Women's Volleyball Season Outlook

Aug. 20, 2009

Buoyed by a great offseason, the USC women's volleyball team has been looking forward to the start of the 2009 season. The Women of Troy capped the spring by winning the 2009 Collegiate Beach Volleyball Championship in Riverside and defeating the likes of Nebraska, Texas and Hawai'i.

With 13 letterwinners returning for the 2009 season, the key to USC's success lies in the groundwork that took place in the offseason.

Unlike last season, the 2009 Women of Troy have three seniors on the squad. All-America outside hitter Jessica Gysin (3.15 kps, 2.31 dps, 3.66 pps) is a sixth-year senior who is finishing a long career that saw her battle back from injuries that plagued her first two years on campus. Her fellow co-captain teammate, libero Alli Hillgren (4.16 dps) has been the driving force to lead the Women of Troy this season. The third senior is Emilie Stewart, who transferred to USC last season from Fordham. Stewart played in five matches last year, but her development as one of the team's leaders has been crucial for its success.

'I think Jessica's game has improved because her responsibility and leadership have improved,' said Haley. 'She is more than just trying to get the kill or the perfect pass, she is about the team. I think through the process, she has grown to appreciate the opportunities for which she has gained along with the chance to compete. She is a fine leader for our team and a nice role model for the younger kids.'

Hillgren will have an added incentive as her freshman sister, Carolyn, is on the roster providing USC with its first opportunity for two sisters playing on the same squad.

'Alli knows that it's her last time around and took the leadership role seriously. She has done a lot of things which has helped the team out over the course of the last nine months to really get better. We are all on the same page now with this team. We think she will give us that kind of play in every match and practice.'

A major reason for the positive chemistry has been the play of sophomore setter Kendall Bateman (24 matches played in 2008, 117 assists, 2.72 aps), who played this summer for the U.S. Junior National Team.

'Kendall has earned the respect of the team,' said Haley. 'She was very good down in Mexico (for Team USA at the FIVB World Championship) and a good leader. She really is a players' player in that everyone really likes to play with her. She is a low-key leader, but she is as intense as they come. I think you will see us run our offense through the middles this year and run a faster system because of her abilities and the team's abilities.'

Three veteran middle blockers should take advantage of Bateman's skill level: juniors Zoe Garrett (1.17 kps, .305 hitting percentage, 0.90 bps, 2.41 pps) and Audrey Eichler (0.85 kps, 0.70 bps) and sophomore Lauren Williams (2.11 kps, .322 hitting percentage, 1.04 bps, 2.73 pps, 2008 Pac-10 All-Freshman Team).

'Zoe is producing a lot of offense so we are excited to see where this will take us this season,' said Haley.

'Lauren is physically stronger this season and more than capable now. She scored a lot of points for us last year, but will be able to add more points this year with her blocking and her serve.'

'I think Audrey is 100% healthy after battling injuries last year, but has shown already in camp that she is ready to challenge for a starting spot.'

Sophomore outside hitter Alex Jupiter led the Trojans last year in kills (350 for a 3.24 kps) and points (403.0 for a 3.73 pps) as she is hoping to make a step towards the next level.

'Alex did great this spring,' said Haley. 'She had a breakout semester, not only with her academics, but in her physical training as well. The difference in her strength is amazing. You will probably see her all the way around the court because her defensive ability can be at a high level. She has perfected a jump serve so she has added that to her arsenal.'

Adding to the Trojans' offense is junior outside hitter Kimmee Roleder (2.21 kps, 0.36 saps, 1.69 dps, 0.60 bps, 3.66 pps). A solid offseason has the coaching staff believing that she will be a difference maker in 2009.

'We need Kimmee to score points for us this season,' said Haley. 'She has shown an extraordinary work ethic this summer. She has prepared well and has done as good of a job as anyone on our team of being prepared for the fall. I am optimistic that we are going to see a real change out of her.'

Junior Geena Urango (1.52 dpg) is a player who can see time as an outside hitter or in the back row, but it's her high jump serving ability that makes her a potent weapon for USC.

'I think Geena can be a big contributor for us this year,' said Haley. 'I think last year, she was going through what sophomores typically go through in trying to figure out who they are. I think she is back. I don't know where she will play this season, but she is battling for an outside hitter position.'

Junior Mychaela Miller was already set as a backup setter for Bateman, but the Trojans were able to land junior transfer Kelly Irvin (Pacific Palisades/University of Virginia) to give the team three setters on the roster.

'We feel both Kelly and Mychaela are better in a 6-2 system than a 5-1 so if Kendall got hurt, we could certainly play both of them,' said Haley. 'We decided to have three setters on the roster because we wanted to be protected with every scenario. Kelly had been a part-time starter at Virginia and Mychaela has gotten better each year. They all bring something to the table. Kelly has a little more Division I experience, but needs to become familiar with our team. Mychaela has improved and has the good deep float serve, but both have to be good if we were to play a 6-2 with them.'

Two other newcomers are freshman outside hitter Katie Fuller (Olivenhain/La Costa Canyon HS) and defensive specialist Erin Yoder (San Clemente/San Clemente HS), whose father, Bob, was a three-time All-American at USC and coached the 1988 men's team to the national championship.

'Katie has been impressive so far in her focus and consistency,' said Haley. 'She has good size, above average skills and a chance to start. I have been impressed not only with her effort, but the way she competes because she is a pretty good blocker on the right and does some nice things on the left.'

'Erin has had a great first week for an incoming player. She has been very impressive and has had a smile on her face the whole time. She could challenge for some playing time if she continues this effort.'

For the many questions facing the Women of Troy in 2009, fall camp and the nonconference schedule will be a good indicator about the challenges that lie ahead.

'The big question for me is if the team has changed from last year,' said Haley. 'So far in the gym, it looks like there has been a big change. It feels different, it's a good feeling. All of the things we want to have happen in the gym have been taking place, but the question is if they can sustain it.'

'I think you will see a different kind of play on the court this season. If the setting is as good as we hope, I think we will play differently because we can and utilize our players better. We would like to use Gysin's quickness in our offense and get the middles more involved. We would like to block better so there is a lot of things we would like to do. This year, we will play depending on the talent and skills we have and get to the point where I think we will play at a faster rate. However, we can't increase our errors.'

Haley has been the leader of a program that has won two national championships and made four Final Four appearances during his tenure. After a disappointing season last year, Haley had some comments that might surprise volleyball fans.

'I think in the right circumstances we have a chance to get to the Final Four this year because of their skill set,' said Haley. 'We are big enough in the middle to control and we are strong enough on the outside to terminate. We are good enough in the back court to pass and play defense. We are a little young in the setting, but we have done it with young setters before. We have senior leadership and commitment. When you have that combination, we can keep getting better throughout the season and hopefully, get a good draw in the tournament. Yeah, I believe we have a chance this year to do well.'

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