Team Previews: Pac-12 Volleyball

A new era is set to begin this weekend with the start of the 2011 volleyball campaign. Click on a school name below to read a complete team preview and learn everything you need to know for the upcoming season.

Also included is an "Expert Analysis," where current FSN volleyball analyst Holly McPeak gives her take on each team's chances this season. McPeak, a former player in the Pac-10, is a three-time beach volleyball Olympian for the United States, and she holds 72 career professional beach volleyball titles.

Arizona | Arizona State | California | Colorado | Oregon | Oregon State

Stanford | UCLA | USC | Utah | Washington | Washington State

Arizona Wildcats

TEAM PREVIEW

After a return to the NCAA Tournament in 2009, and then back again in 2010, the Wildcats are looking to continue that trend in 2011. A trio of starters return from last season's NCAA Tournament team — a big plus for a team that features eight freshmen and three sophomores. Arizona has some major losses to make up for, but with the 11th-ranked incoming class in the nation coming in, it has plenty of talent to make up for it. Celebrating his 20th season in Tucson, David Rubio leads active Pac-12 coaches with 482 victories.

STRENGTHS

While mostly newcomers are featured on the Wildcats' roster, Arizona returns a solid core with starters senior middle blocker Cursty Jackson (pictured), senior outside hitter Courtney Karst and sophomore middle blocker Maddie Lozano.

Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 pick Jackson and Lozano lead the defense at the net, while sophomore libero Candace Nicholson is one of two returning liberos. Jackson was eighth in the Pac-10 in blocks (1.07), and Nicholson picked up 3.55 digs per game.

Karst is a versatile and experienced outside hitter, averaging 2.75 kills per set and 0.49 blocks per set in 2010.



CONCERNS

With the graduations of Whitney Dosty, Tiffany Owens and Paige Weber, the Wildcats have significant holes to fill. Owens was an All-Pac-10 performer and ranked fourth in the league in kills per game (4.21)

UA's all-time assists leader while playing in every game of her career, Weber was a stalwart running the offense as the team's setter, leading an attack that ranked fifth in the Conference with a .232 hitting percentage while averaging nearly 11 assists per game.

To continue its postseason streak, Arizona's young squad will have to learn the playbook quickly, especially in an expanded league.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

Arizona has a brand new setter, but Courtney Karst and Cursty Jackson are key returnees. But any time there's a new setter it's a factor.

Arizona State Sun Devils

TEAM PREVIEW

The Sun Devils had three wins over top-10 teams in 2010, including NCAA Runner-Up California, but still finished in the bottom half of the final Conference standings. Jason Watson enters his fourth season as head coach and looks to bolster his record in Tempe, which shouldn't be an issue with three starters returning, including defensive standouts Erica Wilson and Stephanie Preach.

STRENGTHS

Junior middle blocker Erica Wilson (pictured) and sophomore libero Stephanie Preach will carry the majority of the load when it comes to leadership this season. Wilson is the team's leading returning blocker (120), boasting the second-best hitting percentage among the Sun Devils last year.

Preach is an experienced defender, playing in nearly every match last season while posting the second-highest digs average on the team at 2.29 dps.

Though a young team with 14 underclassmen and just one senior, the majority of the squad returns from last season's team that defeated three top-10 ranked opponents in the final two weeks of the 2010 campaign, including NCAA Runner-Up California and the 2011 Pac-12 favorite USC.

CONCERNS

Cat Highmark, the program's starting setter the last two years, will not return for her senior season because of a knee injury. Highmark averaged 10.69 assists per set. Shannan McCready and Metro State transfer Sarah McGaffin will compete for the vacant position.

The program also lost libero Sarah Johnson and outside hitter Sarah Reaves to graduation. Johnson averaged a team-high 4.33 digs per set, while Reaves racked up 3.94 kills per set.

The team will face six of their nine non-conference opponents, including Iowa State and San Diego, on the road.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

Arizona State is another team with a new setter, but they're a feisty team who wants to keep their offense quick. They were ranked low last year but upset Cal and USC, who were top-ranked nationally last year and are the top two picks in the Pac-12 Coaches poll, so they're capable of doing big things.

