Women's Volleyball Gears Up For New Season

Aug. 11, 2000

The San Diego State volleyball team appears ready to take the next step on the return to its role as perennial title contenders as it prepares to open the 2000 season. A combination of returning veterans and a strong recruiting class could see the Aztecs make substantial progress in that direction this fall.

Through much of the 1990s, San Diego State staked its claim as one of the top programs in the west. From 1990 through 1997, the Aztecs never finished lower than third in conference play, claiming one league title and a trio of NCAA appearances, including a trip to the Sweet 16 in 1995.

However, following the 1997 season, SDSU was hit hard by the graduation of three first-team all-conference players. The program was unable to recover the following season as it slipped to five wins on the year.

A solid group of recruits along with the veterans from the `98 campaign saw the 1999 Aztecs more than double their win total both overall and in conference, showing significant improvement as the season wore on. And they did so without the services of standout senior blocker Nicole Curtis, who suffered a season-ending injury in September. The 2000 team will look to build on that showing and continue its improvement in the quality of play, win totals, and conference standing.

The Aztecs will have to achieve those goals without two of their senior leaders of a year ago: Lisa Bostian and Jamie Evans. Bostian finished second on the squad in hitting percentage and assists while splitting time as setter and outside hitter. Evans meanwhile led the Aztecs in kills, digs and service aces.

"We lost two very good players in Lisa and Jamie," commented head coach Mark Warner. "Both were strong athletes, but we have more than adequate talent to fill the spots vacated by that duo. This year's recruiting class is one of the strongest we've had here in the last six years.

"I expect significant contributions from each of our new players this season. That plus the strength of our returnees could make us a pretty good team. We will be significantly better this year because of the depth of the squad. The best players will rise to the top.

"Our goals for this season are to win more than 15 games and finish among the top three in our conference. If we can attain those, a third goal of postseason play could likely follow. We've set some high standards for the upcoming season, but I believe we have the ability to reach them."

Setters
San Diego State's team depth begins at the setter position where a talented returning starter will vie for playing time with a sophomore transfer who was one of the top setters in the nation as a high school senior.

Veteran Melissa Dickson gained a wealth of experience as a sophomore last year when she stepped into a starting role early in the season. The loss of Nicole Curtis to injury forced SDSU to move returning starter Lisa Bostian to a middle blocker position, and Dickson assumed the setting duties. In two seasons she has already moved into the number-eight spot on the SDSU career assist list.

Joining the Aztecs this fall will be sophomore Melissa Wright, who was a starter at Washington State during the 1999 season. While there, she led the team with over 1,200 assists and a kill percentage of .262. As a senior at Muncie Burris High School in Indiana, she was a national prep All-American and was one of Volleyball Magazine's Fab Fifty Recruits.

Also added top the mix is freshman Robyn Gregg, a member of the Club Pacific team ranked fourth in the west region.

"We have a strong group of setters with varying degrees of experience," commented Warner. "Dickson and Wright are proven collegiate players while Gregg, though untested at this level, is a starter for a top club team. The athletes in this group will only help each other improve."

Middle Blockers,
The cornerstone of the middle blocking corps will be in the form of a pair of returning starters in sophomore Nicole Akporiaye and senior Erin Grady.

Akporiaye finished second on the squad in kills per game (2.33) and her hitting percentage of .218 was third among the regulars. Grady led the team in blocks and her kill percentage was just behind Akporiaye.

"We have a strong situation at middle blocker, beginning with Nicole Akporiaye who saw considerable playing time as a true freshman last year," said Warner. "She gained tons of experience and finished second in the conference in freshman-of-the-year voting. Erin Grady is a fourth-year senior who has proven she has the skills to be the leader in the middle."

Other returnees expected to see playing time are Nadia Privara, who came back strong over the second half of last season after an injury sidelined her for a number of matches in the early going. Also back is Christy Pfrenzinger, who saw limited time in her freshman season in 1999.

"Nadia is a strong, steady player who will only continue to get better," said Warner. "She can play both middle blocker and outside hitter, and I expect to see her in both roles this season. Pfrenzinger played sparingly a year ago, but she had a very good spring. She played all the time during the spring tournament we played in and will help us in the future."

Two new faces that have the coaching staff excited are freshmen Aspen McPartland and Megan Schauermann.

