepomuceno, who moved to the middle last season, will share time on all three spots of the front line this season. A versatile athlete, Nepomuceno led the Hurricane in blocks last season with 102 while earning second-team All-C-USA honors. Playing in 118 games, including 34 matches with 32 starts, Nepomuceno finished third on the squad with 296 kills. She reached double-digits in kills 13 times, with a season-best of 15 kills against SMU on Sept. 12, 2006.
"One of the most versatile athletes on the roster, Fabiola can play any of the three front row positions," said Allen. "We will try to maximize her abilities on the left side mostly, while she will likely carry a major load of our offense."
Freshmen Nicole Boyle and Emma Ridley will also help the Hurricane attack from the outside in 2007.
Boyle was four-year letterwinner at Chapel Hill High School, who earned all-state, all-conference and team MVP honors as a senior. She helped lead her high school team to a 24-3 record and state tournament quarterfinal appearance, despite missing two weeks with an injury. She also helped lead her squad to four consecutive state tournament appearances, including a state title in 2003.
"Nicole is a player who is developed in all skills," said Allen. "She can play either side of the court, but will likely play on the right this season. She will carry some of the load offensively, while also carrying a significant load of the ball control."
A three-year letterwinner at Sunnyslope High School, Ridley finished as the all-time kills leader for the Vikings. She helped lead her high school squad to three consecutive state tournament appearances, including a state championship as a senior. SHS posted a perfect 41-0 record in 2006, the most victories by a high school team in Arizona. She also earned first-team all-state and all-region honors as a senior, while being named the Region MVP and City of Phoenix's Player of the Year.
"Emma has a very dynamic style that has potential to hit a very heavy ball," said Allen. "She will be asked to contribute immediately which will help her grow up quickly in the collegiate game."
While Nepomuceno will share time in the middle and the outside, TU will also return junior Renee Brooks. Brooks missed much of the 2006 season with an injury. She played in 30 games, including 11 matches with eight starts, while hitting at a .333 clip with 43 kills on the year. Brooks opened the season with an eight-kill performance against North Florida. She also posted at least one kill in all but one match last season as Tulsa went 10-1, with eight sweeps, when Brooks played at least one rotation.
"Renee will be asked to anchor the middle hitters and provide experience to a very young core of middles," said Allen. "She has proven that she can excel at this level, so we will be asking a lot of her to be a solid contributor to the team."
Another pair of freshmen will compete for playing time in the middle this season as well, in Hannah Stout and Shaylin Werner.
Stout was a two-year letterwinner at Normal Community High School, where she helped lead the Lady Iron to over 30 victories twice. She finished her career with the highest kill percentage in school history, while she also earned all-conference honors as senior.
"Hanna has the potential to be one of the best middles at TU," said Allen. "An extremely coachable athlete, who forms a sizable block. She has shown a very hard work ethic this fall. Not only do we expect her to challenge for the starting middle position, but could also carry a significant load of the squad's attack."
A three-year letterwinner at El Dorado High School, Werner helped her high school team win three straight conference crowns with undefeated seasons. She earned first-team all-conference honors for the Golden Hawks as a senior and earned honorable mention accolades in 2005 after being named to the all-league team in 2004. She helped EDHS reach the CIF semi-finals for two straight seasons. Playing with the Impact Volleyball Club, she competed a total of three years at the Junior Olympic Championships. The Impact won the Southern California Volleyball Association Jr. Olympic Qualifier Tournament in both 2006 and 2007.
"Shaylin possess a strong competitive spirit and personality," Allen said. "She has the potential for hitting a very heavy ball. Once she has had a chance to work on the fundamentals of our system, we expect her to make some very positive contributions to the squad."
One of the deepest positions for the Golden Hurricane is libero, as juniors Kelsey Wood and Malorey Grove return this season. Freshman Michelle Solomon will also compete for playing time on the back line.
Wood played in all 120 games, recording a team-leading 469 digs, second most in school history for a single season. She posted double-digits in digs in 22 matches, including a career-best 37 digs against Texas-Arlington and 35 against Rice. She finished the season ranked eighth in C-USA for digs per game with a 3.91 average.
"Kelsey is one of the best passers on the roster," said Allen. "She will be asked to carry a significant load in our ball control this season because she will add a great deal of experience to our back court. Both Kelsey and Malorey will challenge for the starting libero position."
Also playing in all 120 games in 2006, Grove recorded 267 digs on the season, including five double-digit performances. She posted a season-best 21-dig performance against Texas-Arlington, as well as recorded six service aces in the first game against Rice. She ranked seventh in C-USA for total aces (52) and eighth in aces per game (0.43).
"An extremely aggressive defender, Malorey is one of the best defensive specialist I have had a chance to work with," said Allen. "Not only can she be a primary ball control person, she is very consistent at the service line. Malorey has one of the toughest floater serves on the team."
An All-State selection, Solomon won numerous awards at Victory Christian High School. As a senior for the Crusaders, she earned all-tournament accolades at three tournaments including the State Championships, in addition to being named the squad's Offensive Player of the Year.
"Michelle is a very hard worker," said Allen. "We expect her to make a solid contribution to the program in the near future."
The Golden Hurricane will play nine squads that won over 20 matches last season, including five teams that qualified for a NCAA Regional in 2006. Tulsa opens with arguably the toughest pair of matches it has ever played to start the season. Sacramento State finished 2006 with a 30-6 record, while Missouri State finished 27-9 after losing its second-round match up in the NCAA tournament.
"Our non-conference schedule is going to be a really good test for this squad," said Allen. "Facing two NCAA tournament teams to start the year off, combined with our youthful exuberance, we will learn a lot and quickly. I am excited for the potential this team has as the year goes on."