2011 Division I Women’s Season Preview

Presented by Asics

Rachael Adams

The only smoke Russ Rose blows is from his favorite cigars. The longtime mentor of the Penn State women’s volleyball program isn’t one to heap undeserved praise – or even sometimes deserved praise – on his players, especially for doing something they’re expected to do. The spectacular plays earn the same marks in his mysterious binder as the mundane, and sometimes the world through Rose’s glasses is a little bit different than the one the rest of us are living in. Case in point? He refers to the 2010 season as “not that great of a season.” Yes, the same season that saw the Nittany Lions earn their unprecedented eighth straight Big Ten and fourth consecutive NCAA title.

But whatever last season was or wasn’t for Rose and the Nittany Lions, 2011 brings new challenges and obstacles along with increased conference pressure with the addition of powerhouse Nebraska to the Big Ten, Penn State’s opening league match. Couple that with finding replacements for key players Blair Brown, Arielle Wilson and Alyssa D’Errico and an extremely young roster – 13 freshmen and sophomores on a roster of 18 – and Rose and his staff have their work cut out for them this year.

Rose doesn’t mince words when asked about his team’s chances this year.

“I think a whole bunch of people can beat us,” he said. “We’re not the team to chase, we’re the team who won it last year.”

Penn State will be tested early and often, as it opens up by hosting the AVCA Showcase, facing Oregon and Southern California, both teams with considerable returning talent. The Ducks return six starters from last year’s 19-11 team that narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament, while the Women of Troy return all seven starters from last season’s 29-5 NCAA National Semifinal squad.

The Nittany Lions will also be thrown into the fire at the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic in Palo Alto, Calif., Sept. 9-10. Penn State will face perennial power Stanford, who will also be contending with some pretty major losses (All-Americans Alex Klineman, Gabi Ailes and Cassidy Lichtman) and the following night will see either Texas or Florida, both teams who return a majority of their rosters. The Longhorns could have the most all-around talent in the country while the Gators bring back arguably one of the most versatile players in the nation in Kelly Murphy.

What was Rose thinking when he put together this schedule with such a young and inexperienced roster? He was thinking about the sport.

“I don’t think it’s a smart thing to do, but in my case, I can do it and weather the storm of what can happen,” said Rose. “We can go in and struggle with all four matches, because all of the teams are going to be good. When you have the run that we just had, you’re doing a disservice if you dodge the best teams. What’s good for volleyball is for someone else to be ranked number one, someone who deserves to be ranked number one. Not someone who was number one.

“We’ll at least know who the top teams are,” continued Rose. “We may have more losses in August and September than we’ve had in the last five years combined, but we’ll know who the top teams are. And if we’re not, then we know what we have to do to get better.”

One of the players who Rose will look to in order to keep all the underclassmen in line will be junior setter Kristin Carpenter. With all of the challenges the team is facing this year, Carpenter has a positive mental outlook on it all.

“[The tough preseason] is good for us. It’s going to put is in our place and humble us. And we have no streaks this season – Thank you Jesus!” she said with a laugh. “It’s just us and we’re going to play. We have no monkeys on our backs. We’re going to have a target, but there’s always a target on any team who has made it to the finals in the past 10 years. There are good teams out there and people want to beat good teams. It’s going to be a challenge but we’ll be ready for it. “

Carpenter echoes Rose’s sentiments, which isn’t surprising considering the “all in” mentality the student-athletes have toward their coach and their program.

Says Rose: “Somebody will have the best players in the country this year and somebody will be favored to win it. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t, but I know it’s not going to be easy because there should be a lot of good teams. We’re hopeful that if we can get better and get healthy, hopefully at some point, like last year, we can catch a little lightning in a bottle and get some things going. There are 300+ teams who are going to compete this season and we’re one of those teams. I look at these players and it’s my job to figure out the best way to handle this group, and I would expect us to be competitive.”

If Rose’s definition of “competitive” is in the same realm of his “not that great of a season,” Penn State may have more of a shot than people think come December.

This year opinions vary on talent, off-the-court cohesion and the intangibles it takes to be the last team standing in December. Here is a list of some teams you should know about heading into the season.

