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UMBC Volleyball Begins 2008 Season at Tribe Invitational Friday
Junior Ashley Oscars and the Retrievers kick off their season Friday night vs. William and Mary.
UMBC head coach Ian Blanchard and the women’s volleyball team look to return to the America East Conference Championships in 2008 after a year absence.
The Retrievers won 20 games last year for the first time since 1998 against only 12 defeats, but missed out on the four-team league tournament, finishing fifth with a 5-7 record in conference play.
After enduring a tough 2007 campaign both mentally and physically, Blanchard is very happy with the progress of his young squad, which has no seniors, throughout the preseason practice schedule.
“One of the things I have asked my girls is to be better on the road because tough teams play better on the road and we lost too many five-set matches,” said Blanchard.
Blanchard has decreased the amount of practice time in hopes of helping his team achieve a higher level of learning.
“I think the girls are excited about what has been going on in practice. We have gone from three-hour practices in the morning and two in the afternoon to two and a half in the morning and one in the afternoon,” he said. “It’s less wear and tear on the body, but higher intensity level during the times we are practicing, and we can do that because we’re not as tired or beaten.”
Blanchard has also noticed an increase in the level of competition at every position.
“Right now, it’s a dog fight,” the fourth-year coach said. “Hopefully the competition brings out the best in our athletes. What I’m looking for is to see who is going to step up.”
With the high level of competition comes great depth and a number of options for Blanchard.
“I am going to be very comfortable if one player is struggling to say, ‘we’re going to give this other player a try,’” he said. “We have depth and we have some people who can float around.”
One of the players who can float around and will bring great leadership to the Retrievers is redshirt junior Sarah Ball, who returns after missing all of last season with a devastating knee injury.
“It’s really nice having Sarah back on the team and in practice every day,” said Blanchard. “She has a very calming influence over me and on the rest of the team.”
The 2005 America East Conference Rookie of the Year can play anywhere on the floor, possibly even including the libero position.
“She’s very mature and very good defensively, so if she can not necessarily help us out at the net, we want her out there somewhere,” Blanchard said. “Libero is the next best position because she’ll be out there for five and a half rotations.”
Oscars, a Second-Team All-Conference selection in 2007, brings the experience of being a two-year starter for the Retrievers and stands only 68 kills short of the Retrievers’ all-time top-10 list with 723 for her career. She was America East Player of the Week twice last season and led UMBC with 331 kills on the year.
Hoeks was named to the America East All-Rookie Team last season and ranked third in kills with 253. Her 44 aces led the team and her 0.46 service aces/game led the conference.
Blanchard has been impressed by Hoeks’ dedication in the offseason and thinks she is ready to improve on her excellent freshman campaign.
“Sabrina worked really hard in the offseason and it shows,” the coach said. “Her vertical jump has gone up three inches since the end of last spring to this season. She has stepped up.”
Lang comes to UMBC with a long list of accolades including Gatorade Player of the Year for Virginia and AVCA All-American.
Blanchard has already seen big things from Lang and expects her to contribute right away.
“She might be the best player I’ve gotten to work with as a freshman,” he said. “She’s awfully good and is going to contribute this year in a variety of ways. She’s got a very complete game and can score in a variety of ways. As experienced and as good as she is, she wants to get better, so she’s hungry to improve.”
Another player who could see time at outside hitter is sophomore Bianca Sande, but a shoulder injury might prevent her from seeing action this season. Sande played in 59 sets and had 99 kills last season but was expected to see increased playing time in 2008.
Scheetz set a UMBC single-season record with 112 assisted blocks in 2007 on her way to being named to the America East All-Rookie team, but Blanchard has seen even more improvement from her over the offseason.
“Bridget has increased her range considerably in terms of being able to score from a variety of ways so she’s gotten much better,” the coach said.
Hill redshirted in 2007, but Blanchard has noticed her growth as a player and expects that she will have a contributing role this season.
“Sarah Hill has improved 100 percent since she came here last year,” he said. “She’s also going to compete for the right side hitting position.”
Joy comes from a great pedigree as both her parents were Canadian Olympians. She has only played volleyball for a few years, but is a superb athlete who is always striving to improve.
“Sarah Joy is one of the best athletes that we’ve probably ever had in this program,” said Blanchard. “She’s learning how to become a better volleyball player every day. She’s an extremely driven and focused young woman. She just wants to get better so badly and she’s working very hard and she’s going to contribute.”
