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Young but Fierce: 2010 Volleyball Outlook
They may be young, but they're big.
And what they may lack in experience, they make up for with their size, energy and athleticism.
And with nine players measuring at 5-10 or taller, head coach Shane Pinder is very confident about Liberty's size on the court in 2010.
"Size in our game is like playing above the rim in basketball," noted Pinder. "The bigger you are at the net and the more physical you are, the more chances you have."
With Karyl Bacon as the lone senior this year, the Lady Flames volleyball squad will be looking to younger players to help carry the team.
"This group is exciting," commented Pinder. "They're young, but they can play. It will be interesting to see how the talent is going to respond."
The Lady Flames, who have shared the Big South regular-season title for the last three years, fell to Coastal Carolina in last year's Big South Championship title match. Liberty was tabbed the second-place finisher in the 2010 Big South Conference preseason poll, as voted by the league's head coaches, behind the Chanticleers.
"We just emotionally fell a bit short," remembers Pinder. "I think the injuries and other things we fought through during the season caused us to run out of juice in the big one. But we got there and gave ourselves a chance, and that's what you want every year. An opportunity to play for the championship."
The Lady Flames by Position
The setter position is one that went up in the air midway through last season, when decorated fourth-year starter Kallie Corbin went down with an injury. At that time, back-up Courtney Boggs stepped in to fill the role, and helped lead the team on a 7-1 run heading into the conference tournament. While Boggs, a junior, is battling injuries, Pinder expects her to fight for a starting role. "Injuries have kept her limited in what she can do," Pinder said. "We obviously want her to compete for the setter position, but we'll have to see where she's at and how much she can take."
Also fighting for the setter position will be redshirt freshman Lauren Bosché and true freshman Jade Craycraft.
Bosché, a redshirt freshman from Roanoke, Va., was handed the ball during spring competition, with Boggs being sidelined with an injury. "Here's a kid who had never set a college match in her life," commented Pinder. Bosché rose to the challenge, helping the Lady Flames split with Virginia and Virginia Tech, with little collegiate match experience. "She is very athletic and has a good volleyball IQ," Pinder said. "She's very coachable and a natural leader."
Craycraft, a freshman from Wooster, Ohio, is already creating a buzz in the Vines Center. The 5-11 lefty is the tallest setter Pinder remembers having at Liberty. "We're excited about her size, athleticism, speed and her delivery of the ball," Pinder said. "Also, being a lefty, that gives her the ability to turn and score." Craycraft was a four-year All-Ohio Cardinal Conference honoree and helped Wooster High School to the 2008 district title.
Bacon, a 2010 preseason all-conference selection, is this year's veteran. Even though she was recruited as a libero, Pinder says each year she wins out a hitting position. "She's a kid who brings a lot of confidence to the team and what we're trying to do, so she'll be a big part of our attack this year," Pinder said. "Also, her ability to move athletically and make plays is where she is special."
Bacon, who was a member of the 2009 All-Big South second team, paced the team with 13 double-doubles last year. She also ranked fifth in the conference and first among non-liberos with 3.78 digs per set. Since Bacon is also a dynamic defender, she could see playing time as a defensive specialist, as well.
Pinder is also looking to freshman Lillie Happel to contribute offensively. He describes her as one of the most athletic outside attackers he has seen at Liberty since Jennifer (Belk) Vaden, the Lady Flames' current assistant coach. "She's a tremendous passer and a very good defender," Pinder said. "I think she's going to be special." During her prep career in Ellicott City, Md., Happel earned two Baltimore Sun Female Athlete of the Week recognitions.
At 6-1, redshirt freshman Erica Manor could also see some time in the outside hitter position. "She brings size and physicality," Pinder said. "She had a great spring and was one of our leading attackers in terms of kills and hitting percentage."
Kaylee Groeneveld, a freshman from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., comes to Liberty with experience playing multiple positions. Pinder expects her to contribute either as an outside hitter or a middle blocker, and she could possibly contribute on the right side as well. "She's got very good size and she's very athletic," commented Pinder. "We're excited about what she brings to the table."
After losing honorable mention All-American Chelaine McCarty to graduation, Pinder will be looking to sophomore Loren Thomas to step into the role at middle blocker. Thomas enjoyed a stellar freshman season, receiving Big South All-Freshman Team honors and tying for first on the team with 92 total blocks. Pinder calls her, "Loren Thomas, the franchise."