The Contenders

Penn State

2010 Record: 32-5
2010 Postseason: NCAA Champions
Head Coach: Russ Rose (1,033-164/32 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 11/6
Key Returners: Katie Kabbes (Sr., OH), Kristin Carpenter (Jr., S), Katie Slay (So., MH), Deja McClendon (So., OH), Ariel Scott (OH)
Key Losses: Blair Brown (Opp.), Alyssa D’Errico (Lib), Arielle Wilson (MH), Fatima Balza (MH)
Key Additions: Darcy Dorton (RS So., OH), Erica Denney (RS Fr., MH), Lacey Fuller (Fr., DS), Dominique Gonzalez (Fr., DS), Nia Grant (Fr., OH), Micha Hancock (Fr., S/OH), Aiyana Whitney (Fr., OH)
Outlook: It’s theirs until someone takes it. The Nittany Lion roster is bottom-heavy with freshmen and sophomores but Russ Rose and his staff have proven time and again they’re able to pull the magical title out of the hat. Penn State will need to find a way to replace the on-court experience and off-court leadership of Brown, D’Errico and Wilson but sparkplug Carpenter is the key to getting the new players on the same page to create a new chapter in the already-unprecedented Penn State volleyball book.

Texas

2010 Record: 27-6
2010 Postseason: NCAA National Semifinal
Head Coach: Jerritt Elliott (291-83 /12 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 10/5
Key Returners: Michelle Kocher (Sr., S), Rachael Adams (Sr., MB), Hannah Allison (Soph., S), Sha’Dare McNeal (Jr., Util.), Sarah Palmer (Soph., L), Amber Roberson (Sr., OH)
Key Losses: Jennifer Doris (MB), Juliann Faucette (OH)
Key Additions: Khat Bell (Fr., MB/OH), Madelyn Hutson (Fr., Util.), Haley Eckerman (Fr., OH), Ashley Bannister (Fr., OH)
Outlook: Texas continues to reload as it chases the illusive NCAA title, having advanced to the NCAA National Semifinals for the past three seasons. Offsetting the losses of Doris and Faucette is PrepVolleyball’s top-ranked recruiting class headlined by No. 2 recruit Bell, a 6-1 middle and outside hitter. The Longhorns also return an experienced core, including Adams (339 kills), Roberson (290 kills) and McNeal (235 kills), along with Kocher and Allison, both talented setters. How Texas starts off its September schedule will be a good measuring stick, as it faces Minnesota twice along with Florida and either Stanford or Penn State. With the NCAA Championship in San Antonio, this could be the year for the Longhorns.

Nebraska

2010 Record: 30-3
2010 Postseason: NCAA Regional Semifinals
Head Coach: John Cook (497-102/18 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 9/5
Key Returners: Brooke Delano (Sr., MH), Hannah Werth (Jr., OH), Lauren Cook (Jr., S), Jordan Wilberger (Sr., MH), Gina Mancuso (Jr., OH), Morgan Broekhuis (So, Opp.)
Key Losses: Sydney Anderson (S), Kayla Banwarth (L), Lindsey Licht (Opp.), Megan Pendergast (L), Tara Mueller (OH)
Key Additions: Lara Dykstra (Fr., L), Shelby Winkelmann (Fr., DS), Taylor Simpson (Fr., OH)
Outlook: For the 2011 season, Nebraska moves out of the Big 12 frying pan and into the Big Ten fire but returns five starters from last year’s squad. Setter Cook remains to take over the setting duties full-time with the departure of Anderson, but the Huskers will need to replace key players in libero Banwarth, opposite Licht and outside Mueller in order to keep up its legacy of success. A match to watch: the Big Ten opener at NU Coliseum on Wednesday, Sept. 21 against Penn State.

Southern California

2010 Record: 29-5
2010 Postseason: NCAA National Semifinals
Head Coach: Mick Haley (1,028-247-1/34 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 12/3
Key Returners: Kendall Bateman (Sr., S), Falyn Fonoimoana (So., OH), Natalie Hagglund (So., L), Alex Jupiter (Sr., OH), Alexis Olgard (So., MH), Lauren Williams (Sr., MH)
Key Losses: None
Key Additions: Hayley Crone (Fr., S), Eve Ettinger (Fr., MH), Bria Russ (Fr., OH), Hannah Schraer (Fr., MB), Emily Young (Fr., S/Opp.)
Outlook: USC returns every one of its seven starters from last year’s team that advanced to the NCAA Semifinals against Cal. Add in the 10th best recruiting class according to PrepVolleyball and the valuable international experience several players gained this summer and the Women of Troy should be a force to be reckoned with. USC will be tested right away at the AVCA Showcase on August 26-27 when they face Penn State and Minnesota at Rec Hall in Happy Valley.

