2002 Volleyball Outlook
UMBC is approaching the 2002 season with a chip on their shoulders.
The Retrievers have dominated the Northeast Conference regular-season slate, going 25-2 under head coach Felix Hou over the past three seasons. However, UMBC has little to show for their efforts, as they have come up empty handed at the NEC Championships during the span. On paper, the 2002 squad should have enough talent to challenge for a title and earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament, something the team has been unable to do since the 1998 campaign. Therefore, the question must be asked...What can the team do differently during the post-season in the hopes of reversing their fortunes?
“It is frustrating that we have not been able to win a conference championship the last few seasons,” said Hou. “We’ve had the talent, but our approach must change at tournament time. We can’t just go through the motions thinking that we will win by just showing up. We need to play with more intensity.”
The returning cast is a strong one. It will include five starters off last years squad, including the 2001 NEC Rookie of the Year and First Team All NEC sophomore middle hitter Jocelyn Teoh, and Second Team All NEC senior middle Jennifer Davis. In addition, outside hitters Tauna Woolery and Julia Waclawiak started as freshmen and were each honored by the league as Rookies of the Week last season. The setter position should be a strength with senior Heather Hollidge and sophomore Jackie Carbo sharing the duties. At times, Hou expects the duo to be on the court at the same time. Another sophomore, Colleen Morton, also gained valuable experience as freshman last year and should contest for more playing time this season in the middle. Four newcomers, Kristina Nall (Indianapolis, Indiana), Christine Skala (Hinsdale, Illinois), Megan Gross (Mont Clair, Virginia), and Erin Farabaugh (Annapolis, MD) will all challenge for playing time.
“Even though we will be very young again, I believe we can do very well,” said Hou. “Our sophomores were able to get a tremendous amount of playing time last season and will all be counted upon heavily this season.”
Teoh quickly established herself as UMBC’s most complete player in just her freshman season in 2001. After joining the Retrievers midway through the season and just in time for conference play, Teoh made an immediate impact, averaging 3.40 kills per game, 2.28 digs per game, and .77 blocks per game. She hit .348 with 3.74 kpg. in league play to help UMBC close out a three-way tie for first place in the NEC regular-season standings. “Jocelyn has excellent technique for a young player and should continue to get better. She just needs to get a bit stronger to support her overall game.”
Last season, the hardworking Davis (2.25 kpg., 2.60 dpg.) proved right away that she had recovered from a major shoulder injury that forced her to red-shirt the 2000 campaign. Davis, who was selected as a Second Team Verizon Academic All-American a year ago, is one of the premier middle blockers in the NEC, but is also a tremendous leader according to Hou. “Jennifer does everything the coaching staff asks her to do and is a positive example for our young players. She comes ready to play at every practice and every match.”
Woolery, Waclawiak, and Morton were also very impressive in their initial seasons. In addition to her acrobatic hitting, Woolery was UMBC’s top defensive player, averaging 3.35 digs per game. She also possesses a terrific jump serve (43 aces) that is difficult for opponents to handle. Highly regarded as a top-flight defensive player, Waclawiak surprised some people with her offensive skills last season. Waclawiak, who averaged 2.12 kills per game last season, is one of the hardest hitters in the NEC when when she is on the top of her game. Morton did an excellent job of clogging the middle when Hou gave her the opportunity to play. She finished third on the team with 28.5 total blocks and Hou believes she can be a key contributor in 2002.
In addition to her setting duties, Hollidge, UMBC’s lone senior, has improved her hitting and defensive skills and is expected to play a key leadership role this season. Known as an offensive setter, Hollidge (7.39 assists per game, 131 total kills) picks up many of her put-aways by “dumping” the ball over the net. Carbo (2.39 digs per game) has excellent setting and defensive skills and is an terrific passer. Further, Hou loves the way she communicates with her hitters.
The outside hitting position should be strengthened with the arrival of Skala, who is regarded as a very skillful player who possesses excellent passing skills. Null and Gross will be given an opportunity to play at right side hitter and Gross is also a capable setter. Farabaugh will initially challenge for time in the back row.
Although their are always numerous question marks prior to any season, one thing is certain. The 2002 NEC Champion will be crowned at UMBC, as the Retrievers will host the tournament November 23-24.
“It would be very exciting to win the tournament in front of all of our fans," Hou admitted. “Now it’s up to us to work extremely hard and make this goal become a reality.”