2007 Season Outlook

Aug. 16, 2007

Sacramento represents the capital for the state of California, but this season for the USC women's volleyball program and others, it represents the home of the NCAA Final Four and the 2007 national championship. Head coach Mick Haley and his staff will coach its largest roster in several years with five seniors to guide a squad that includes four Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 freshmen.

USC returns 10 letterwinners and seven starters from last year's squad that finished 27-5 and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament. The key loss from the four graduating seniors was two-time All-America libero Debora Seilhamer, who set the USC and Pac-10 Conference career marks for digs.

Experience will be a key component for the majority of the team that traveled to Europe in the spring. The Women of Troy made a surprising showing at the Savaria Cup, finishing second in the tournament that featured national teams from Slovakia, Hungary and Sweden.

The focus of the Trojans' offense is senior All-America opposite/outside hitter Asia Kaczor (Wroclaw, Poland/College of Southern Idaho). Kaczor broke the single-season school record with 563 kills last year to go with a 4.94 kills-per-game average and .300 hitting percentage. With the added talent this year, the hope is that she will not have to record as many swings as she did last year in order to keep her fresh through the rugged schedule.

'We think she can be a dominant right side blocker with not having to hit as much,' said Haley. 'We expect her to anchor that block out there and provide the opponents' left side hitters some difficult times if we can keep her fresh.'

Senior outside hitter and team co-captain Diane Copenhagen (Saratoga/St. Francis HS) has improved steadily during her Trojan career and earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention recognition last year after posting a 4.63 points-per-game average and 455 kills (3.99 kpg).

'She was spectacular early last year and consistent throughout the season,' said Haley. 'She has changed with her effort in the spring and has come back stronger, more confident. She has become a great leader. I look for her to step it up and be good all the time this year and give us four-plus points per game.'

Junior Jessica Gysin (Los Gatos/St. Francis HS) enjoyed her first full season in 2006 after missing her first two seasons due to injuries. Gysin averaged over three kills per game and finished second on the team behind Seilhamer with a 2.59 dpg clip.

'She has been constantly making strides for us,' said Haley. 'Her confidence was not where you expected it to be since she battled injuries her first two years. I look for her to be more consistent this year and should count on her to contribute to the offense. We can run her on the left or right side. I think we need to see how she holds up physically.'Senior Marta Siemiatkowska (Kalisz, Poland) played with Kaczor at the College of Southern Idaho and her improved play in the spring and fall gives her a chance to be in the rotation.

'We should not have to set Asia every ball,' said Haley. 'We are four deep and Marta has worked hard on the outside so we really have five or six hitters when you add our freshmen. For the first time in a while, we have a lot of players on the roster. If the talent can step up, we can take some of the pressure off Asia.'

Fab 50 freshman Kimmee Roleder (Pasadena/Pasadena HS) played with the U.S. Junior National Team this summer and traveled to Thailand for the Junior World Championship where the team finished fourth.

'Kimmee is similar to April Ross even though she's obviously not at that level yet,' said Haley. 'She has all the tools and as her confidence grows, she can play every facet of the game. She can pass, play defense, serve and be an offensive threat. She has great hands and the team loves playing with her.'

Another freshman Shelby Avol (Manhattan Beach/Mira Costa HS) will be in the mix and has surprised the staff early through fall camp.'She reminds me of Kristen Anderson from our 2002 national championship team,' said Haley. 'She was instrumental for us because she was such a good ball control player during practice that she could do anything I asked of her. Shelby is a very good back row player, very good passer and receiver. She can become very good in our system.'

The one area that the Women of Troy want to improve in this season is the play from the middle blockers. USC gets some help from seniors Bethany Johansen (Los Gatos/UC Santa Barbara) and Katelyn Bishop (Terre Haute, Ind./Terre Haute South HS), along with junior co-captain Kelli Tennant (Temecula/Chaparral HS).

Johansen led the team last year with 126 total blocks (1.11 bpg) and 220 kills (1.93) while Bishop (1.15 kpg, 0.98 bpg) and Tennant (1.22 kpg, 1.05 bpg) both platooned for the Trojans.

Two of USC's Fab 50 freshman crew in Zoe Garrett (Laguna Beach/Laguna Beach HS) and Lauren Williams (Houston, Texas/Stratford HS) will push the returners for playing time in the middle. Garrett also played with the U.S. Junior National Team this summer, having a stellar tournament in Thailand where she finished second in blocks among all players.

'Zoe might be smaller in stature than other middle blockers, but she makes up for it with conditioning and training,' said Haley. 'She is huge at getting over the net and should have a great chance at being a starter. Lauren is potentially one of the most dominating athletes we have seen in a long time. It will take her a year for her to get stronger, but there is nothing she can't do.'

2006 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Taylor Carico (Manhattan Beach/Mira Costa HS) had a tremendous year as USC's setter in her freshman campaign. She recorded 1,445 assists (12.68 apg), the most ever in a season by a Trojan freshman. She added 123 kills (1.08 kpg) with a .339 hitting percentage and 255 digs (2.24 dpg). After also earning honors as the All-Pacific Region Freshman of the Year, Carico spent the summer with the U.S. Junior National Team along with Roleder and Garrett.

The USC coaching staff has installed more action into Taylor's playbook with an emphasis on setting the middles.

'We didn't try to do too much with Taylor last year because we wanted to maintain her confidence,' said Haley. 'This spring, we changed many things that she was doing in hopes that we could provide her with some skills that would allow her to run the middle a lot more than last year.'

Sophomore Chelsea Wilson (Los Gatos/Los Gatos HS) and walk-on freshman Mychaela Miller (Laguna Beach/Laguna Beach HS) will compete for the backup setter position behind Carico. After Carico missed the first few days of fall camp with the flu, Wilson and Miller were able to take advantage and the end result might benefit the team down the road.

'Those two players are doing well for us so far in the fall,' said Haley. 'Taylor did well this summer, but we have to be prepared in any scenario. 'Sophomore Alli Hillgren (Rancho Santa Fe/Francis Parker HS) has the unenviable task of following Seilhamer's footsteps in the libero position.'It's her position to lose,' said Haley. 'She has trained there all spring and has had time to learn the position. It's not a position you learn in one year.'

Hillgren will be in the mix to start, but look for competition from others, including Fab 50 freshman Geena Urango (Los Alamitos/Los Alamitos HS). At 5-10, Urango is taller than the liberos USC have used in the past, but her athleticism might give the Trojans another outside hitter.

'The main difference between the two players is that Alli is more skilled in our system, but Geena certainly brings a physical quality to the position,' said Haley. 'She is a fast learner and might be an option for us on the front row.'

Freshmen Lexi Aiassa (Los Gatos/St. Francis HS) and Alexa Altamura (Manhattan Beach/Mira Costa HS) will also compete for the libero position and could be used as a defensive specialist.

As a whole, another weapon in the Women of Troy's arsenal this season will be the serving. Garrett, Roleder and Urango will add to the veterans and Haley believes the improvement will be noticeable.

'These freshmen have the ability to drive the other team off the net with their serving and that's special for a group of young players,' said Haley.With the talent amidst a large roster, USC is aware of its potential and chances for a long postseason run.

'I think we should be the hunt for the national championship,' said Haley. 'I will be very disappointed if we don't continue to get better as the season progresses. We will not be Final Four-caliber at the start of the season but by November, we should be very good. It's important for the freshmen to learn how to develop practice intensity and how to prepare. We need to learn how to finish better, but if we are able to handle the challenges, we should have an opportunity to play for a national title.'

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