California Golden Bears

TEAM PREVIEW

The Golden Bears are looking to start the 2011 campaign with the momentum that carried them to last yera's NCAA championship game and made them the best team in the program's 36-year history. The team will miss three-time All-American and 2010 AVCA National Player of the Year Carli Lloyd due to graduation, but has junior Elly Barrett—a two-time LonestarVolleyball.com Setter of the Year—taking over at the net. Thirteenth-year head coach and 2010 AVCA National Coach of the Year Rich Feller will have to bring his young setter up to speed quickly in the always-tough Pac-12.

STRENGTHS

The Golden Bears return a solid core, including AVCA All-American Tarah Murrey and junior middle blocker Correy Johnson, who was an honorable mention all-American last year. Murrey is the Conference's returning kills leader, averaging 5.23 kps to rank second overall.

2010 starters Murrey, sophomore outside hitter Adrienne Gehan, Johnson, junior middle blocker Shannon Hawari, junior middle blocker Kat Brown and libero Robin Rostratter all return from the NCAA Championship runner-up team for another run at a national title. The five starters accounted for 91 percent of the team's kills last season, while Rostratter had the team's second-highest assist total.

The Bears' confidence will be better than ever coming off an impressive four-loss season (two at home, one away, one in the NCAA title match) and the program's first-ever Conference title.

CONCERNS

Graduated setter Carli Lloyd leaves a big statistical gap for junior setter Elly Barrett to fill. The AVCA National Player of the Year, Lloyd averaged 11.83 assists per set, tallying 1,384 on the season. She was also the team's leader, on and off the court, an intangible that will be difficult to replace.

Murrey is the lone senior on the roster on a young squad that boasts nine underclassmen. She will not only be expected to perform on the offensive end, but will be looked to be the team's general on and off the court.

Six freshmen join the already-young squad, but bring a bevy of talent as a highly lauded recruiting class from as close as Oakland, Calif. and as far as Papillion, Neb.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

Cal lost the national player of the year in Carli Lloyd, but they're getting, in my opinion, the best player in the Conference back — Tarah Murray. They're solid at every position, but who will step in for setting is still a question.

Colorado Buffaloes

TEAM PREVIEW

Colorado continues to show improvements under head coach Liz Kritza. The Buffs graduated just one player and return a good core from last season. Despite the 6-20 record from 2010, it is a big improvement from the 2009 season, Kritza's first season at the helm. The Buffs have finished their non-conference schedule at .500 or above in the last 21 seasons.

STRENGTHS

The Buffs return four starters, including two seniors, senior middle blocker Anicia Santos and senior setter Alyssa Valentine, who lead a young team.

Junior outside hitter Kerra Schroeder (pictured) was CU's top offensive threat, finishing the season ranked sixth in the Big 12 Conference as a sophomore.

Colorado only graduated one player, Rosie Steinhaus, but added freshman Kelsey English and Neira Ortiz to complete the roster.

The Buffs have plenty of depth at the defensive specialist/libero position. Sophomore Megan Beckwith played the majority of the time for CU as the team's libero and finished with 401 digs in her rookie campaign.

CONCERNS

The Buffs are a young team and will face some of the toughest oppenents in the country every weekend, sometimes on back-to-back nights. CU comes from the Big 12 schedule that had matches on Wednesday and Saturday nights.

Rosie Steinhaus, Colorado's right side hitter last season, was a leader on and off the court, and will be tough to replace. Outside hitters freshman Neira Ortiz and redshirt freshman Emily Alexis look to fill the void on the right side, but lack collegiate experience.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

Coach Kritza was successful at Tulane but they won't have one easy win in the Pac-12. But they have four returning starters and hopefully they're rebuilding the program to what the coach wants.

