2006 Michigan State Volleyball Season Outlook
Aug. 21, 2006
EAST LANSING, Mich. - "Success through perseverance" is the theme for the 2006 Michigan State volleyball team. Setting reachable goals and taking the steps to achieve those goals will be the main focus for the year, with the ultimate focus being a return-trip to the NCAA tournament.
"When we look at goals, we focus on the steps we need to take to become the best team we can be," said second-year head coach Cathy George. "Our group believes that if all these pieces come together, if we can concentrate on controlling our own destiny, we will put ourselves into a position that will allow us to achieve goals such as the NCAA tournament or a top finish in the Big Ten."
State will have to contend with the loss of four key starters from last season: setter Mickey Davis, middle blockers Megan Wallin and Brooke Langston, and defensive specialist Marley Bellwood. George feels prepared for the challenge, as eight newcomers join eight returning letterwinners to the lineup this fall. George faces the task of blending experience with talent, however she feels confident in the abilities of her team:
"It's an interesting blend this year in that we have many quality returners, but also welcome seven freshmen and transfer, Allison Ianni, who joined our team last January," George said. "The interesting part will be bringing everyone together and integrating the group with the goal of performing at our highest level. When you bring in so many new faces, your attention turns to understanding the concepts, and we want to make sure that the younger players will be able to catch up quickly. We want to be able to train at a pace that will allow our older players to continue to improve."
"The focus last year, was the defensive areas, the ball control areas and the team chemistry. We worked on those, and we thought that we made great strides in all of those areas in the spring. We feel that those areas are very strong and solid for us right now."
Senior setter Allison Ianni joined the Spartan volleyball team in January of 2006 as a transfer student-athlete from the University of the Pacific where she finished her career with the Tigers ranked eighth in the career record book with 1,557 assists. A former local standout at Okemos High School, Ianni dished a career-high 12.02 assists per game, and tallied a personal-best with 134 kills in 113 games last season. She recorded her only career triple-double with 12 kills, 23 digs and 58 assists against St. Mary's in 2005, en route to Big West all-conference honorable-mention honors. Although a transfer and newcomer to the Spartan squad, George feels confident in Ianni's ability to pace the offensive attack:
"The good news is that Allison joined us in the spring, so it gave us an opportunity to develop our offense during our spring season and explore what her strengths are," George said. "Implementing a new setter can be a hard task, but her early arrival gave us an excellent opportunity to put together an offensive system. Allison fit in beautifully. She immediately understood exactly what we we're trying to achieve, and we have been able to see our offense come to life through her direction."
Freshmen Sarah Harris, Emily Fahrer and Katie Vander Meer also have experience at the setter position. Harris was a four-year letterwinner at Troy Athens High School, where she received all-district, all-conference, all-area and first-team all-region honors during her junior and senior seasons. Fahrer hails from Bedford High School, where she was a three-year letterwinner and garnered first-team all-state accolades her junior and senior campaigns.
Vander Meer was a four-year letterwinner at East Kentwood High School and joins fellow freshman, and high school teammate, Whitney Tremain, on the Spartan roster this fall. Vander Meer tallied 375 kills, 884 assists, 21 block solos, 60 block assists and 286 digs during her senior campaign. For her efforts, Vander Meer was honored with first-team all-state and team-MVP accolades in 2005. Her vast experience at the club level will allow for a quick transition to the collegiate atmosphere. Vander Meer was also a four-year letterwinner in soccer and a two-year letterwinner in basketball during her prep career.
"Katie has played volleyball the majority of her life and is a natural athlete who is very well versed in the game," commented George. "Very competitive in every sport she plays, she has unbelievable control and jumping ability that will make an immediate impact for us. She is an action setter, who can get to the ball, make things happen and really balance the offensive attack."
The outside hitter position will be a strength for the Spartans this fall, as George returns three experienced veterans at the position. Led by junior Katie Johnson, who ranked as high as first in the nation in kills per game last season, juniors Ashley Schatzle and Jessica Hohl will be joined by sophomore Heather McDaniel and highly-touted recruits Lisa Naymick and Mischelle Nelson in the offensive attack. Johnson enjoyed the best season of her career in 2005, posting a team-best 4.95 kills per game, including 4.31 kills per game in Big Ten play and finished second in the final conference standings. Johnson recorded double-digit kill totals in 26 matches, including 15 matches with at least 20 kills, and a team single-match high with 33 kills against Virginia Commonwealth. The 33 kills against VCU ranked as the third-highest total among Big Ten competitors in 2005. She recorded nine of the top 10 MSU kill totals for a single match, while her total of 554 kills ranks ninth in the single-season record book.
Schatzle averaged 3.40 kills per game, and posted a 0.34 block-per-game average (25 solos-39 assists-115 games) a year ago, the highest block-per-game average among returning letterwinners. Schatzle tallied 391 kills and recorded 23 double-digit kill matches, including a career-high 24 kills against Illinois. The junior attacker averaged 3.73 kills per game in Big Ten play and recorded 19 matches with double-digit kill totals against conference competition.
Hohl also enjoyed a solid season in 2005. The junior attacker averaged 1.51 kills per game, 0.74 digs per game and 0.66 blocks per game for the Green and White. Hohl posted a career-best, seven block assists in her season debut against Kent State and went on to register career highs in eight major statistical categories throughout the year.
"We know that we have a lot of quality attackers coming back, Katie Johnson is one of those; Ashley Schatzle and Jessica Hohl made huge improvements this spring and are definitely a force to be reckoned with," George said. "We know that we have a lot of solid attackers, and Allison's height makes her an offensive threat at the net as well. Offensively, we know we've improved our game considerably from last year."
