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UMBC Volleyball Opens 2009 Season with Madison Bingaman Memorial Tournament at the RAC Saturday
Senior Ashley Oscars and the Retrievers begin their 2009 slate Saturday.
BALTIMORE--The UMBC volleyball team begins the 2009 season Saturday with the Madison Bingaman Memorial Tournament at the RAC Arena. The Retrievers will face off against Long Island at 10 a.m. and Northeastern at 5 p.m. The Blackbirds and Huskies face each other at 1 p.m. If you cannot make it to the RAC, catch all the games live on www.UMBCRetrievers.tv.
UMBC head volleyball coach Ian Blanchard and his 2009 team look to match and surpass the 2008 squad’s appearance in the semifinals of the America East Championship.
The Retrievers went 18-13 last year, their third straight winning season, and reached the conference tournament for the second time in three years.
While the 2008 roster boasted no seniors in the 2009 Retrievers are more experienced with four seniors and four returning starters from last year’s team.
“We have a lot of senior leadership and experience that is going help us tremendously,” Blanchard said. “Last year we were a little young, but this is most seniors I have ever coached.”
Last season, outside hitter was a strong position for the Retrievers and this year appears to be no different. Senior Ashley Oscars will once again be a benchmark for the offense, while junior Sabrina Hoeks, sophomores Alyssa Lang and Bianca Sande and freshman Naomi Bush will all compete for playing time on the outside.
“We have a significant amount of experience on the outside,” Blanchard said. “The competition is going to be very high for the two positions.”
Oscars became the seventh player in UMBC to record 1,000 career kills last year and currently stands at 1,029. The three-year starter was second on the team with 306 kills, and Blanchard says he expects more of the same.
“Ashley is going to provide us tremendous veteran leadership,” the coach said. “She’s really hungry at this point and wants to do everything she can put herself and the team in the best position to win a championship.”
Lang became the third Retriever to earn America East Rookie of the Year honors Blanchard’s four seasons at UMBC, leading the team with 319 kills and ranking second with 317 digs in 2008.
“She came to camp in very good shape,” Blanchard said. “She’s working hard at changing her mechanics, and it’s had a positive effect on her play. I think she can pick up where she left off last year.”
Hoeks, who can play all three front row positions, was having a solid year with 102 kills before a knee injury cut short her sophomore season, but she is primed to pick up where she left off.
“The nice thing about Sabrina, is that she is such a diverse player, she can play multiple positions and help us win in so many different ways,” Blanchard said.
Sande missed the 2008 campaign with a shoulder injury and was limited in spring practice, but she has been improving every day since practice started in mid-August. In 2007, she recorded 143 digs and 99 kills.
“She has made some great improvement in the last couple of weeks,” Blanchard said. “Her shoulder appears to pain-free, and by the time conference play starts, she should be in the competition for an outside position.”
Bush comes to UMBC after earning All-State honors in Michigan, and Blanchard thinks she could make an immediate impact.
“Naomi brings a unique physicality to the team,” the coach said. “It’s important that we keep her mentally and physically fresh because of the length of season, but I think that she has made tremendous strides so far and she’s going to be a part of the mix this season.”
Sophomore Iman Kennedy was named the team’s most improved player at UMBC’s varsity awards banquet last season. After learning the UMBC system and earning her way into the starting six in the last month of the season, she averaged more than eight kills in the last three matches of the year. Blanchard sees the 6-foot-3 Kennedy making more progress in 2008 and potentially having a breakout season.
“Iman is a physical presence in the middle for us,” the coach said. “She has the opportunity to do some very special things for us in the conference and beyond. She has the potential to take over games.”
Sophomore Sarah Joy will help provide depth behind Kennedy after starting off last season strong. Joy earned 78 kills and 40 total blocks in the middle in 2007.
“We’re working on getting her strong,” Blanchard said. “She’s got a year of experience under her belt and I think she’s going to have a positive impact.”
In addition, Hoeks, Sande and Bush could see time at middle blocker when not on the outside.
Freshman Katie Kelly was slated to see time in the middle as well, but a shoulder injury will force her to miss her inaugural campaign.
Freshman Ali Loynachan comes to UMBC from Ontario, where she won a club national championship in 2009, and should begin the year as the starting right side hitter.
“Ali is a true right side hitter,” Blanchard said. “She’s been training as a right side since she was very little. She’s an above-average blocker, has a good arm and has a great ability to detect when she needs to swing hard and when she needs to take some off of a hit.”
Blanchard is also impressed by Loynachan’s hands and her ability to help dictate play when the setter has to pass the first ball.
“She’s quite a good setter and that adds a dimension to our offense where if the setter has to pass, we can run the entire offense off of Ali’s hands,” the coach said.
Hoeks, Lang and Sande could also see action on the right side.
“The nice thing about our outsides is that they are pretty interchangeable,” Blanchard said. “Anyone who can play on the left side can also play on the right.”
“It’s a battle,” Blanchard said. “It’s the most intense battle on the team, but the nice thing about it is there is no drop off; both of them are in the top half of the conference.”
Giles is fourth all-time in UMBC history with 2,552 career assists, second in assists per set with 10.29 and earned America East Setter of the Week honors once last year.
“Kira has worked exceptionally hard in the preseason after being injured for the entire spring,” the coach said. “And she has three years of experience, which is very key.”
Spaay had 375 assists last year and was named America East Rookie of the Week twice on her way to an All-Rookie Team selection.
“Allie came back in the best shape out of anyone on the team,” Blanchard said. “She’s jumping better, she’s putting up a better block, and she can become a better offensive setter because of that.”
The Retrievers’ defensive specialists are a very experienced group. Senior Pam Jarrett has 83 matches under her belt heading into her final year. Fellow senior Helen Smith will also see time as a defensive and serving specialist, and Lang could see time in the back row if she does not win an outside hitter position. Freshman Brighid Casey will also provide depth in the back.
Jarrett led the team with 396 digs in 2008 and now stands 10th in UMBC history with 892 career digs.
“Pam is passing better now than I have seen in three years coaching her,” Blanchard said. “She’s also a great leader. Any time I’ve needed to communicate anything to the team, Pam is right there.”
Smith saw action in 18 matches last year and has averaged more than 1.5 digs per set throughout her career.
“Helen is probably the most improved passer on the team,” the coach said. “She’s one of the hardest workers on the team. Whatever role she plays, she’s ready and willing to do whatever is best for the team.”
Lang was second on the team with 317 digs and also led the Retrievers with 44 service aces as a freshman.
Casey was a First-Team All-Met selection by The Washington Post and could also see time as a backup to Giles and Spaay at the setter position.
“Brighid is a high-energy freshman,” Blanchard said. “The game is much faster than what she played in high school and club, but I think she will be able adapt.”
THE FINAL WORD
With four seniors and an abundance of competition for starting spots, Blanchard believes this year will be a successful one.
“I’m excited about the prospects because all of the competition is going to make our practices harder and is going to make us better in the end,” the coach said.
The season begins with a difficult non-conference slate that includes early matches against Northeast Conference champion Long Island and Colonial Athletic Association runner-up Northeastern and a trip to the West Coast to play five-time national champion Long Beach State.
“We’ve got a really tough non-conference schedule,” Blanchard said, “We’re going to take some lumps this year, but I think that is going to help us prepare for the conference season and to make another run towards the conference championship.”