Oregon Ducks

TEAM PREVIEW

The Ducks held a top-25 ranking for much of the 2010 season despite the inexperience of a young team. While Oregon fared well against non-conference schools, the strength of Conference opponents took a toll on the Ducks' record and just missed out on a tournament bid. Head coach Jim Moore (115-71 at Oregon) looks to the 2011 season to bring his team back to the winning ways of 2006-09, when the Ducks made four-straight NCAA postseason appearances.

STRENGTHS

Oregon brings back several talented contributors on offense, including assists leader and sophomore setter Lauren Plum and junior outside hitter Alaina Bergsma (pictured), who was an AVCA National Player of the Week recipient last year. Among the top-15 leaders in the country in assists per set, Plum enjoyed a successful outing with the U.S. Women's Junior National Team at the FIVB Junior World Championships over the summer, leading the Red, White and Blue to the world semifinals.

Junior libero Haley Jacob returns for her junior season to anchor the defense after a 450-dig year in 2010, fifth-most last year in the league.

The Ducks welcome a stellar incoming class which includes outside hitters Elizabeth Brenner, an Under Armour All-American, and Chloe Buckendahl, both of which were named PrepVolleyball.com Senior Ace honorees, as well as junior college All-American transfer and All-American Milica Krstojevic.

CONCERNS

The Ducks will miss graduated outside hitter Heather Meyers, who ranked seventh nationally in service aces and 33rd in points in 2010. She also ranked second all-time in the Conference record books in career aces.

As one of a handful of bubble teams when the NCAA Tournament bracket was announced, the Ducks will have to rely on a very young squad as eight of the 14 roster spots are occupied by underclassmen. Meyers' departure leaves no seniors on the team.

UO went unbeaten against non-conference foes last season but struggled in league play. This season, the Ducks have strengthened its non-league schedule, taking on four-time defending national champion Penn State and 2010 NCAA Regional finalist Minnesota to open the season. A longer Conference season with the additions of Colorado and Utah, Oregon will have to find a way to win more games if it expects to advance into the postseason.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

Oregon only lost one player, but she was their best. They're young with their setter, middle, and outside. The Conference is really young across the board. Key players have been lost everywhere but USC, so the Ducks could be a factor in the Conference.

Oregon State Beavers

TEAM PREVIEW

The Beavers were a young and inexperienced team last year and battled through a difficult season in which they finished ninth in the Conference. In 2011, the roster still looks fairly young, but many had to contribute last season as newcomers. Head coach Taras Liskevych is in his seventh season at Oregon State and will have to find another "go-to" player after the graduation of Jill Sawatzky. But the program is primed to rebound from last year with a promising non-conference schedule.

STRENGTHS

Six players of note return for the 2011 season, including junior setter Megan McBride (pictured), sophomore libero Becky Defoe and junior outside hitter Camille Saxton.

Sophomore middle blocker Mona Kressl is the team's top-returning blocker, tallying 138 blocks during the 2010 campaign and is back to improve upon her Honorable Mention Pac-10 All-Freshman team performance.

OSU's defense could be hard to get past as Kressl teams up with returners Defoe and junior defensive specialist Alyssa O'Neil, plus several incoming middle blockers.

CONCERNS

The program lost offensive star Jill Sawatzky to graduation and will be tough to replace. The outside hitter averaged a team-high 3.79 kills per set and a second-best 2.30 digs per set.

Youth is still a factor for the Beavers with only one senior and five juniors on the 18-player roster. Four freshmen and a sophomore transfer add to the squad's youth, while four redshirt freshman compete for playing time.

OSU took a beating in Conference play last season, winning only two league matches after finishing the non-conference portion of the season at .500. With an expanded league, the young Beavers will have to gain experience quickly if they are to improve on its position in the standings.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

Oregon State is one of the youngest squads in the Pac-12 with eight freshmen. They are a big question mark, as well, and have to develop into a threat. They don't have any well-known recruits, but that doesn't mean they won't be talented. No doubt about it, Coach Liskevych will be able to get the best out of his players.