McDaniel appeared in nine matches during her freshman season, posting a 0.42 kill-per-game average, a 0.25 dig-per-game average and a 0.17 block-per-game average for the Spartan defense. Naymick hails from North Muskegon High School where she earned three letters and garnered first-team all-state, all-region, all-conference and all-area accolades during her senior season. She averaged 5.6 kills per game, 1.5 blocks per game and 1.0 aces per game during her senior campaign. Nelson was a two-year letterwinner at Nequa Valley High School where she was honored with second-team all-city accolades and a spot on the Academic All-Conference team her senior season.
"Lisa has great potential and will become a dominating force at the net. Her obvious dedication to volleyball over the last year has made a major impression on this coaching staff and we are excited for her future," George commented. "Mischelle's athleticism, work ethic and attitude will help make for a smooth transition to the collegiate game. Her experience competing with her club organization gave her the opportunity to play against some of the top athletes in the country, which in turn will help her contribute in the blocking and offensive attack positions early in her career."
With the graduation of two four-year letterwinners in middle blockers Brooke Langston and Megan Wallin, incoming freshmen Vanessa King and Whitney Tremain have large shoes to fill. King was a three-year letterwinner at Spring Lake High School where she garnered numerous honors throughout her career, including first-team all-conference, first-team all-area, all-region and second-team all-state accolades. Matched with strong offensive numbers and a tremendous defensive presence at the net, King will prove a solid addition to the Spartan lineup.
"Vanessa will have an immediate impact at the net for us defensively. She is a solid blocker with a quick arm swing that will lend itself to our middle attack very well this fall," George said. "Vanessa is an athlete with great aspirations and will contribute significantly for our team this year."
Tremain earned four letters at Kentwood High School and was named one of the nation's top 100 volleyball players by Prep Volleyball for 2005 recruits. She earned all-area and honorable-mention all-conference honors during her junior season. Tremain was also a four-year all-state track honoree, claiming the State of Michigan high jump crown during her senior season. George feels Tremain will make a great impact at the net for the Spartans:
"Whitney is a tremendous athlete who can jump vertically well over 10 feet. Although she is still finding herself within the game, she is extremely athletic, quick and very strong. She has made an immediate impact in the volleyball world being named to the Top 100 by Prep Volleyball after just one year of varsity competition and one year competing at a high club level. We are very excited about the strengths she will bring to our program."
"From the blocking perspective, we're going to be bigger across the board with our freshmen additions and Allison's height and defensive abilities," George said. "She definitely takes away a lot of the court. She blocked very well this spring, and it really does help channel the ball to defenders for us, which will make the hitters think a little more when they face us this year."
"We will add a heightened focus on our blocking, so at the net we'll be more physical and competitive this year. I think we rated towards the bottom of the Big Ten in 2005 in blocks per game, and we'd like to see that number improve."
Defensive Specialist / Libero
Defensively, the Spartans return three experienced and talented defensive specialists. Senior libero Nicole Colaluca set numerous single-season, single-match and career records during the 2005 campaign. Her 628 kills and 5.41 digs per game were both single-season Spartan records, while her 45 digs against Sacramento State ranked as the highest total among Big Ten competitors, setting a new Spartan five-game record. She finished the season ranked 23rd in the nation with 5.41 digs per game and third in the final Big Ten rankings. Colaluca also contributed from the service stripe, posting 0.26 aces per game.
"Defensively, we felt that last year in the fall we had improved dramatically from years prior in defense, passing and ball control. Nicole brings a defensive presence to the court that is unmatched. Her ability to judge opposing hitters and dig a ball that is playable by our setter gives us an automatic offensive advantage."
Junior Tracy Bellwood returns after a solid season in 2005. She saw action in 20 matches during her sophomore campaign, where she posted a 1.79 digs per-game-average, including a 1.93 average against Big Ten opponents. Bellwood also contributed offensively for the Spartans, adding 0.26 aces per game from the service stripe. Junior Miken Trogdon was a mainstay in the Green and White lineup last season, where she averaged 1.52 digs and 0.12 aces per game in 26 match appearances. Trogon produced two matches with double-digit dig totals, including a career-high 14 against Iowa.
Joining Colaluca, Bellwood and Trogdon in the defensive rotation will be sophomore Melany Rarey. Rarey saw action in 11 matches to earn her first letter in 2005. She tallied 52 digs on the year, nine kills and one block assist. Fahrer and Harris will also contribute at the defensive specialist position this fall.
"We carried a newfound defensive presence into the spring season and believe that's why our offense was able to come to life," George said. "We would expect those things to be the same as we return three primary defensive players and we add several new defensive players that will add excitement. We've got a lot coming back in that area giving us maturity and experience in the backcourt."
Although many new faces will don the Green and White this year, the ultimate goal never changes - to build and grow as student-athletes through hard work, determination and perseverance.
"You always look at the NCAA Tournament as a goal for a season, but you want to keep the focus on getting better every practice, every game and every match. We're improving our style of play and what we do daily so we are in that position at the end of the season. We're setting small goals along the way and we'll continue to reach for the furthest goal that we can possibly achieve. We know that everything we are doing is building, each step of the way, and it's been a process, a clear vision and the team recognizes that.
"In the spring, we were able to put together a fine season, but more importantly than the wins, we saw the style of play coming together. We saw that it does work, and that the things we were trying to do began to work for us. The team was very encouraged by that, and now that the vision is very clear, they are starting to see the big picture. Those small, reachable goals are very important to us because we believe the wins will come if we keep goals of execution, system and tactical ideas in mind. As we continue to build and grow in those areas, we feel that we will be very difficult to beat."
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