McPartland is a local product out of Grossmont High who competes on the regionally-ranked Club Pacific squad with Aztec teammate Robyn Gregg. She was an all-league, all-CIF and all-county selection as senior. Schauermann, who led her prep team in nearly every category as a senior, is a former track athlete who was a state champ in both the triple jump and long jump.

"Aspen is a very strong player who I expect to see get considerable playing time right away," noted Warner. "She is smart and quick, and has great jumping ability. Schauermann is an excellent athlete with an outstanding work ethic who has her whole future in front of her. She has a great attitude and is improving daily with her club team out of Portland."

Outside Hitters
San Diego State's depth at the outside hitter position begins with a returning senior starter in four-year Aztec Amy Hallquist, plus a versatile junior athlete in Katie Magnuson.

Hallquist was third on the team in kills a year ago and second in total attacks and kill per game average. She recorded double figures in kills in 12 matches in 1999, a total second only to senior Jamie Evans.

Magnuson is a talented athlete who can play any position on the court. As a sophomore last fall, she saw time at outside hitter, middle blocker and back row specialist. Although she didn't set during the season, her talents in that area came into play this past spring when she played setter during SDSU's out-of-season practice sessions.

"Katie is a good player who I can count on all the time," said Warner. "She brings consistency, hustle and enthusiasm to the court every time she goes out there. When she gets into a match, I know exactly what she can do.

"Of course Hallquist will play a big part in our success this fall. She's our senior incumbent at her position and one of our most experienced players. She had a phenomenal spring."

Other returnees at the outside hitter spot are senior Monet Solberg, sophomore Melissa Cansdale and redshirt freshman Catherine Hansen.

Solberg, a walk-on who transferred to San Diego State from William & Mary, is a hard hitter who saw action in well over half of SDSU's matches in 1999, primarily off the bench. Cansdale appeared in nine matches as a freshman, and gave a glimpse of her potential in a 15-kill performance vs. Northern Arizona. Hansen is an intense competitor who impressed the coaching staff after walking on last fall.

One top newcomer who could make an immediate impact is freshman Zlatina Anguelova, a member of the Bulgarian Junior National Team who attended San Diego State last year, but did not play volleyball for the Aztecs. She has a wealth of international experience, competing for her Bulgarian side in the European Championships.

"Zlatina is a great all-around player who takes her studies and volleyball very seriously," noted Warner. "She's already accomplished a lot in the sport, and that experience will be a great asset to our squad."

Defensive Specilaists
The lone returnee in this area is junior Jessica Allen. Playing in the back row last season, she accumulated over 200 digs and led the team in service aces.

Joining her as a defensive specialist this fall will be Joohee Chai, a freshman from Seoul, Korea. She is a graduate of Beverly Hills High School who competed with the San Diego State team last spring and caught the eye of the Aztec coaches.

"Jessica is a phenomenal back row player," said Warner. "She also attacks out of the back and is an excellent jumper. Joohee trained with us this past spring and has the potential to develop into a fine defensive player."

Schedule
During the 2000 campaign, the Aztecs will face a tough slate of matches that begins at the start of the season when they host a tournament featuring three Top 25 teams of a year ago (UC Santa Barbara, Arizona and University of San Diego). Right on the heels of those games is a meeting with Pepperdine, another of the nation's top teams in 1999.

In addition to their own tourney, the Aztecs will play in tournaments at Portland State and Cornell that will give them a taste of competition from other areas of the country.

"Once again we're facing a pretty tough schedule," commented Warner. "We start out with four nationally-ranked teams and it will be important for us to have a positive beginning to the season. The good thing is that those first four games are at home and we will be competitive in all of them. Our two away tournaments will give us a chance to test ourselves against a variety of good teams that we usually don't get a chance to see."

The tough early matches will help prepare Warner's Aztecs for the rigors of a conference schedule that saw three teams advance to the NCAA Tournament in 1999.

"The Mountain West Conference is third in the country in terms of overall strength," noted the coach. "All told during the year we'll face eight teams that competed in the NCAA tourney last year."

With a challenging schedule of games, experience and depth at every position, and an excellent mix of veterans and newcomers, San Diego State appears ready to take another step on the road back to the top.

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