Stanford Cardinal

TEAM PREVIEW

The Cardinal ended the 2010 season tied with rival California for the Conference title and in the NCAA Regional Final. It's difficult to get much better than that, but if any college staff can do it, it is Stanford's. John Dunning is entering his 11th season as the program's head coach and will be inducted into the AVCA Hall of Fame in December. Associate head coach Denise Corlett begins her 23rd year at Stanford as the reigning AVCA National Assistant Coach of the Year. Both will have to figure out a way to make up for the losses of three All-Americans, including the Conference Player of the Year Alix Klineman.

STRENGTHS

Junior outside hitter Hayley Spelman is the highest returning kills and points leader with 258 and 284, respectively. Spelman was a honorable mention all-conference last season.

Junior setter Karissa Cook (pictured) is taking over as the primary setter after splitting time with Cassidy Lichtman the last two seasons. The new system should provide more consistency for a relatively young offense.

Sophomore outside hitter Rachel Williams was on the Pac-10 All-Freshmen team in 2010 after playing in all but one set last year. She is a 2011 COBRA Magazine third team preseason All-American.

CONCERNS

Libero Gabi Ailes, outside hitter Alix Klineman and setter/outside hitter Cassidy Lichtman were the core of last year's Cardinal squad and all three have graduated. All three players were All-Americans and garnered several national and Conference honors throughout their college careers. Klineman was the 2010 Conference Player of the Year. Karissa Cook will have her shot at being the team's full-time setter for the first time in her career.

Question marks still linger as to who will fill the voids left by Klineman and Ailes. Senior middle blocker Stephanie Browne looks like a good candidate on attack, and a few candidates are in contention to fill in on the back line.

Stanford hosts the Nike Volleyball Big Four Classic, one of college volleyball's toughest preseason tournaments. The Cardinal face reigning NCAA Champion Penn State in the first match of the tournament, then take on either 2010 NCAA semifinalist Texas or last year's NCAA Tournament No. 1 overall seed Florida.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

This could be a huge rebuilding year for Stanford since it lost three All-Americans which were the core of the team. The Cardinal are young and are a question mark, but still have talent.

UCLA Bruins

TEAM PREVIEW

The Bruins enter the 2011 season with 12 consecutive 20-win seasons. Head coach Michael Sealy looks to build on that streak in his second season with UCLA, and shouldn't have too much trouble doing so with 12 letterwinners, five returning starters and the 2011 incoming class. According to PrepVolleyball.com, the incoming class is ranked fifth in the nation and includes four players named to the "Senior Aces" list. The Bruins showed their potential last season, defeating Stanford, the No. 1 team in the country at the time of the meeting. With a more seasoned squad, UCLA looks to make a run at the 2011 title.

STRENGTHS

Senior setter Lauren Van Orden returns to direct the offense and will have junior oustide hitter Rachael Kidder (pictured) as a go-to weapon. Senior libero Lainey Gera will anchor the team's defensive efforts, once again, after 4.92 digs per set. Kidder and Gera were honorable mention all-conference picks in 2010.

Among the newcomers are California products setter Megan Moenoa, a member of the 2010 U.S. Women's Junior National Training Team; and middle blocker Zoe Nightingale, was a consensus All-American, and was named the 2011 Sacramento Female Athlete of the Year. Each will compete for playing time and are expected to make immediate impacts.

CONCERNS

UCLA lost only one starter - Dicey McGraw - to graduation, but her contributions are tough to replace. She was named to first team All-Pac-10 and was an Honorable Mention AVCA All-Pacific Region last year as an outside hitter. She led the Bruins in kills per set with 3.91.

Like many Pac-12 teams this year, the Bruins are young, with 10 of 18 players being underclassmen. But their young talent will not put them far behind the conference competition.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

In their second year under head coach Mike Sealy, the Bruins are ranked too low in my opinion. Tabi thaLove, a transfer from Minnesota, is an All-American and averaged 3.5 kills a game. She's versatile — plays left, right, front, back. They lost Dicey McGraw, but that's it because of their young core. It's the second year under Mike Sealy.

USC Trojans

TEAM PREVIEW

The Women of Troy recorded their best season since 2007 last year, going 29-5 and making the program's sixth NCAA semifinal appearance in 11 years. The team shows no sign of regressing in 2011 with every starter returning, including three All-Americans. Entering his 11th season at the helm, head coach Mick Haley has a good mix of experienced and young talent, led by three senior AVCA All-Americans.

