2001 Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 27, 2001

Oregon State head volleyball coach Nancy Somera knows her 2001 team has the talent to be an NCAA Tournament caliber club.

What she's hoping is that her team can readily display the other elements needed to get to the tournament.

'We're pushing for an upper half conference finish and an NCAA Tournament bid. I believe we have the talent to be a tournament team, and we'll see if we have the other components that are necessary to get you there,' Somera said. 'It's one thing to have the skills. It's another to put those skills together come match time.'

Now in her third year with the program, Somera is confident that this year's squad can focus more on the actual game of volleyball rather than spending as much time on the basics that they developed in her first two years at OSU.

'One of our goals to have accomplished by year three was to be technically sound,' Somera said. 'Of course there's always room for improvement, but I feel like now we're at a skill level where our training environment is going to be concentrated less on skill development and more on learning the game and raising our volleyball IQ.'

Somera also believes she'll see her team show more competitiveness on the court, another key element in getting to postseason play.

'Another goal for this year is to be more competitively mature, and time will tell,' Somera said. 'The team felt more confident by the end of the spring season, and it showed in their actions. Their reactions to certain situations were more confident and competitive, a sign that the group has matured.'

It also helps that the Beavers have more depth than in Somera's first two years. The team returns 10 letterwinners and four starters from last year's 16-16 team that was just one win away from becoming eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Joining the team are four freshmen - three outside hitters and a setter.

All-Pac-10 team member Gina Schmidt put up big numbers as a junior last year, and Somera expects more of the same from the standout outside hitter this year. Other returning starters are middle blocker Michele Solomon, who's been ranked among the Pac-10's best blockers the last two years, and outside hitters Lori Daedelow and Joscelyn Hannaford.

Somera has taken note of her team's improvement and has toughened the non-conference schedule to reflect that improvement. Of OSU's 10 non-conference opponents, four made it to the NCAA Tournament last season. The Pac-10 should be strong once again as well, after sending six teams to the tournament in 2000.

Of course, the Beavers also will have to adjust to a new scoring system that's been implemented for the upcoming season. Rally scoring will be used for all games, not just the fifth game as in the past. Games one through four will be played to 30 points, with teams still needing to win by two. Game five will still be a 15-point contest.

Changes in serving will also take effect. A serve that hits the net but still goes onto the opponent's side will be considered a live ball and not a service error.

The Outside Hitters

The Beavers have eight players available at the outside hitter position, practically doubling their depth at this position after being limited in Somera's first two seasons.

OSU returns all three of its starting outside hitters from a year ago, including All-Pac-10 team member Gina Schmidt, who finished her junior year with 548 kills and 397 digs and was ranked in the top six in the Pac-10 in both those areas.

As much of an asset as Schmidt was as a junior, Somera is expecting even better things from OSU's star player this year.

'Gina is the player that she is right now and will be in the future because of her commitment to continually improve. Whenever she has a chance to do more, work on something, play extra, train with the Canadian National Team, she's doing it,' Somera said. 'I expect her to come back as an even better player because she's training with the Canadian National Team this summer, and she's motivated to always take her game to another level. I think we will see her playing at another level this year.'

Also returning is senior Lori Daedelow, who started 17 matches as a junior in her first season playing at the Division I level after a stellar junior college career. With a year of Pac-10 play under her belt, Daedelow should be even more of an impact for OSU.

'Last season Lori was getting her feet wet in the Pac-10. It took her a little bit to adjust to the rigors of the Pac-10 competitive season,' said Somera. 'This past spring, Lori improved in some areas of her game that will help her continue to contribute and play at this level. Her attacking improved, her foot speed is better. She's always been one of our strongest competitors, and that competitiveness now belongs to an improved volleyball player.'

OSU's third returning starter at this position is junior Joscelyn Hannaford, who started nearly every match at the opposite position. Hannaford led OSU in aces and was third on the team in kills and fourth in digs a year ago.

'Joscelyn really carried a big load for us her sophomore year and gained valuable experience, but I think her biggest improvements were in her mental game,' Somera said. 'During the spring, she made a huge commitment in her conditioning. She's quicker and more explosive.'

Battling Hannaford for the opposite position will be redshirt junior Megan McMillan, who sat out last year while rehabbing from an ACL tear suffered at Cal State Bakersfield before transferring to OSU. Somera has liked what she's seen from McMillan so far.

'Megan, like Lori, was able to use the year to adjust to Division I volleyball at the Pac-10 level. Unfortunately as a redshirt, we didn't get to see what she could do competitively because she still couldn't compete in the spring, but Megan's clearly challenging for one of the outside hitting spots,' said Somera. 'She's been chosen as one of the captains of our team, so even without being able to demonstrate the impact she'll have on the court, her teammates have a lot of respect for her.'

Sophomore K.C. Frederic is also in the mix for playing time. She showed great potential as a freshman at times last year, and a year of experience may be all she needs to become more consistent on the court.

'K.C. is a quick, explosive outside hitter with great defensive instincts. She struggled with consistency her freshman year, which is pretty common,' said Somera. 'It will be a matter of how much she matured competitively over the course of the year and if she can apply that this season. That will determine, to some degree, her amount of playing time.'