Hawaii

2010 Record: 29-3
2010 Postseason: NCAA Second Round
Head Coach: Dave Shoji (1,045-179-1/ 36 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 12/3
Key Returners: Kanani Danielson (Sr., OH), Brittany Hewitt (Jr., MB), Chanteal Satele (Sr., OH), Emily Hartong (So., MB), Emily Maeda (Jr., DS)
Key Losses: Dani Mafua (S), Elizabeth Ka’aihue (L)
Key Additions: Jane Croson (Fr., OH), Ginger Long (Fr., OH), Jade Vorster (Fr., MH), Kalei Adolpho (Fr., MH), Courtney Lelepali (Jr., L), Kayla Kawamura (Fr., L), Monica Stauber (Fr., S), Elizabeth Blake (Fr., S)
Outlook: Led by VBM Second Team All-American Danielson (468 kills), Hawaii has a potent lineup returning, which also includes Satele (281 kills) and Hewitt (232 kills, 170 blocks). The Wahine will need to replace setter Mafua but bring in a large and talented freshman class, led by USA Junior National Team standout Croson. The underclassmen will be able to get their feet under them as Hawaii remains at home for the first four weekends and also hosts an NCAA Regional Championship.

The Spoilers

California

2010 Record: 30-4
2010 Postseason: NCAA Runners-Up
Head Coach: Rich Feller (541-297/26 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 9/3
Key Returners: Kat Brown (Jr., MH), Adrienne Gehan (So., OH), Shannon Hawari (Jr., MH), Correy Johnson (Jr., Opp.), Tarah Murrey (Sr., OH), Robin Rostratter (Jr., L)
Key Losses: Carli Lloyd (S), Meagan Schmitt (DS)
Key Additions: Marlee Davis (Fr., DS), Lindsay Elgin (Fr., MH), Christina Higgins (Fr., OH), Michelle Newmayr (Fr., OH), Lindsey Parrott (Fr., S), Lillian Schonewise (Fr., MH)
Outlook: Fresh off its first-ever Pac-10 title and trip to the NCAA National Championship match, Cal looks to continue its success but will need to fill the void left by VBM First Team All-American setter Lloyd. All of the Golden Bears’ attacking arsenal returns for 2011, led by VBM First Team All-American Murrey (5.23 kills per set), and the defensive core also remains intact with the return of libero Rostratter (4.19 digs per set).

Illinois

2010 Record: 24-9
2010 Postseason: NCAA Regional Semifinals
Head Coach: Kevin Hambly (50-15 / 2 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 13/4
Key Returners: Jennifer Bonilla (So., L), Colleen Ward (Sr., OH), Michelle Bartsch (Sr., MB), Erin Johnson (Jr., MB), Jazmine Orozco (So., OH)
Key Losses: Johannah Bangert (MB), Laura DeBruler (OH), Hillary Haen (S)
Key Additions: Morganne Criswell (Fr., OH), Jocelynn Birks (Fr., OH), Ali Stark (Fr., OH), Lizzie McMahon (Fr., MB)
Outlook: The Fighting Illini return a solid core including offensive leaders Ward (511 kills) and Bartsch (448 kills) but will be looking to replace setter Haen along with blocking leader Bangert. Looking to step into Bangert’s shoes will be 6-6 freshman McMahon, the third-ranked freshman in the country who leads Illinois’ stellar recruiting class. With the Big Ten becoming arguably the best conference in the country, these players will be looked upon immediately to continue the Fighting Illini’s climb to the top of the league and national standings.

Florida

2010 Record: 29-2
2010 Postseason: NCAA Regional Semifinal
Head Coach: Mary Wise (713-132/24 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 10/4
Key Returners: Tangerine Wiggs (Jr., Opp), Chanel Brown (So., S), Kristy Jaeckel (Sr., OH), Kelly Murphy (Sr., S/RS), Cassandra Anderson (Sr., MH)
Key Losses: Callie Rivers (OH), Lauren Bledsoe (MB), Erin Fleming (L)
Key Additions: Madison Monserez (Fr., DS), Simone Antwi (Fr., MH), Noami Santos (Fr., OH), Holly Pole (Fr., DS)
Outlook: All-around phenom Murphy (337 kills, 608 assists, 239 digs – among the team leaders in all three categories) leads a talented group of returners for Florida. The Gators will need to fill the shoes of Rivers (279 kills, 256 digs) and Bledsoe (117 blocks) but also return Jaeckel and Anderson, who gained some valuable experience within the USA Volleyball program this summer. Also on Florida’s side? They are one of the four host sites for an NCAA Regional Championship.

