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2004 UMBC VOLLEYBALL OUTLOOK
Senior Jocelyn Teoh led the America East Conference with 4.96 kills per game in 2003.
Heading into the 2004 season, UMBC Women's Volleyball Head Coach Greg Giovanazzi is enjoying the benefits of the settled atmosphere surrounding the volleyball program and is looking forward to capitalizing on what could be a very strong team in 2004. With the return of all-conference performer Jocelyn Teoh and a cast of veterans, the Retrievers' yearly goal of winning the conference tournament may not be far out of reach.
"This year entering the preseason everything is a lot more settled," said Giovanazzi. "We have a good group of returning players, we know the conference and we are familiar with our non-conference opponents having played the majority last season."
Prior to the start of the 2003 season there were a number of unknown issues and unfamiliar surroundings. Giovanazzi was entering his first season at the helm and was given the task of leading the Retrievers into their inaugural season in the America East Conference to face a number of unfamiliar programs. With a strong start in the conference, Giovanazzi's squad looked poised to make a run at the league winning their opening two conference matches before fading down the stretch.
The 2004 season, however, is shaping to be a much different story. Despite the loss of graduate student Jen Davis (3.01 kpg), the Retrievers return all their big hitters and top players from a year ago while adding new assistant coach Shelbylynn McBride and a seven-player recruiting class.
According to Giovanazzi the big question heading into the 2004 season is where does he play senior Jocelyn Teoh? Teoh, who earned America East all-conference honors last year and led the AE in kills per game at 4.96, is very versatile playing both in the middle or on the outside.
"Jocelyn has established herself as simply one of the conference’s premiere players," said Giovanazzi. "She has tremendous ability and ranks in the top two in every skills category on the team."
Giovanazzi likes the look of his offense with Teoh on the outside but may have to use her in the middle unless some fellow teammates can step up. Among the other canidates to fill the role in the middle are returnee's Jessie Folk and newcomers Katrina Carrick and Jessica Puckett. Folk led the team last year with 85 blocks and averaged 1.13 kpg. Carrick is a 6'2" freshman with potential to see immediate playing time while Puckett is a walk-on after transferring from the University of Maryland.
On the outside along with Teoh looks to be a cast of strong hitters including fellow senior Julia Waclawiak, Julia Hood, Britney Hodson, Christine Skala, Emily Berman and newcomers Marisa Gross and Catherine Ward adding to the mix.
Waclawiak had a great season serving the ball last year averaging 0.59 aces per game, ranking 24th in the nation, but injuries forced her attacking to drop as compared to her sophomore season when she averaged 2.71 kpg. A fully healthy Waclawiak could add a strong punch to the Retrievers' offense.
UMBC will also be getting back Britney Hodson who had to redshirt her freshman year with a preseason injury. Hodson is a highly touted outside hitter that may fit into the mix opposite the setter according to Giovanazzi.
"Britney is similar to Jocelyn in her versatility and hitting ability," said Giovanazzi. "I expect her like Jocelyn to receive most of the touches this season and play a major role."
Also returning is Emily Berman, who will be coming off an injury that sidelined her 13 matches into the season. Prior to her injury she was averaging 2.31 kpg and along with Julia Hood, who recorded 1.82 kpg her freshman year will battle with newcomers Marisa Gross and Catherine Ward. Gross recently capped off a strong prep career and has the potential to see a lot of playing time early on.
With all the kills from the big hitters comes an assist, normally from the Retrievers’ top setter in Megan Gross. Gross had a break out season last year taking over the duties as the primary setter on the team. Gross was the only player to play in all 33 matches and recorded 1,341 assists on the year, ranking third on the Retrievers' all-time single-season assists chart. Gross earned America East Setter of the Week on two occasions as well.
"Megan keeps getting better and better and really has developed a good grasp of what we want out of our offense," said Giovanazzi. "We have developed a good rapport with each other and she is really becoming the leader of our offense."
Newcomers Stacey Carroll and Megan Sipes will fill the back up roll and fight for playing time along with returnee Andrea Clarke, who will see most of her time on the Retrievers' solid back row.
Leading the back row is libero Christine Skala, who may also see some time at the outside hitter spot. Skala led the team in digs per game last year with 2.92 and made the U.S.A Select Team in the spring as one of the team's liberos.
Clarke and fellow defensive specialist Melissa Golob will also share time on the back row.
With a good bit of depth throughout the roster, one of the Retrievers main goals is to stay healthy. The Retrievers will already have to wait a year to see freshman Angela Anderson's ability in the collegiate ranks having lost her for the season due to a knee injury this past spring.
The Retrievers' non-conference schedule includes trips to tournaments hosted by NCAA Tournament participants Cincinnati and Penn State and only three home matches until their opening conference home match on Friday, Oct. 22. The Retrievers, while being on the road much of the early season, do have the benefit of playing at home in seven of their last nine games, setting up for a potential strong finish down the stretch.
"This is a tight conference and it depends on how you finish on whether you will make the top-four or not," said Giovanazzi. "We need to stay healthy, use the preseason and non-conference schedule to focus on the America East season and finish strong down the stretch to give ourselves a shot at the tournament."