Weekly Wrap-Up With Cathy Nelson

Nov. 25, 2007

Saying goodbye to the seniors

This time of the year all across the country teams are celebrating their seniors with senior night. It is a time for the staff and fans to publicly thank those players who have given many years to their teams. The Pac-10 conference is full of outstanding seniors that are finishing their careers soon. Some will play their final matches this weekend, while others will enjoy the thrill of the NCAA tournament one more time. But regardless of when the season ends these seniors know their days as a student/athlete are coming to a close.

Several teams, including Washington, ASU and USC, are losing many seniors that are significant contributors to their teams. Oregon and Oregon State, on the other hand, lose only one senior each and will look very much the same a year from now. Regardless of the number of seniors on any given roster, I think everyone would agree that this is an impressive senior class. They have combined for six of the twelve Pac-10 players of the week awards this season, numerous tournament MVP awards, and several academic distinctions. Five members of this class were not only All-Conference performers a year ago, but were also All-Americans.

Arizona State has more seniors on its roster, six, than any other team. This class was the first recruiting class for Coach Brad Saindon when he took over in Tempe in 2003, and it was this class that got the Sun Devils back to the NCAA tournament last season. The class is headlined by libero Sydney Donahue who has re-written the Pac-10 record book for digs. She owns the record for digs in a match and a season, and earlier this year broke the record for most digs in a career. She will also hold the record for highest digs average in a career. Her classmates, middle blockers Staci Smith and Colette Meek, outside hitter Danielle Fernandes, setter Rachel Mittelstaedt and defensive specialist Alison Lund, have made their impact felt as well. Smith and Meek have held down the middle for three years, Fernandes has been versatile playing both in the middle and on the outside, Mittelstaedt started as a setter her freshman season and Lund has been a steady defensive specialist her entire career and is fourth on the team in digs this season. The seniors will need to come up big this weekend in their final home matches if ASU hopes to make it back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, it must defeat either UCLA or USC to have a winning record and be considered for the tournament.

It is not surprising to see Washington and USC near the top of the Pac-10 standings as each team has a loaded senior class. The Huskies senior class has returning Pac-10 Player of the Year and First Team All-America Cristal Morrison, Second Team All-America middle Alesha Deesing, starting outside hitter Stevie Mussie and starting defensive specialist Ashley Aratani. Morrison and Mussie are first and second on the team in kills and points and second and third in digs. In addition, Morrison leads the team in aces and will undoubtedly become the Huskies all time kill leader this weekend, needing only 12 kills to surpass Sanja Tomasevic. Mussie has been a starter during her two years in Seattle, Deesing is a three-year starter who hits for a high percentage and is second on the team in blocks this year. Aratani has been a solid defensive specialist for the Huskies and is a top notch server as well. Washington will be hit hard with graduation this year and you know these seniors want to end the year as they have every other in their career, at the Final Four.

USC is in the same boat as Washington, a lot of good seniors. Outside hitter Asia Kaczor is coming off a career night, setting Pac-10 records for kills and attempts in a match with 44 kills on 100 swings in USC's win over Washington. The most amazing statistic, in my opinion, is that in one game alone Kaczor had 18 kills, which is more than Washington had as a team in three of their five games. She has been a major difference maker since she came to USC from the College of Southern Idaho last season and her graduation will create a huge offensive hole for the Women of Troy. But she is not the only loss for USC. Diane Copenhagen has been a three-year starter who has averaged over 3.0 kills and 2.0 digs per game the past two years. She has been slowed this season with injuries but is back in the lineup now which should be a big boost as USC heads into the NCAA tournament. Bethany Johansen leads the team in hitting percentage and blocks while fellow middle Katelyn Bishop has been a solid contributor during her four years. There is a great deal the Women of Troy will need to replace when this class moves on.

Arizona and Washington State have not had the year they hoped for when practices began this fall and now try to send their seniors off with a win. It will be tough for Arizona, losers of 11 of its last 12 matches, as it hosts two top 10 teams in USC and UCLA. The Cougars are also at home this weekend and the seniors will play their final home match against Oregon State a winnable match. A win would also prevent WSU from becoming the seventh team to go through the conference season without a win. The Cougars have three seniors on their roster, middle Tara West, outside hitter Adetokunbo Faleti and setter Maureen Perez. All three of these seniors start for the Cougars and fill up the stat sheet. Perez was slated to be the back up setter this year but was pressed into action when Corina Beyer left the program and averages just over 11.0 assists a game. Faleti has been a terrific offensive force at times, and leads the Cougs with 3.21 kills per game. West may be the player they miss most a year from now, she is third on the team in kills, has the highest hitting percentage on the team and is also the top blocker. But I can tell you they would all love to end their career with a win.