UCLA

2010 Record: 22-9
2010 Postseason: NCAA Second Round
Head Coach: Michael Sealy (22-9/1 year)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 12/6
Key Returners: Rachael Kidder (Jr., OH), Lainey Gera (Sr., L/DS), Lauren Van Orden (Sr., S)
Key Losses: Dicey McGraw (OH)
Key Additions: Priscilla Ezeji (Fr., OH), Tabitha Love (Jr., OH), Karsta Lowe (Fr., OH), Megan Moenoa (Fr., S), Zoe Nightingale (Fr., MH), Olivia Okoro (Fr., MH)
Outlook: The Bruins will need to contend with the loss of offensive leader McGraw but Love, a 6-6 transfer who was a two-year starter at Minnesota, is certainly capable of filling that void. All-Pac 10 honorees Gera and Kidder return to anchor the offense and defense while UCLA brings in the fifth-best recruiting class in the country according to PrepVolleyball. With the strength of this team, an early match to watch is the annual trip to Hawaii to face the Wahine on Sept. 4.

Washington

2010 Record: 24-9
2010 Postseason: NCAA Regional Finals
Head Coach: Jim McLaughlin (445-178/20 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 7/3
Key Returners: Kelcey Dunaway (Jr., MB), Kelly Holford (Jr., DS), Jenna Orlandini (So., DS), Bianca Rowland (Sr., MB), Kylin Munoz (Jr., OH)
Key Losses: Kindra Carlson (OH), Becky Perry (OH), Jenna Hagglund (S)
Key Additions: Amanda Gil (Jr., MH), Kaleigh Nelson (Fr., OH), Anna Cesari (RS Fr., DS), Summer Ross (Fr., OH), Kim Condie (Fr., DS), Krista Vansant (Fr., OH)
Outlook: Washington will need to replace three All-Pac 10 honorees in Carlson, Perry and Hagglund, but gains the services of Gil, a UCLA transfer who redshirted last season and was a VBM Second Team All-American in 2009. The Huskies also welcome a pair of 6-2 outside hitters in Ross and Vansant, who will hopefully follow in the career footsteps of Carlson and Perry.

Stanford

2010 Record: 27-4
2010 Postseason: NCAA Regional Final
Head Coach: John Dunning (726-151/26 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 9/4
Key Returners: Hayley Spelman (Jr., OH), Rachel Williams (So., OH), Carly Wopat (So., MB)
Key Losses: Alix Klineman (OH), Cassidy Lichtman (S/OH), Gabi Ailes (L)
Key Additions: Lauren Birks (Fr., OH), Morgan Boukather (Fr., OH), Kyle Gilbert (Fr., L)
Outlook: Stanford is always a threat on the national scene and this season will be no different, but the Cardinal will need to find a way to replace three important keys to its recent success. Klineman, the VBM Player of the Year in 2010, and VBM Second Team All-Americans Lichtman and Ailes leave giant holes in the lineup. Spelman returns with the team’s highest kill (258) and points (284.0) total while Carly Wopat is back as the team’s blocking leader (103 in 2010).

Minnesota

2010 Record: 26-9
2010 Postseason: NCAA Regional Semifinals
Head Coach: Laura Bush (Interim)(100-164/9 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 10/2
Key Returners: Jessica Granquist (Sr., L), Hailey Cowles (Sr., OH), Tori Dixon (So., MB), Mia Tabberson (Jr., S), Ashley Wittman (So., OH)
Key Losses: Lauren Gibbemeyer (MH), Tabitha Love (OH)
Key Additions: Morgan Bohl (Fr., OH), Juliane Graff (Fr., MH), Kellie McNeil (Fr., S)
Outlook: The Gophers return 10 letterwinners from the 2010 team that finished tied for second in the Big Ten but will have to fill a hole in the middle left by the graduation of VBM All-American Gibbemeyer and another void on the outside with Love’s transfer to UCLA. However, Minnesota returns a good portion of its offensive firepower in Wittman (442 kills) and Dixon (305 kills) and also brings back its defensive leader in Granquist (668 digs, 5.18 digs per set). Another intangible for the Gophers will be the retirement of longtime coach Dr. Mike Hebert and the transition to interim head coach Laura Bush until current USA Women’s National Team Head Coach Hugh McCutcheon makes the move to Minneapolis following the 2012 London Olympic Games.

Purdue

2010 Record: 24-11
2010 Postseason: NCAA Regional Final
Head Coach: Dave Shondell (162-103/8 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 11/3
Key Returners: Carly Cramer (Jr., L), Emily Ehlers (Sr., DS), Tiffany Fisher (Sr., MB), Catherine Gosewisch (RS So.,), Ariel Turner (Jr., OH)
Key Losses: Jaclyn Hart (S), Kristen Arthurs (MH)
Key Additions: Kaisley Fisher (Fr., MH), Kierra Jones (Fr., MH), Valerie Nichol (Fr., S/OH)
Outlook: Purdue continues to make waves in the Big Ten and on the national scene as evidenced by last year’s NCAA upset of top-seeded Florida. But the Boilermakers will need to find a way to replace the passion and experience of setter Hart as well as blocking leader Arthurs (127). Turner returns to lead the offense (478 kills) and Cramer is back to anchor the defense (524 digs) and Purdue brings in three newcomer, Purdue’s freshmen were ranked as the 14th-best recruiting class by PrepVolleyball.

Northern Iowa

2010 Record: 30-3
2010 Postseason: NCAA First Round
Head Coach: Bobbi Petersen (289-76/ 11 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 10/3
Key Returners: Michelle Burow (Sr., MB), Krista DeGeest (Jr., MB), Amy Braun (Jr., OH), Shelby Kintzel (So., MB), Bre Payton (Sr., S), Candice Burke (Jr., DS)
Key Losses: Ellie Blankenship (L), Beth Discher (OH), Chelsea Saunders (DS)
Key Additions: Autumn Alitz (Fr., MH), Brooke Fessler (Fr., S), Courtney Kintzel (Fr., MH), Rachel Peth (Fr., OH), Haley Wandrey (Fr., L/DS)
Outlook: Led by VBM Second Team All-American and Missouri Valley Player of the Year Payton, Northern Iowa returns much of its 30-3 squad from a year ago. Kills leader Burow is back (383 kills) and four other players recorded more than 200 kills in 2010. The Panthers will need to replace Discher’s offense (316 kills) and Blankenship’s defense (658 digs) but they bring in a large group of newcomers to help fill the gaps.

Iowa State

2010 Record: 20-9
2010 Postseason: NCAA First Round
Head Coach: Christy Johnson-Lynch (125-67/ 6 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 12/3
Key Returners: Carly Jenson (Sr., OH), Caitlin Mahoney (Sr., DS), Alison Landwehr (Jr., S), Kelsey Petersen (Sr., OH), Debbie Stadick (Sr., MB), Jamie Straube (Jr., MB)
Key Losses: Ashley Mass (L), Victoria Henson (OH)
Key Additions: Taylor Goetz (Fr., DS), Victoria Hurtt (Fr., OH), Tory Knuth (Fr., MH)
Outlook: Coming off a third-place finish in the Big 12 a year ago, Iowa State looks to continue its upswing under Johnson-Lynch as it returns most of its squad from last season. The Cyclones will need to replace defensive leader Mass (529 digs, 5.04 dps) and offensive leader Henson (473 kills, 302 digs), but returns five players with more than 100 kills apiece and brings in the 25th-best recruiting class in the nation.

Duke

2010 Record: 27-7
2010 Postseason: NCAA Regional Final
Head Coach: Jolene Nagel (444-245/23 years)
Letterwinners Returning/Lost: 9/4
Key Returners: Ali McCurdy (So., L), Amanda Robertson (Sr., MB), Kellie Catanach (Sr., S), Christiana Gray (Jr., MB), Sophia Dunworth (Sr., MB)
Key Losses: Becci Burling (MH), Claire Smalzer (OH/L)
Key Additions: Jeme Obeime (Fr., OH), Brittney Balser (Fr., MH/OH), Maggie Deichmeister (Fr., S), Kelsey Williams (Fr., S)
Outlook: Duke returns several key components from last season’s squad that won the ACC Championship and advanced to the NCAA Regional final before falling to eventual champion Penn State. Back are offensive leaders Dunworth (360 kills), Robertson (350 kills) and Gray (280 kills) along with talented setter Catanach and defensive leader McCurdy (620).

Originally published in September/October 2011

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