STRENGTHS

Eleven letterwinners are back from last year's squad, including five starters and its top libero that anchored the team's journey through the NCAA Tournament. All-Americans outside hitter Alex Jupiter (pictured), setter Kendall Bateman and middle blocker Lauren Williams return for their senior years. Jupiter led last year's squad in kills with 4.40 per set, while Bateman offered up 12.34 assists per set and Williams tallied 0.97 blocks per set.

Sophomore Natalie Hagglund also returns for the Women of Troy. After averaging 3.98 digs per set and helping USC reach the NCAA semifinals, she went on to help US Junior National Team place fourth at the FIVB Women's Junior World Championship and was named Best Libero of the tournament.

Haley and the Trojans also welcome into the mix a five-player incoming class that was dubbed the 10th-best recruiting class for 2011 by PrepVolleyball.com.

CONCERNS

With every significant player returning but still a fairly young roster with just three seniors, the Women of Troy will have to manage expectations carefully as the Pac-12 coaches' preseason favorite to win the 2011 crown.

The Trojans will have to make up for the loss of Falyn Fonoimoana, the 2010 Conference Freshman of the Year. A starter, she averaged 3.28 kills per set with a .253 hitting percentage.

Like every incoming class, the freshmen will need to adapt quickly, as they face the reigning national champion Penn State in the opening weekend of the season on the Nittany Lions' home court.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

Preseason ranked No. 2 [in the AVCA Coaches Poll] in the country, USC was young last year, but still made it to NCAA Final Four and has not lost any key players in 2011. Three freshmen anchors are now sophomores and are even better this year. This is still a really young team, but have a senior setter. With its depth and size, expect USC to be the team to beat in the Pac-12.

Utah Utes

TEAM PREVIEW

After winning six Mountain West Conference titles in 11 years of league play, Utah is ready to compete in its first season in the Pac-12 Conference. Beth Launiere, 22nd-year head coach, has been preparing her team for the challenges of the Conference with extra hours, focus and research. Even though Utah is new to the Pac-12, the program is not new to the competition. The Utes have played all 11 of their new conference opponents four times in the program's 36-year history and have defeated each Pac-12 team at least once.

STRENGTHS

Team captain and middle blocker Danielle Killpack takes over as the team's leader as one of only two seniors on the squad. The Utes' blocking leader last season, she tallied 1.27 blocks per set last year. Paired with sophomore middle blocker Erin Redd, the two combine for 85 percent of Utah's blocks.

Sophomore outside hitter Morgan Odale (pictured) is a solid all-around player and was named the MWC Freshman of the Year in 2010 after finishing in the league's top 10 in six separate statistical categories during her freshman season. In her rookie campaign, she accounted for a team-high 3.88 points per set.

Though a young squad, Utah has plenty of talent to turn to. Its incoming freshmen class is ranked 20th in the nation by PrepVolleyball.com.

CONCERNS

The Utes will struggle to replace a trio of record-setting players in opposite hitter Karolina Bartkowiak, libero Keisha Fisher and setter Stephanie Neeley.

Sophomore outside hitter Brooke McAlister was an important contributor on offense in 2010, but has had two knee surgeries since the end of last season. A quick recovery will bae necessary for back-to-back weekend games.

Sophomore libero Nikki Sim is the sole returning libero on the roster but lacks experience at the position, seeing limited playing time last year.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

They were 17-14 last season and had the MWC Freshman of the Year and an All-Conference middle blocker in Erin Redd. It's going to be interesting to see how the Utes do against the Pac-12 competition. You can't take a night off. It's going to be tough, but veteran coach Launiere will to the most with what she has.

Washington Huskies

TEAM PREVIEW

The Huskies lost three big contributors after the 2010 season, but are bringing plenty of talent back to Seattle this year, including an incoming class which includes two of the nation's top recruits, including the No. 1 prep player in the country, and a talented transfer. With the help of these newcomers, in addition to the four returning starters, the Huskies have the opportunity to improve upon last year's fifth-place finish in the Conference.