Arizona loses four seniors but only one, Dominique Lamb, is a significant net player for the Wildcats. She is currently second all-time at Arizona in career blocks and leads the team in blocking this season. She also can get it done offensively, currently third on the team in kills and hitting percentage. Katie Jackels, a fellow senior, has been the Wildcats defensive specialist and she is second on the team in digs. All four seniors will be disappointed to end their season without a NCAA bid for the second consecutive year. It was their sophomore year, 2005, when Arizona had match point to win the regional finals and punch a ticket to the Final Four. They did not win that match, they were upset by Santa Clara, and have not been back to the NCAA tournament since.

The senior class at UCLA, Rachell Johnson and Meghan Schoen, will find themselves in the NCAA tournament but without the high expectations they entered the season with. Johnson started in the middle last year when the Bruins made the Final Four and has had another outstanding year this season, averaging 3.39 kills per game, hitting .285 and leading the team with 25 aces. Schoen showed promise initially when she transferred from Michigan State after her freshman year but she has never seemed to fully recover from an ACL tear she suffered eight matches into her UCLA career. This year the Bruins rely on their large junior class of eight players - think of what a senior night that will be a year from now, but Johnson and Schoen provide essential leadership and direction for the Bruins. With eight conference losses the seniors have more work to do to make sure UCLA starts playing their best volleyball when the NCAA tournament starts next week.

The Oregon schools each have only one senior on the roster. For Oregon it is middle blocker Karen Waddington and for Oregon State it is starting outside hitter Kristin Murray. Waddington is the only player on the Oregon roster that played for former coach Carl Ferreria and endured back-to-back 1-17 Pac-10 records before the Ducks finally reached the NCAA tournament a year ago. She has started five matches this year and recorded 99 kills and 75 blocks. She is a solid performer for Oregon, but the Ducks have to like the team they have returning for next season. Same goes for Oregon State, a team that had many bright spots but could not sustain good play over time. Murray is third on the team in kills and second in digs and is clearly a team leader. That is especially true as she often finds herself on the court with three sophomores and a freshman as part of one of the youngest teams in the conference. I think good things are ahead for Oregon State.

California and Stanford, who play in the Big Spike this weekend, each lose two incredibly important players. California loses one of the faces of that program in outside hitter Angie Pressey. At 5'8' Pressey gives hope to all the small outside hitters playing high school volleyball, that maybe they could actually play in the front row. Pressey is one of my favorite players to watch partly because of her size and partly because of her smile. She has a lot of ground to make up for when she steps on the volleyball court and not only does it not seem to phase her, she seems to be enjoying it. Pressey was the first player in Cal history to be named First Team All-Pac-10 as a freshman and she could be the first Golden Bear to be named to the first team for four consecutive years. She will be a huge loss for Cal. The Bears also lose middle blocker Ellen Orchard who has really come into her own the past two seasons. She is an excellent blocker, she leads the Pac-10 in blocks per game at 1.65, and is also a strong attacker, hitting .325 on the year. Coach Rich Feller has done an excellent job recruiting to Cal but will have to work magic to replace his two seniors.

Stanford loses one of the best setters in the country when Bryn Kehoe finishes her eligibility this season. She was the first freshman ever to set her team to a NCAA championship and would love to add another her senior year. She was a Second Team All-American last year and First Team All-Pac-10. Although Stanford has great attackers, Kehoe is a terrific setter that knows how to run an offense. And that is hard to replace. Franci Girard is as solid as they come. She is not flashy, she may not stand out on a team full of stars, but she gets the job done. Like Kehoe, she came in and started her freshman year and has continued to grow. The past two years she has elevated her play and is a big reason why Stanford made it to the NCAA championship match a year ago.

I remember my senior night. I remember being sad, but also excited about ending one chapter and starting another. I knew that my life was going to be very different, and less structured, but that there was so much I wanted to do. So to all the seniors, best of luck and have fun finding your way to whatever is next.

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