While the 6-foot-3 Kennedy may redshirt this year, Blanchard is impressed with her athletic ability.
“She brings a physicality to the team that we’ve probably never had before,” he said. “We have a 6-3 kid who can legitimately touch 10 feet and is learning every day. She is going to be a force to be reckoned with in a year or two.”
With the return of Sarah Ball from injury, the right side hitting position will remain a solid part of UMBC’s offense.
Ball will look to return to her form of two years ago when she ranked second on the team with 330 kills, 397 digs and 69 total blocks.
Hoeks will also contribute on the right side as she did a year ago, while Hill will add depth to the position.
One position that has remained solid during the course of Blanchard’s tenure at UMBC is the setter. Junior Kira Giles will provide the experience but will be pushed by incoming freshman Alexandria Spaay.
Giles ranks sixth all-time at UMBC with 1,793 career assists after adding 924 in 2007, when she was named America East Setter of the Week twice.
Spaay comes to UMBC after a stellar high school career in Wisconsin in which she earned All-Conference and All-County honors her senior year.
“The competition at the setting position is outstanding,” said Blanchard. “Spaay brings different things to the table than Kira does. They complement each other very nicely. She’s maybe not as physical as Kira is, but she can do some other things with the ball and is quite strong and quick and sets the ball very well.”
After two seasons of having to replace a libero, Blanchard has some stability at the position in 2008. Junior Pam Jarrett earned the starting spot last year before a back injury forced her to miss nine straight matches.
Blanchard says redshirt sophomore Helen Smith is set to challenge Jarrett for the starting spot.
“Smith has vastly improved,” the coach said. “She is putting tremendous pressure on Pam and she wants that starting libero position as much as Pam does. They are both playing very well.”
Ball will also get a look at libero to give the position more depth.
Competition and intensity are the two words Blanchard is focused on for this season. With competition at every position and a higher level of intensity in practice, Blanchard can see the improvement with each and every day. With a challenging non-conference schedule, Blanchard will look to see which players work well together and piece together the best lineup for league play.
“By the time we get to conference play, we’ll have a clear idea of how we play against other teams,” he said. “With four rookies, we have a lot of learning going on, but I’m pleased with where we are.”
Even with the amount of learning going on at practice, Blanchard is excited about the prospects for this season.
“This is the best I have felt about a team in the preseason since I’ve been at UMBC,” he said.
The Retrievers kick off their season Friday at the Tribe Invitational in On the Tribe: William and Mary finished last season with a record of 14-15, going 8-6 in Colonial Athletic Association play. The Tribe were picked third in the CAA preseason poll. Senior Kim Mount was selected to the CAA Preseason All-Conference team. Mount, who ranked third in the conference with 11.67 assists per set in 2007, was named to the All-CAA and VaSID all-state second teams one year ago. UMBC vs. William and Mary All-time: The Tribe lead the series 4-1 with the last match going William and Mary’s way, 3-1, on Sept. 11, 2004 in On the Mountaineers: Appalachian State earned 19 wins against 14 losses last year, finishing 14-4 in Southern Conference play. The Mountaineers were picked to finish second in the Southern Conference’s North Division in the conference’s preseason poll. ASU will be led by senior Carla Durham, who leads all returners in kills and attacks. UMBC vs. Appalachian State All-Time: The two schools have never faced each other. On the Eagles: UMBC vs.
The Retrievers kick off their season Friday at the Tribe Invitational in
On the Tribe: William and Mary finished last season with a record of 14-15, going 8-6 in Colonial Athletic Association play. The Tribe were picked third in the CAA preseason poll. Senior Kim Mount was selected to the CAA Preseason All-Conference team. Mount, who ranked third in the conference with 11.67 assists per set in 2007, was named to the All-CAA and VaSID all-state second teams one year ago.
UMBC vs. William and Mary All-time: The Tribe lead the series 4-1 with the last match going William and Mary’s way, 3-1, on Sept. 11, 2004 in
On the Mountaineers: Appalachian State earned 19 wins against 14 losses last year, finishing 14-4 in Southern Conference play. The Mountaineers were picked to finish second in the Southern Conference’s North Division in the conference’s preseason poll. ASU will be led by senior Carla Durham, who leads all returners in kills and attacks.
UMBC vs. Appalachian State All-Time: The two schools have never faced each other.
On the Eagles: