Women's Volleyball Set to Open Season Next Weekend

Aug. 26, 2005

The UCLA women's volleyball team has completed its two-a-day pre-season training for 2005 and turns its attention to the regular season opener. The Bruins start competition next Friday, Sept. 2, at the Sands/SBC Tournament in Reno, Nev., where UCLA will play Eastern Kentucky, San Diego and tournament host Nevada.

2005 Outlook

It will be a new-look UCLA women's volleyball team that takes to the court on September 2 for the season-opening Sands/SBC Tournament in Reno, Nev. Gone are five seniors from last season's team, including All-America setter Krystal McFarland and two-time All-American Chrissie Zartman, the only player ever to wear a libero jersey for UCLA.

'It will be an awfully different-looking group when we get this year's team together to start pre-season practice,' said UCLA head coach Andy Banachowski. 'We will have seven freshmen and one transfer along with our returning players, so we will have a lot more depth and a lot more flexibility to do different things.'

SETTERSBanachowski and the UCLA coaching staff will have four setters in camp: juniors Brenn Larson and Tammy Jackson along with freshmen Jade Machado and Nellie Spicer.

Jackson took the reins of the UCLA offense briefly in October of 2004 when starting senior setter McFarland was out of the lineup with an ankle injury, but has not been a regular cog in the lineup for Banachowski. Jackson totaled 189 assists in 24 games played last season. 'Tammy does a solid job of delivering the ball to the outside,' said Banachowski. 'She really grasps the tempo of our new offense and is very skilled at setting that ball.'

Larson does have experience as starting setter of a Pac-10 team, joining the Bruins after two years at Washington State. Larson was required to sit out the 2004 season due to Pac-10 transfer rules, but will vie for the starting job this season. 'Brenn is a creative setter,' said Banachowski. 'She will compete for the starting spot.'

UCLA's top recruit for the 2005 season will also be in the mix of competition for the upcoming season. Nellie Spicer spent much of this past summer playing with various USA Volleyball teams as well as an MVP performance as she set her Sports Performance team to the USA Junior Olympics gold medal in the 18-and-under open division. 'Nellie is an exciting, dynamic setter who will be able to provide good leadership, even as a freshman, if she can fight her way onto the court,' said Banachowski.

Machado rounds out the setting group, although she may also see time on the court as a defensive specialist. 'Jade is small, but extremely experienced,' said Banachowski.

One of UCLA's top players last season as well as the team's only senior highlight UCLA's group of middle blockers for the upcoming season.

The Pac-10's blocking leader last season, junior Nana Meriwether is poised to have a break-out season this fall. Having posted a 1.63 blocks per-game average as a sophomore combined with a productive spring practice season points to continued improvement from Meriwether. 'Nana's blocking is phenomenal,' said Banachowski. 'She is an All-America-caliber player who just needs to develop consistency.'

Nancy Barba is the lone senior on this year's squad, and is serving as the team's co-captain in 2005. Barba played in 83 games for the Bruins last fall, posting 143 kills and averaging just under half a block per-game. 'Nancy had a very solid spring season,' said Banahcowski. 'She primarily worked in the middle and became very skilled at hitting a faster outside ball.'

Sophomore Stacy Dominguez fought injuries for much of her freshman campaign and made just one appearance on the court during the season. 'Stacy got in a full spring of work at the middle blocker position and has continued to develop as a player,' said Banachowski.

Joining the Bruins for this fall will be freshmen Elise Carstensen and Meghan Schoen. Carstensen will add depth to the middle blocker position for the Bruin coaching staff. 'Elise worked very hard last year during her club season and made great improvements,' said Banachowski.

Schoen, a sophomore transfer from Michigan State, turned in a solid freshman campaign for the Spartans, recording 2.26 kills per game to go along with a team-high 84 blocks, good for a 0.94 per-game average on the season. 'Meghan was recruited to Michigan State as an outside hitter, so she is capable of playing in both positions,' said Banachowski. 'She should fit into our style of play very nicely.'

Three returning players and three newcomers comprise the outside hitters corps for the 2005 Bruins. Leading the way will be juniors Colby Lyman and Katie Carter, joined by sophomore Rachell Johnson and freshmen Kelsey Hall, Kaitlin Sather and Jordan Smith.

Lyman represents UCLA's best returning all-around player, having downed 193 kills to go with 2.54 digs per game, the highest dig total of any returning player. A Pac-10 All-Freshman team selection in 2003, Lyman spent winter quarter rehabilitating her left (hitting) shoulder and was able to participate with the team throughout spring practice. 'Colby will be the key to our ball control success,' said Banachowski. 'She is a great right-side blocker and a solid attacker for us.' She will be UCLA's other co-captain, along with Barba.

The team's top returning kills leader, Carter has played both on the outside and in the middle during her two years in the UCLA program. During spring practice, she primarily played on the outside, adapting easily to the faster tempo offense that was installed during spring training. 'Katie did a great job for us in the spring,' said Banachowski. 'She has made a lot of progress in her net game in both hitting and blocking and is getting more comfortable in her backcourt game.'

Rachell Johnson played as a situational substitute last season, downing 37 kills in 24 games on the floor while contributing 0.71 blocks per game. 'Rachell made a lot of progress during the spring,' said Banachowski. 'She played both in the middle and on the outside and is ready to break into the lineup this fall.'

Katilin Sather is a multi-talented player who is one of the freshmen expected to compete for playing time this fall. 'Kaitlin will specialize at outside hitter for us,' said Banachowski. 'She has the potential to be a full-time player for us this season.'

Also joining the program this season will be Jordan Smith and Kelsey Hall. Hall is recovering from an ACL injury suffered at the 2004 Junior Nationals prior to her senior season of high school. Smith looks to be a solid outside hitter with good backcourt skills. Smith should be a solid all-around player on the outside for the Bruins, and could see time as a defensive specialist.

With the loss of Chrissie Zartman to graduation, there will be competition for the libero jersey for the first time in program history. Junior Laura Kroneberger and freshman Blair Socci are expected to compete for the starting libero spot.

Kroneberger averaged 1.63 digs per game in 42 games as a defensive replacement last season. A very solid defensive player, Kroneberger could be the heir apparent to Zartman's libero position. 'Laura had a very good off-season,' said Banachowski. 'She has improved her passing confidence, which will help us this fall.'

Socci gave up her outside hitter position on her club team in 2005 in order to focus on defense and becoming a libero at the collegiate level. 'Blair also has a great jump serve,' said Banachowski. She will compete for the starting libero spot or could see time as a defensive specialist in the back row.

The Pac-10 looks to be brutally competitive once again in 2005, as Stanford is the defending NCAA Champion while Washington and USC also qualified for volleyball's 'final four.' In preparation for the 18-match conference schedule, the Bruins will open at the Sands/SBC Tournament in Reno, Nev., facing off against Eastern Kentucky, host Nevada and 2004 NCAA Regional Semifinalist San Diego.

UCLA will then make its annual trip to the Hawaiian Islands, participating in the Waikiki Beach Marriott Challenge in Honolulu. UCLA will face local rival Cal State Northridge, Cincinnati and the host Rainbow Wahine, who return all seven starters from last year's squad that posted a 30-1 record. The following weekend, the Bruins will travel to Madison, Wis., for the InnTowner Invitational. Valparaiso and Villanova will face off against the Bruins before the CSTV-televised UCLA-Wisconsin match on Sunday, September 18.

In addition to the Pac-10 schedule, the Bruins will once again play a non-conference match against Pepperdine, this year at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, Calif.

'There are a lot of mature teams in the league this season,' said Banachowski. 'This will be a challenging year for us because we are so young with just one senior on this team. But I think that we have good talent and I'm looking forward to a good season.'

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