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Volleyball Opens 2011 Campaign in California for Long Beach State Mizuno Classic, Battle at UC Riverside
Senior Allie Spaay
BALTIMORE—The UMBC volleyball team opens the 2011 season out in Southern California this weekend, taking part in the Long Beach State Mizuno Classic Friday and Saturday, before travelling to UC Riverside on Monday afternoon. The Retrievers will face off against five-time national champion and No. 22 Long Beach State Friday night at 7 p.m. and Prarie View A&M and No. 7 Washington on Saturday.
The Retrievers are 0-1 all-time against the two ranked opponents, the 49ers and Huskies, but have never faced off against the Panthers and Highlanders.
Check out the UMBC Dawg Blog for updates of the team's trip to Southern California.
The 2011 UMBC volleyball team will look take the next step from its 2010 campaign - win the America East championship and earn a berth to the NCAA Tournament.
A year ago, the Retrievers were one of the youngest teams in NCAA Division I with eight freshmen on the roster and played the majority of the season with three or four rookies on the court at all times. The young Dawgs played through their growing pains and ended up advancing to the America East title match before bowing out to Albany.
This year, all eight of those freshmen return, along with two seniors in Iman Kennedy and Allie Spaay, who have been starters for over half of their time in Baltimore. Add in another impressive group of freshmen, and the base of a championship-caliber squad is evident.
“Obviously, our goal every year is to win the conference tournament and go on to the NCAA Tournament,” seventh-year head coach Ian Blanchard said. “The beauty of this team is that we have a great combination of veterans and youngsters who work well together, so the question is not, ‘Why UMBC?’ it is ‘Why not us?’”
All three setters from the 2010 season - Spaay and sophomores Rebecca Garrigues and Mallory McIntyre - return this year. Spaay was an America East All-Conference Second Team selection in 2010, while Garrigues and McIntyre each saw action early in the season while Spaay was out with a shoulder injury.
“Allie provides outstanding leadership for us and is a solid all-around player,” Blanchard said. “Not only is she a great setter, but she’s an excellent server and defender, as well. Rebecca and Mallory got some key experience last year while Allie was out. That opportunity to see the speed of DI volleyball will be crucial and will help them develop. All three are competitors and push each other to become better.”
The Retrievers lose an America East All-Conference First Team member in Sabrina Hoeks and an inspirational off-the-court leader in Bianca Sande, but All-Rookie team honorees Hallie Carter and Ali Goc return, along with junior Ali Loynachan and sophomore Emily Vandegrift, who will compete for time on the right side.
“We have a great amount of depth at the outside hitter position, which is something we did not have last year,” Blanchard said. “The competition level in practice has been very high, and we’ll see the benefits during the season.”
Goc started most of the first half of the 2010 campaign on the outside, hitting 214 kills, while Carter started the season at libero while recovering from a shoulder injury. Once Carter healed, the duo saw equal time at both positions and could see the same scenario play out this year.
“Both are outstanding offensive and defensive players,” the coach said. “They cover all areas of the court really well and are pretty interchangeable.”
Loynachan followed up her 2009 All-Rookie campaign with another solid season, notching 127 kills with 165 digs, more than double the amount from her first year. Vandegrift served as a backup most of last season, earning 90 kills and 48 total blocks while seeing time at all three front-row positions.
Blanchard also brought in three recruits who can compete for playing time immediately in freshmen Megan Groess, Tanaeri Santiago and Hannah Schmidt.
Groess comes from San Diego, where she played for one of the best club programs in the nation, Wave Volleyball Club, and can play on either the left or the right side.
“Megan will help us in a lot of ways because she is used to playing at the highest level of volleyball in the country,” Blanchard said.
Santiago, who hails from Puerto Rico, is a former national beach volleyball champion and also has experience playing against some of the best in the country.
“Tanaeri brings great experience but will have a little bit of a learning curve adapting to playing volleyball in the United States,” the coach said. “She’s very quick on her feet, though, so she’ll catch up fast.”
Schimdt, who played for nearby Mount de Sales in Catonsville, was named the 2010 Baltimore Sun Player of the Year and is Blanchard’s first local recruit.
“What Hannah lacks in experience she makes up for by being one of the most physical and strongest recruits we’ve ever had,” Blanchard said. “It’s very exciting to have such a gifted local kid to come and play for us.”
As it has the past two seasons, the middle blocker position begins with Kennedy. The 6-3 native of Charlotte, N.C., became only the fifth Retriever ever to record over 100 total blocks in a season with 108 a year ago. She ranked second in the conference with 1.05 blocks per set.
“The one thing Iman hasn’t been able to do before this year was practice in the spring,” Blanchard said. “It’s been great for her development and her improvement in blocking, as well as let her work on having fewer inconsistencies.”
Also returning in the middle are junior Katie Kelly and sophomore Emily Witsaman. Witsaman had 50 total blocks and 91 kills in her debut campaign, while Kelly has improved her strength after missing her freshman year with a shoulder injury.
“Katie is one of the most improved players on our squad this year,” the coach said. “She’s really benefitted from working with a personal trainer over the summer, and I’m happy with the development she’s made.”
The duo will see competition from freshman Dalton Tolliver, who was an All-Michigan First Team selection in her senior year of high school.
“Dalton is physically gifted, has a wicked arm and a high motor,” Blanchard said. “She’s also tough at the net and has been a sponge, taking in all the information she possibly can right now.”
Two other freshmen, Kristin Cooper and Krystal Mlemchukwu, will also compete for playing time.
“Krystal and Kristin are still very young, but it’s going to be very rewarding watching them develop,” the coach said. “They’re a joy to coach and have the potential to be a force in the conference.”
The starting libero position may come down to whether or not Carter or Goc are in the starting lineup at outside hitter, but sophomore Kat Lincalis is fighting for the back row position, as well.
“Kat has made some great strides in the spring and has put her name in as a serious contender for the starting spot,” Blanchard said.
Santiago and sophomore Robbin Lee could also compete for playing time in the back row.
The Retrievers kick off their season with two big tests in the Long Beach State Mizuno Invitational in Southern California, where they will take on two nationally ranked opponents in No. 7 Washington and the No. 22 host 49ers. That tournament should give Blanchard an idea of how far this team can go.
“We’re the most physical team I’ve had here in my time at UMBC,” the coach said. “We also have greater depth at every position, so the key will be how we improve as the year goes on. If we improve to the degree we did throughout last season, we could be in for a very big end of the year.”