2006 Season Outlook

Aug. 14, 2006

For the USC women's volleyball program, the 2006 season will be different than any other season. This year, the Women of Troy move into the university's first on-campus arena, Galen Center. The sparkling new facility has made an impact with recruiting and given the program a shot in the arm with its first permanent home.

USC has to deal with the loss of three starters, including three-time All-American middle blocker Bibiana Candelas, from last year's squad that went 17-11 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Candelas posted a school season record with a 5.64 points-per-game average and added 501 kills on the season for a 4.91 average for a squad that finished fourth in the Pac-10 Conference with a 12-6 mark. Along with the big numbers that Candelas provided, the team will have to replace starting setter Nena Siljegovic (11.84 apg in 2005) and the team's second-highest producer in kills and points behind Candelas, outside hitter Staci Venski (4.35 kpg and 4.84 ppg).

'I don't know yet if we have the players to replace Bibiana and Staci,' said USC head coach Mick Haley. 'They were our two top point producers just like Keao Burdine and Emily Adams were two years ago, so we lost four top point producers in two years.'

Eight letterwinners return from last year's squad with three starters in the mix as well as senior All-American libero Debora Seilhamer. Seilhamer is the anchor for the team's defense after setting school season records last year with 696 digs and a 6.82 digs-per-game average. She posted double figures in all 28 matches while adding more records to her lengthy resume. During the season, she recorded her 1,000th career dig and set match records for most digs in a three-game match (27 vs. Arizona State) and four-game match (39 at Arizona State).

'If Debora is not the best libero in the nation, she's definitely one of the top three,' said Haley.

Junior outside hitter Diane Copenhagen (3.27 kpg in 2005, 3.32 dpg, 3.85 ppg) will pick up the slack on the left side while junior middle blocker Katelyn Bishop (1.38 kpg, 2.43 dpg, 0.97 bpg) figures to blossom into a quality player in the middle.

If there is one player on this year's squad who might make a difference, it would have to be redshirt sophomore outside hitter Jessica Gysin (Los Gatos/Mountain View HS). Gysin has played just one match in her two seasons at USC after battling knee injuries.

'I think Diane will produce for us this year and Katelyn has become a much stronger player because she had to learn in a baptism-by-fire situation last year,' said Haley. 'It will take a while for Jessica as she builds confidence, but I think she can pick up some points for us later in the season. She was one of the nation's top recruits out of high school and we think by midseason, she can return to her dominating form.'

Haley believes the left side hitting and leadership of the team have been shored up thanks to the returners and two senior co-captains, setters Alli Dillon and Kimi Freeburg. Dillon will also see action in the back row for defensive purposes.

'Alli and Kimi have taken the team leadership to a new level this season,' said Haley.

Senior defensive specialist Annie Montgomery is also a part of the leadership group while sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Kelli Tennant, who was named to the 2005 Pac-10 All-Freshmen Team, should continue her progress as a solid college player.

An aggressive recruiting effort by the USC coaching staff produced a class with several talented freshmen sprinkled with a trio of junior transfers. Freshman Taylor Carico (Manhattan Beach/Mira Costa HS) is one of the nation's top incoming setters and has a realistic chance to be USC's starting setter by season's end. Carico was named most valuable player at the 2006 Junior Olympic Championships in Atlanta and earned the Andi Collins Award for being the nation's top high school setter as named by PrepVolleyball.com. Walkons Alli Hillgren (Rancho Santa Fe/Francis Parker HS) and Chelsea Wilson (Los Gatos/Los Gatos HS) both come in as defensive specialists with Wilson also entering the mix as a setter.

'Taylor has improved her blocking and should see action right away,' said Haley. 'She is a physical player who can touch 10 feet, four inches. She knows how to win after leading her high school squad and club teams to two national championships apiece.

'Alli and Chelsea have exceptional skills and to be able to have them walk onto our program gives us tremendous depth.'

The Women of Troy will count on three junior transfers to fill the void created by the graduation of Candelas and Venski. Two of them come from last year's junior college national championship squad at the College of Southern Idaho: 6-4 outside hitter Asia Kaczor (Wroclaw, Poland) earned JC National Player of the Year honors while teammate and fellow 6-1 countrywoman Marta Siemiatkowska (Kalisz, Poland) played as a middle blocker for CSI. 6-3 middle blocker Bethany Johansen (UC Santa Barbara) is the third transfer, adding another experienced player to the team's much-needed position.

'Asia can play either on the left or right side while Bethany can play in the middle or the right side, adding to our size up front,' said Haley. 'Marta will take some time in order to adjust to our style of play at this level.'

The team's fall practice started on a positive note, which gives encouragement to the coaching staff.

'It gives me hope since the consistency has been great,' said Haley. 'We had trouble stringing together three or four consistent practices last year, but our effort this fall has been wonderful. We still need work on execution like most teams, but that should come with time.'

The schedule this season is not as loaded with Top 25 nonconference opponents as in the past. USC will host Tennessee, which reached the NCAA Final Four last year, on Sept. 3 to cap the USC/LMU Tournament at the Lyon Center. Other opponents include Florida State, South Carolina, Pepperdine and Purdue before the start of the Pac-10 slate. The Women of Troy will play their first-ever match at the new Galen Center on Oct. 12 against Stanford in a Fox Sports Net broadcast.

'Hopefully, we will not use up as much emotional energy as we did last year,' said Haley. 'It created a problem when he reached the conference part of the schedule as injuries took their toll. This year, if we don't use up our energy early, we should be able to peak towards the NCAA Tournament.'

The goals for the 2006 Women of Troy are the same as they are every year: win the Pac-10 Conference title and reach the Final Four.

'We will not be satisfied if we don't get to the Final Four,' said Haley. 'We know we are not Final Four-quality today, but we really like the athletes we have in the program. By the time we hit November, we think we can seriously challenge anyone in the nation.'

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