Aug. 25, 2009
With a wealth of new faces on the 2009 University of Houston volleyball team this season, head coach Bill Walton will have many unanswered questions when the team begins play Aug. 28.
Who is going to guide the team on the floor after losing three key seniors a year ago?
Departing from last season's squad was the school record holder in kills and three-time All-Conference USA First-Team selection Justine Farmer. Fellow seniors Kelsey King and Barbara Freitas also open up two more positions for the eight newcomers that will step on the UH volleyball court for the first time.
With the loss of that trio, the question of who is going to the carry the leadership role on the team remains unanswered. That is a change from previous squads that were defined by at least one returning senior to guide the efforts.
"We aren't exactly sure where our leadership is going to come from this season," Walton said. "We are probably going to need a group effort in terms of leadership so there is a working together to come to common goals."
The task at hand at the outside hitter position will be replacing Farmer, a 2008 AVCA All-America Honorable Mention. According to Walton, Farmer accounted for 20 to 30 percent of the team's scoring and finding someone to pick up that slack will be a challenge.
There are many candidates to fill the void left by Farmer, and Walton feels the top choice to step up is junior college transfer Marlucci Toazzi. Coming from Arizona Western College, Toazzi earned multiple junior college All-Region honors and finished her sophomore season averaging 4.14 kills per game. Besides being able to hit the ball hard, she also has a large range of shots, and that looks to improve the team's offensive efficiency.
"We believe that Marlucci can be Justine's replacement on the left outside position," Walton said. "We can't ask her to do what Justine did but, if she can get three or four kills a game, that would be excellent."
In addition to replacing Farmer, Walton must replace Freitas, who he feels will be just as difficult to replace but for different reasons. With her playing in the middle, the experience Freitas possessed and her ability to move when needed was something that gave the team flexibility and expertise.
Four freshmen Chandace Tryon, Stephanie Nwachukwu, Ashley Applequist and Jasmine Terry, also will vie for time on the court. Tryon hails from Corpus Christi and was a three-sport athlete, excelling in basketball and track. Nwachukwu, in addition to her All-District Honorable Mention selection, impressed in the classroom as a member of multiple honor societies.
Applequist and Terry are expected to make the most immediate impact to the team. Applequist earned All-State Honorable Mention honors, while Terry was an All-District selection as a senior.
"Ashley is probably the most skilled of the group from a volleyball standpoint, while Jasmine is the most athletic," Walton said. "In terms of experience Ashley has the most followed by Jasmine, and Ashley can step in and the team would flow more smoothly because she knows what's going on."
UH loses the senior leadership of Erin Rice at the middle blocker position this season. She will take a redshirt season to recover from a back injury, so the bulk of the effort will fall on the shoulders of Lucy Charuk. If she continues the success that she saw last year, Charuk could be a huge asset to the Cougars.
A Conference USA First-Team selection last season, Charuk led the team with 158 blocks, including a UH single-season record 140 block assists. She also finished third in the league standings, averaging 1.30 blocks per game. In addition to her block abilities, the junior also will be able to help in picking up after the loss of Farmer. A season ago she finished fourth in C-USA with a .348 hitting percentage and leads all returning Cougars in kills.
"Lucy will be the focus of their opponents' defense to try and stop," Walton said. "If she can develop and have the stats like Justine did last season and give Tara (Roenicke) a lot of feedback, the team dynamic could escalate and develop quickly."
Despite a shortened freshman season as a result of injury, Ingrida Zauere was a 2008 C-USA All-Freshman Team selection, and she will provide support to Charuk in her second season. Zauere finished her freshman campaign with 229 kills and added 46 blocks.
The job of play caller on a volleyball court is one of the most important and it will be tough to replace King, who held that job for the last three seasons. King finished her career averaging 10.63 assists per set, but injuries hampered her otherwise successful career; those duties will now fall on the shoulders of Tara Roenicke.
Roenicke was a four-year letterwinner at Los Osos High School in California and set school records in kills, attack percentage, aces and assists. She also has traveled worldwide to compete in beach volleyball, most recently winning gold at the Australian Youth Olympic Festival in January.
With her travel experience, Walton feels Roenicke will be one step ahead of most freshmen. In addition, her club team runs an offense similar to the Cougars, something that will also help her fit in quickly.
"Not only does she run our offense but many setters have a hard time playing in the back row (in college) and Tara comes by that naturally," Walton said.
Unfortunately, most freshman setters get a season to learn the system and acclimate to college life but Roenicke will not have that luxury.
Probably the most secure position on the team entering the 2009 season is the libero position. Amanda Carson will be the starter for the third-straight season.
With her three years of starting experience, Walton will rely on her heavily for leadership on the floor. Carson will be the only player on the court that has started the last three seasons and who has been healthy enough to do so.
"The only problem with Amanda is that she is quiet and doesn't have the personality of leadership, which we will have to develop," Walton said.
Last season, Carson finished with a team-high 382 digs, 10th most in UH single-season record books and she added 40 service aces.
Providing back-up at the libero position will be Alik Cardoso de Sa, who enters her senior season after transferring to UH from Barton County Community College prior to the 2008 season. She came to Houston as a setter but, after a successful spring, she will serve as the backup libero in 2009.
"We hope to give more defensive responsibility to Alik this season," Walton said.
Houston will open the season in the friendly confines of the Athletics/Alumni Center for the first time since 2007, hosting the Flo Hyman Invitational on Aug. 28-29. The Cougars will face off against New Orleans and Baylor on the first day of tournament play and wrap-up with matches against Southeastern Louisiana and Indiana.
Following the weekend at home, Houston will then embark on a month long road trip beginning with the University of Arizona Wildcat Classic on Sept. 4-5. The Cougars will play two matches on the opening day of the tournament against Eastern Washington and host Arizona before capping the weekend with a match against Nevada.
A mid-week match-up at Sam Houston State will take place on Sept. 8 before Houston will see action against Loyola Marymount, UC Irvine and Boise State at the Loyola Marymount Crowne Plaza LAX Tournament.
Houston will play their final tournament on Sept. 18-19 in Nacogdoches, Texas at the Stephen F. Austin Ladyjack Invitational. The Cougars will face off against Alcorn State, Stephen F. Austin on day one and close out the road trip against Miami (Ohio). Prior to the tournament, Houston will play a mid-week contest at Texas State on Sept. 15.
UH opens league play on Sept. 25 at UAB before traveling to Memphis on Sept. 26. Houston finally returns to their home court for a five-game home stand beginning on Oct. 2 against Tulane. The schedule continues against UTEP (Oct. 3), Rice (Oct. 7), SMU (Oct. 9) and Tulsa (Oct. 10).
The league schedule continues on Oct. 16 and Oct. 18 with the Cougars on the road against Southern Miss and UCF and Oct. 23-24 at Tulsa and SMU.
The Cougars will then close out their home slate against Marshall and ECU on Oct. 30-31 before concluding the regular season at UTEP (Nov. 6), Tulane (Nov. 8) and Rice (Nov. 12).
The Conference USA Tournament is scheduled for Nov. 20-22 on Autry Court on the campus of Rice University.
With the 2009 schedule including only 11 home matches, Houston will have to learn how to excel on the road. The home stand matches last season's total, after Hurricane Ike forced the cancellation of four matches in 2008.