Of OSU's four freshmen, three are outside hitters and Somera expects them to be able to step in and make an impact early on.

Karah Rhoades was the 3A Player of the Year in Colorado last year and brings much athleticism to the table after winning seven state titles in track and field in high school. Katelyn Healy helped her team to the 4A Oregon state championship and was a first team all-state pick last year. Allison Lawrence was a two-time first team All-CIF player and was named L.A. Times Player of the Year as a senior.

'Karah by far will be one of the best athletes in the conference. I think she could have an immediate impact if she can adjust to the pace of the college game and find a niche for herself within our team,' Somera said. 'Allison is a steady all-around player who makes few mistakes. She takes care of the ball, is a good server, and has really good all-around skills. Katelyn is an all-state player from Oregon who is a versatile athlete with the ability to play any three of the outside hitting positions.'

The Setters

Somera's biggest question mark comes with the setting position. After losing three-year starter Brandi Bonnarens to graduation, Somera will have a new setter calling the action on the court.

Just who that will be still remains to be seen.

'The setting position, in my mind, is the position that's most up in the air,' Somera said.

The battle will be between sophomore Laura Collins, who saw limited action as Bonnarens' back-up last year, and freshman Monica Meihack, the 4A Player of the Year in Nevada last year.

'The setting spot will be given to the setter who creates the best team chemistry. Whichever setter makes the other five players play better, that's who will set this team,' Somera said. 'And, it could be a combination of them both.'

'Laura's biggest obstacle is going to be overcoming the lack of playing time as a collegiate setter. Skill wise though, she's right there, and she has a feel for the game that is beyond her years of experience,' Somera said. 'Monica is a hitter's setter. She understands tempo and rhythm, and her demeanor with her hitters is something that's hard to coach. She makes her hitters feel good by the way she sets and by the way she communicates and reacts to their kills and their errors.'

The Middle Blockers

Junior Michele Solomon is projected to start at middle blocker for the third year in a row, but the other middle blocker position is still up for grabs, with the Beavers needing to replace Angie Shirley - the other starter on last year's team.

Solomon has been one of the top blockers in the Pac-10 the past two years, and last year she emerged as more of an offensive threat as well. Somera is hoping to see Solomon improve her offensive output even more in 2001 while still being a key force at the net for the Beavers.

'Michele is the best blocker on the team. For the past two years, she's been in the top 10 blocking in the conference,' Somera said. 'She was kind of limited in the spring due to an injury rehabilitation, but we focused on making her a more offensive player and rounding out her game so she's equally effective on both sides of the ball.'

Also available at middle blocker are redshirt freshman Amanda Eggert, whose 6-4 frame brings additional height to the roster, and junior Katrina Nelson, who returns after tearing her ACL in the last month of the season last year.

'Amanda is big, and that alone helps her be a very offensive middle in our system. She's probably our most terminating attacker in the middle of the net. During spring, we continued to develop her offensiveness, her vision and her foot speed,' Somera said. 'She has a great opportunity to start this year as a redshirt freshman, and I'm sure if that happens, she'll be a candidate for the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team.'

Nelson's biggest challenge will be getting back into the swing of things after her injury.

'Katrina had really been providing some additional punch for us wherever we needed her, whether it be in an outside spot or middle attacking position. She's had a successful rehab and she's worked hard to get herself ready for this season,' Somera said. 'It will be a matter of how long it takes her to get her timing and movement skills back to where they were before the injury, but it looks promising. She's an upperclassman with playing experience, and we hope that works in our favor when she returns to her previous playing form.'

As the Beavers are somewhat limited depth-wise at this position, Somera said Hannaford could also see action at middle blocker.

Defensive Specialists

'With the new rally scoring but the continued use of 18 subs, the games will go faster, so you're in a position now to really utilize a lot of defensive specialists within a game. If we choose to use defensive specialists, then we certainly have a core to choose from,' Somera said.

Junior Nikki Neuburger, who joins McMillan and Schmidt as one of the team's co-captains, senior Jessica Papell and sophomore Lianne Dela Cruz are all strong contenders for playing time as defensive specialists.

Papell was second on the team in both digs (291) and aces (25) last year, while Neuburger added 255 digs and 17 aces.

'Nikki's one of our most solid passers and servers and really knows the game of volleyball. She was chosen as captain because of her leadership skills,' Somera said. 'Jessica brings intensity to every match and as a fifth-year senior has a lot of playing experience.'

Neuburger and Papell both played on a regular basis last year, but Somera said there's no guarantee the Beavers will utilize two defensive substitutions this year. However, Somera sees that as a challenge.

'I think Jessica, Nikki and Lianne are good for each other. They push each other to be better. Last year, we were in a situation where we utilized two or three defensive specialists. This year, I'm not sure. Depending on who's starting in some of the other positions, we might be using only one,' Somera said. 'If that's the case, I fully anticipate the three of them going at it. Lianne, who had an up-and-down freshman year, is going to be a lot more steady as a sophomore and will be pushing for one of those spots.'

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