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Volleyball Preparing For 2007 Campaign

Sophomore Stephanie Darnall is the Aztecs' returning kill leader.
Sophomore Stephanie Darnall is the Aztecs' returning kill leader.

Aug. 20, 2007

If experience matters, then the San Diego State volleyball team should find itself on solid footing for the 2007 season. Head Coach Mark Warner and his staff welcome back 15 players who were members of the program a year ago, and that experience could be a factor in the team's fortunes this fall. Add to that group three talented new faces, and the Aztecs have what appears to be the solid foundation on which to build a successful campaign.

"Last year's team was actually pretty good, but our record didn't reflect that fact" noted Warner. "At times we played at a high level, but at other times we couldn't overcome our mistakes.

"I think all of our returning athletes now have a better understanding of what it takes to win at this level. Even those who didn't play a great deal and the redshirts who watched from the sidelines now know what we need to do to compete and be successful."

The biggest problem facing the Aztecs in 2007 will be replacing a pair of senior starters who accounted for a bulk of the offense last season: right side hitter Audra Dent and outside hitter Melanie Greene.

Dent was a four-year letterwinner who was a starter each of the past three seasons. In 2006 she averaged 3.20 kills and 1.04 blocks per game. Greene played for SDSU for three years and finished last season as the team kill leader at 3.67 per game and was also responsible for 2.60 digs per contest.

"We lost some firepower with the graduation of Audra and Melanie," noted Warner. "Even so, I think we have enough experience and athletic ability between our returnees and newcomers that we won't see much of a drop off in terms of offensive production."

This fall, a total of eight players who played in at least 60 percent of the team's games last season are back. Included in that number are four starters and a libero who set a school record for digs in 2006.

Up front, the offense will be led by sophomore outside hitter Stephanie Darnall, who started 27 matches as a freshman while averaging 3.12 kills and 2.89 digs per game. She recorded 10 double-doubles during her inaugural collegiate season and demonstrated excellent volleyball instincts.

Others in the mix at this position are sophomore Caitlin McMillan along with returning redshirts Iva Gosnjak and Hannah Evans. McMillan saw action in 29 games as a true freshman last fall, starting a pair of MWC matches late in the season. Gosnjak, a transfer from nearby Grossmont JC, and Evans, a prep star from Texas, both sat out the 2006 campaign while practicing daily with the squad.

"The outside hitters will be led by Darnall, who had an excellent freshman season," commented Warner. "McMillan showed us what she is capable of with her play last season while Hannah and Iva were redshirted because of the players ahead of them on the depth chart. Those four make up a strong group for us."

On the right side, senior Sydney De Turk should see more playing time after appearing in six matches in her first season as an Aztec. Joining the squad at this position is Kelsey Manasco, a three-time all-district selection at Arlington (Texas) High School. In addition, Gosnjak could also see action as a right side hitter this season.

"Both Sydney and Iva, formerly middle blockers, played on the right during the spring and were impressive at the position," said Warner. "In addition, we expect Manasco to contribute right away as a true freshman."

SDSU has a trio of veteran middle blockers plus a freshman who could play immediately. Returning starting seniors Lindsey Mahan and Kelley Wahlin lead this group in an area that has traditionally been one of strength for the Aztec program. Mahan averaged two kills a game as a junior (fourth-best on the team) while Wahlin's mark of 1.47 blocks a game was second-best in the MWC.

They are joined by a pair of youngsters in sophomore Bailee Hellwig and newcomer Lauren Salisbury. Hellwig finished eighth in the league stats at 1.08 blocks a game while Salisbury arrives to SDSU after an impressive prep career that saw her earn district MVP honors at Carroll High in Southlake, Texas.

"Kelley Wahlin is coming off a pretty strong year in what was actually her first season with significant playing time after seeing limited action the previous three seasons," said Warner. "Mahan is a senior captain and we expect a lot from her in her final season. Lauren Salisbury is a talented freshman who could step in and play from day one. Hellwig is coming off shoulder surgery and may not be available until a couple weeks into the season."

SDSU's two veteran setters, senior Kristen Castillo and junior Leah Lathrop, make the position one of strength for the Aztecs. Both have played extensively over the past two seasons. Castillo ranks sixth on the SDSU career assist list while Lathrop will crack the top 10 early this fall.

"We have the luxury of having a pair of experienced setters back this fall in Kristen and Leah," noted Warner. "The competition for playing time has made each of them a better player and I expect to see both of them on the court this season."

In the back row, the defense begins with senior libero Aime Cordeiro, a preseason all-Mountain West Conference selection who set an SDSU record with 573 digs last season. Joining her is junior defensive specialist Michelle Ferrer, who played in 25 matches last season and served as libero when Cordeiro was injured midway through the year.

Sophomore Brianna Bowman returns for her third season at SDSU while both Kate Ammerman and Courtney Lamphier are back after redshirting as freshmen in 2006. Also joining the Aztecs this season is freshman Tara Hovland, a three-year all-league selection from El Segundo, Calif. Both Hovland and Bowman have experience at the outside hitter position as well, and could be called into action in that capacity if needed.

"Defensively, we have Aime Cordeiro back for her senior season after she led the MWC in digs last year," commented Warner. "She leads a strong group of defenders and we think this will be one of our strengths.

"I think we have a solid team, but to be successful we'll need to cut down on our errors and not beat ourselves. This team has the ability to do that. We're going to be better on defense this season and we've also look to improve our serving over a year ago.

"I like this team and the determination they've shown from the spring season right up through the early preseason workouts. This team wants to be good and they have the confidence to be a very competitive squad in 2007."