"She's big, she's athletic and she's got a tremendous jump," noted Pinder. "Her presence intimidates opposing players. She's going to be a big part of our blocking system and a big part of our scoring, and we're excited about her size and her ability."
Kendle Rollins, a redshirt freshman from Lebanon, Ohio, will also fight for playing time at the net. Her quick feet and explosive jumping ability make her a prime candidate for a middle blocker position. "She's young, but she is very savvy," Pinder said. "Also, she wants to learn. She wants to be great."
Other possible options include freshmen Groeneveld and Katie Beecher.
Hannah Anderson and Beecher are both working to win the right-side hitter position, following the graduation for Brittany Pacella and Kirstyn Sanders.
Anderson, who appeared in 27 matches last year, primarily at outside hitter, recorded a career-high 10 kills on two different occasions. Pinder is moving her to the right side, anticipating her seeing more success there. "With her blocking ability and her timing on the right side, we think she'll work out well there," Pinder commented.
Beecher will also see time in the right-side position. "She's a kid that has good size and good athleticism," Pinder said. She could also contribute as a middle blocker. Beecher was a four-year starter at Concord High School in Concord, N.C., where she helped her team claim three conference titles and three tournament championships.
As previously noted, Groeneveld is an option on the right side as well.
Junior Kelly Haseman is back after taking Big South all-tournament team honors last season. She ended her sophomore campaign with 560 digs, which ranks second on Liberty's all-time single-season list and first under the rally-scoring format. "Kelly is a very consistent serve-receive passer, which anchors our passing back there," noted Pinder. "We expect her to come in and lead and be a great player on the back row for us."
Also challenging for the libero spot is freshman Becca Haraf, a native of Arlington Heights, Ill. Pinder expects Haraf, who helped lead John Hersey High School to back-to-back league and regional titles, to be a leading defender for the Lady Flames. "She's a tremendous passer and brings a lot of energy to the floor, and I like that in the libero position," Pinder commented.
Whether Haseman or Haraf wins the starting libero position, the other will play the role of defensive specialist, and Pinder says the back row will be strong in either case.
Additionally, Pinder will look to redshirt sophomore Courtney Cooper to contribute. Cooper made 24 appearances, including 12 starts, during her first season of competition. "Courtney has come a long way, and she's a very hard worker," Pinder said. "She's a great athlete with solid foot speed, and she's a great defender."
Becca Warren, a junior, plays multiple positions and as Pinder says, she brings a lot to the second team. "She loves the program and she brings great energy and leadership to the floor," Pinder said. Thus far in her career, she has helped the team with her serving ability. Warren has tallied 14 aces the past two seasons.
2010 Schedule Highlights
The Lady Flames will kick off the season by appearing in a trio of tournaments in North Carolina and Virginia.
The first stop will be Greenville, N.C., for the East Carolina Classic on Aug. 27 and 28, followed by the UVA Holiday Inn Jefferson Cup in Charlottesville, Va., the following weekend. "I like the ECU and Charlotte matchups," Pinder said of the season-opening tournament at East Carolina. "Also, Virginia turned in a top-12 recruiting class this year, so they will be strong." On Sept. 10 and 11, the Lady Flames will head to Elon, N.C., to compete in the Elon Phoenix Challenge, before returning to Lynchburg for their 2010 home opener against James Madison on Sept. 14.
Following five matches in California as part of the Asics Challenge and the Fullerton Classic, Liberty will begin conference play at Gardner-Webb on Sept. 24. The season kicks into high gear the first week of October, when the Lady Flames host Big South opponents Winthrop, Charleston Southern, Radford and Coastal Carolina over the course of nine days.
Nov. 13 marks Senior Day at the Vines Center, as the Lady Flames host 2009 co-Big South regular-season champions UNC Asheville for the final regular season-match of 2010. The Big South Volleyball Championship begins Nov. 18 on the campus of Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C.
"The idea behind our scheduling is to prepare us for the Big South schedule and conference tournament, so we're ready in November when it counts," Pinder said. "I like our schedule in terms of where we are as a team.
"We're young, but we're tough."