Volleyball 2008 Season Outlook
Aug. 27, 2008
In just three seasons at the helm of the UK volleyball program head coach Craig Skinner has revitalized the Blue and White into a perennial SEC and NCAA contender. This team of Wildcats has experienced success and triumphs that had been missing from Memorial Coliseum for nearly 15 years before Skinner's arrival. But, satisfaction is not a term used in the locker room or on the practice court. These Wildcats understand that any team can have a good run, or string together a couple of winning seasons. The sign of a program built to last is a team that can sustain its win total and build toward bigger goals.
"Whatever program you are at in a major conference, the overall priority is to win your conference," Skinner said. "We have built a great foundation for long-term success and have put ourselves in a position for a chance to win the SEC title."
The Wildcats have gone to three consecutive NCAA appearances for the first time in school history. In 2007, UK reached the 20-win plateau for the first time since 1993. The team set school bests with 13 conference victories and nine wins on the road. Adding to the success was Queen Nzenwa's All-America honorable mention distinction, the first for the Kentucky program in nearly 15 years. But, that was last year. Now, the 2008 version of the Kentucky Wildcats must figure out a way to maintain that level of success and continue to elevate the program among league and national powers. The Wildcats return 10 letterwinners from a season ago, including five starters and the starting libero. Combine that with a freshman class that is ranked in the top-20 in the country, and Skinner is encouraged that his team is on the cusp of achieving something special.
Outside/Right Side Hitter
Bartek ranked third on the squad averaging 2.51 kills per set. She hit at a .188 clip while appearing in all 32 matches and earning 31 starts. She is a seasoned veteran and the most experienced of the group. The former Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year will be asked to take on an expanded role this season for the Wildcats, while also mentoring the younger players.
Mendoza enjoyed a successful start to her collegiate career, earning an SEC Freshman of the Week honor in late October after pacing the Blue and White to conference victories over Auburn and Georgia. As a freshman, she averaged 2.22 kills per set on a .176 hitting percentage. She too, will be asked to improve on her first season and help lead the Kentucky offense.
Hiler appeared in 26 matches and claimed 15 starting nods in her freshman campaign. She too contributed feverishly as a first-year player averaging 1.65 kills per set while tallying 119 kills for the season.
Sophomore Lauren Rapp is the other veteran of the group and is coming off an outstanding first season. The talented sophomore started on the right side in 2007. Three times she was named SEC Freshman of the Week and was also a member of the All-SEC Freshman team after averaging 2.41 kills per set on a .264 hitting percentage. She contributed 130 block assists averaging 1.11 blocks a set. Rapp, also an excellent server led the team as a freshman with 39 aces. Also, not afraid to find the hardwood Rapp averaged 1.39 digs a set.
Adding depth to the rotation is redshirt freshman Ann Armes. Armes was a former two-sport star in high school and was ranked among the nation's top seniors by PrepVolleyball.com. Armes had a great spring and looks to make an impact this fall.
"We really have a lot of depth in these positions," Skinner said. "It's been the first year that we've had this kind of depth, which will make it very competitive for a starting spot. I think we will see a significant improvement in the production of kills and hitting percentage over the course of the season."
"With Queen (Nzenwa) returning it adds significant experience here for us," said Skinner. "This position will be a continued strength of ours. We have two freshmen who have had an enormous amount of experience both at the junior level and at the international level. Becky (Pavan) and Gretchen (Giesler) will add to our depth and increased competition at the position."
Freshmen Gretchen Giesler and Becky Pavan will join the rotation and look to fill the void of departed senior Nicole Britenriker, a do-everything player. A two-year All-Conference selection, Giesler led her St. Charles North high school team in kills, blocks, aces and hitting percentage her senior year. Rated No. 80 among the top 100 seniors by PrepVolleyball.com, Giesler led her high school team to back-to-back conference championships in 2006 and 2007, a sectional title in 2006 and a regional title in her final campaign.
Pavan is a member of the Canadian National team program. Named the "Best Blocker" of the 2006 and 2008 NORCECA Championships which encompasses all of North and Central America, Pavan led Forest Heights Collegiate Institute to back-to-back county and regional championships in her final two seasons. She was named her school's Junior Athlete of the Year. Pavan, considered the top Canadian recruit in the 2008 signing class, was named her conference's most valuable player as a senior and a first-team all-star her final two years.
Rumely is the director of the offense and has shown tremendous growth as a leader of the team. Her stats include pacing the team with 39 service aces, adding an offensive instinct that includes tallying 1.37 kills per set and 75 block assists on the year. She is also one of the defensive leaders of the team grinding out an average of 2.28 digs per set. Rumely will need to continue to contribute in every facet of the game, but will also be asked to help lead a youthful offensive attack if the Wildcats are to return to the NCAA tournament and vie for a shot at the SEC Championship.
Incoming freshman Christine Hartmann is what Skinner calls a pure setter. She played every match of her high school career at Rosary High School and was a four-year varsity starter. She is rated No. 35 among the top 100 seniors by PrepVolleyball.com. A two-time team captain, Hartmann was named the most valuable player of her high school team in each of her last three seasons. She was a three-time All-Suburban Catholic Conference selection, earning conference MVP honors her final campaign.
"Having a two-year returning starter in Sarah Rumely is a huge advantage for us," Skinner said. "Sarah leads by example, and we're looking for her to continue to be steady on the court for us. The other exciting part of it is Christine Hartmann who was a top-35 recruit in the country. She will immediately make an impact in our program. The talent level of these two players will make our practices highly competitive."
Adding depth to the position is senior Alisa Pierce who added 409 total digs with an average of 3.33 per set while seeing time in all 32 matches. She and Sauer both contributed over 50 assists for the season while serving up over 17 aces.
Sophomores Annmarie Behr and Laura Stokowski who both split time at other positions in their first season will see exclusive time in the defensive specialist area. Stokowski racked up 100 digs in her first season with an average of 1.12 per set. Both have seen action in their first seasons and will look to continue to add depth and competition at the position.
"This is another experienced position for us this season," said Skinner. "Brianne (Sauer) has really established herself this spring in the libero position. Along with Alisa's (Pierce) experience and the competitiveness of Laura (Stokowski) and Annmarie (Behr) it will be exciting to see how good this position can be for us."
Stay tuned to UKathletics.com for complete coverage of the Kentucky volleyball team.