STRENGTHS

The combination of senior middle blocker Bianca Rowland (pictured), senior middle blocker Lauren Barfield and junior middle blocker Kelcey Dunaway makes for a strong and experienced middle. An AVCA Honorable Mention All-American the last two years, Rowland's 1.13 blocks per set put her in the top-10 for blocks in the Conference in 2010.

Sophomore libero Jenna Orlandini returns to anchor Washington's passing game. She ranked second in the Conference in digs as a redshirt freshman last season at 4.82 per set.

Head coach Jim McLaughlin landed two of the top recruits in the nation, including 2010-11 Gatorade High School National Player of the Year outside hitter Krista Vansant and fellow outside hitter Summer Ross, a USA Volleyball Beach Female Athlete of the Year as a high school senior. Senior setter Evan Sanders is a two-time All-Mountain West Conference honoree before transferring from Colorado State.

CONCERNS

The Huskies will miss setter Jenna Hagglund, who started all four years, was a two-time All-American and finished 10th in Conference history in assists. Hagglund averaged 11.77 asists per set in 2010. Sophomore Jenni Nogueras and Colorado State transfer Evan Sanders will compete for the starting job.

The squad's outside hitting corps is young, replacing last year's top two outside hitters Kindra Carlson (4.17 kills/set) and Becky Perry (3.74 kills/set), both all-conference performers. Incoming freshmen outside hitters Krista Vansant and Summer Ross are expected to contribute early on.

The team passing game could suffer without Carlson and Perry. Despite Orlandini's efforts, Washington finished 7th in the Conference in digs.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

Washington lost three key players (two go-to hitters and a setter). They have a strong libero in Jenna Orlandini, a returning middle blocker and middle blocker Amanda Gil, who's 6-foot-6 and transferred from UCLA. She should be impactful right away. Setter is a big question mark and that will be a big factor in the Huskies' success. Note: Since this interview, it was announced that Amanda Gil will miss the 2011 campaign due to injury.

Washington State Cougars

TEAM PREVIEW

The Cougars can go nowhere but up this year after a tough 2010 season. The team finished last in the final Conference standings, but showed resiliency during non-conference play. Jen Greeny, former WSU player and assistant coach, takes the helm as head coach for the 2011 season. She comes to Pullman from Lewis-Clark State College, where she racked up a 112-24 record. The learning curve will be steep, with 12 underclassmen and four transfers on the roster, coupled with a new coaching staff. However, the Cougars will have senior OH Meagan Ganzer for leadership.

STRENGTHS

Senior outside hitter Meagan Ganzer (pictured) returns as the only senior on the team, but a decorated one at that. She was a Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 selection in 2010, and ranked third in the Conference in kills per set and points per set at 4.72 and 5.31, respectively.

Junior outside hitter Rachel Todorovich returns after missing nine matches due to injury during the 2010 season. She earned Honorable Mention All-Freshman nod in 2009 and is looking to make an impact in 2011 now that she is healthy.

Head coach Jen Greeny is personally invested in the program as a former All-Pac-10 player and member of the WSU's 1996 NCAA Regional semifinal team, and is set on bringing back the winning ways of Cougars volleyball.

CONCERNS

With 11 newcomers joining the team this year - seven freshmen and four transfers - and 12 underclassmen on the roster overall, youth and inexperience will be a concern for the Cougars in 2011, especially in an improving and expanded Pac-12 lineup.

The loss of senior Brittany Tillman - second-ranked in kills and blocks on the team behind Meagan Ganzer in 2010 - could be a painful one unless junior OH Rachel Todorovich stays healthy to complement Ganzer.

EXPERT ANALYSIS: HOLLY McPEAK

They were winless last year in the Conference. They have a brand new coach and 11 new players, but only one recruit who belongs to new coach Jen Greeny. It could be another tough year for them but it's a tough trip to Pullman and sometimes the Cougars can steal some victories.

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