Aug. 10, 2007
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The Purdue volleyball team will host its first of two preseason scrimmages at 2 p.m. on Sunday. The scrimmage, which is open to the public and free of charge, will offer fans their first glimpse at the 2007 squad.
A season preview, which can be found in the team's 2007 media guide, follows.
With seven returning starters and a freshman class that ranks among the nation's best, expectations are high for the 2007 Purdue volleyball team. The road will not be easy, however, as the Boilermakers have a tough schedule ahead and a target on their backs after collecting three-straight NCAA Tournament bids, including back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16.
"We believe that we are going to have a very good team this year," head coach Dave Shondell said. "This should be the best team that we've had at Purdue in many years, but we have to go out and prove that from the beginning of the season. There aren't going to be any nights off for us. Everybody is going to come after us, and we are going to have to be prepared to play every time we step on the floor."
The team looks to learn from and rise above the late-season struggles that kept it from achieving its goals in 2006.
"Our expectations are very high, and while we were disappointed that we didn't take another step forward last year, I don't think we hit a wall," Shondell said. "There were some reasons that we didn't finish as strong as we would have liked and we made some adjustments in the offseason to try and help us. Like everything else in life, we want to learn from our experiences. I think we will do that and will be better off because of it."
The Boilermakers return nearly all of their 2006 starting lineup, but will have to replace some inspirational and motivational forces that departed.
"This will be one of our most experienced teams, but we lost three seniors that contributed a lot to the program," Shondell said. "I trust that the culture of hard work they created will remain a fixture of our program. They also provided a lot of enthusiasm and energy to our team. I am hoping that we will have some players grow into those roles this year."
That work ethic and leadership will be vital to the team's push for constant improvement.
"We have to continue to train hard every day and find ways to get better each week," Shondell said. "Certainly our objective is to take another step up the ladder in the Big Ten. But we could be a substantially better team and still finish in a similar position in the Big Ten. We just have to focus and put ourselves in the position to be a contender."
The roster of 18 players, led by All-America middle hitter Stephanie Lynch and a trio of senior starters, boasts depth and experience at each position. A position-by-position breakdown follows.
Although young, the two players vying for the setting position are plenty capable of guiding the Boilermakers on the court.
"We will be in very good shape at the setting position with two really good setters," Shondell said. "I really like the versatility that having two setters provides us and I think there will be opportunities for both of them to play."
Sophomore Sam Gray saw action in all 34 of the team's matches in 2006 as part of a 6-2 system. She contributed on all sides of the ball, dishing out 9.11 assists per game, while also serving up 43 aces and tallying 1.48 digs per game.
"Sam held up very well as a freshman in the Big Ten," Shondell said. "She puts the ball out there on a platter for hitters as well as anyone in the league. Sam steadily improved from the day she arrived through the end of the spring season. Hopefully she will be prepared to take the reigns from the very beginning of the season."
Jaclyn Hart, a 6-1 freshman, offers Purdue height and tough net play. The Palos Hills, Ill., native, was named a High School All-American by prepvolleyball.com and was the No. 31 player on the site's list of Senior Aces.
"I think Jaclyn has a very strong future ahead of her," Shondell said. "One of the things she does best is block the volleyball. That is an area where we have struggled, so her blocking ability may open some doors for her to play early on. She also has great character and is a tremendous floor leader. She plays for all the right reasons and is a really good competitor."
Eight players, including three returning starters, offer the team a plethora of choices at the outside hitter position.
"We have great depth and some outstanding athletes at outside hitter," Shondell said. "Unfortunately, our hitting percentages on the outside have not been as high as they need to be. Being efficient is something that we focused on during the spring."
Senior Samantha Mader along with junior Danita Merlau and sophomore Carrie Gurnell bring match experience to the group. Several up-and-coming athletes as well as rookies Blair Bashen and Mandy Nichols also look to be a part of the mix.
Mader, an honorable mention All-Big Ten selection, tallied 3.04 kills per game, second most on the team, while hitting at a .254 clip.
"Sam Mader is the model of consistency in the Big Ten," Shondell said. "She is a smart player and puts the ball away well with very few errors. I would like her to come in and really take things over this year and have a banner season. She is going to have to raise it up a notch this season if we want to reach the goals that we have as a team, and she is more than capable of doing it."
Merlau led the Boilermakers in kills with 3.78 per game, while also serving up 38 aces and adding 202 digs and 82 blocks. She posted double-figure kill tallies in 26 matches and double-digit dig tallies seven times. Merlau also led the team in blocks five times.
"Danita has been very solid for the last two years," Shondell said. "She came in with a lot of hype and has done a good job dealing with that. She has been hindered by nagging injuries, but she is as capable of being as good of a player as Purdue has had. She knows that and she is determined to make that happen. Danita also is a very good passer and a good defender and we are going to utilize her as one of our primary passers this year. She has also improved her blocking and can hit at a high percentage."
Gurnell racked up 1.85 kills and 0.61 blocks per game, splitting time between middle hitter and outside hitter a year ago. She put up a hitting percentage of .300 or better in 15 matches, while adding double-digit kills in seven matches.
"Carrie is capable of being a dominant player in the Big Ten," Shondell said. "She is a very gifted athlete and needs to really zone in with her training to become the best player she can be. She brings us the versatility of being able to run quick sets, hit in the middle and run the slide behind the setter, but she can also go out on the left side and hit the high ball. We would like to see her hit the ball harder and become more aggressive."
Redshirt freshman Lisa Pierce saw action in just seven matches, averaging 1.33 kills per game, before suffering a season-ending ACL injury.
"It is a great thing for us to know that Lisa is going to be around for four more years," Shondell said. "She is one of the most fiery and excitable players on our roster. She brings some real intensity, even when she's not playing, and has some strong leadership qualities. She is a fast-twitch player. She can get to the ball, jump fast and screen quickly, but she needs to continue to work on her ball control skills."
Nichols and Bashen also may see time on the outside. The freshmen bring a variety of prep experience to the roster. Nichols, a 6-3 hitter from Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Ind., was ranked as the No. 38 player on prepvolleyball's list of Senior Aces and led her team to county, sectional and conference titles all four years. Bashen, a 5-10 outside hitter/defensive specialist from Houston, was a two-sport star, earning all-conference accolades in basketball and volleyball at St. John's High School.
"Mandy missed a lot of playing time during her last two high school and club seasons after having surgery on both of her feet," Shondell said. "A lot of people forgot about her because of that, but she is back healthy and has a high ceiling. She can play high at the net. She needs to improve her strength and get more physical, which will allow her to jump quicker and hit the ball harder and faster, but she is capable of playing as a freshman in the Big Ten.
"Blair is just a really good athlete. She was a basketball player, but found out she preferred volleyball. She is only 5-10, which is not big enough for a lot of schools to gamble on as a front row player, but she wants to be a computer engineer and was committed to coming to Purdue. We are hoping she will develop into an effective outside hitter or maybe even a ball control player. Athletically, she ranks among the top half of our team and has good quickness and fast feet. If she works at it, she can find a way to help us."
Junior Krystle King and sophomore Meagan Sesselmann look to continue developing after seeing limited time in the lineup last season. Both may see action in the back court as well.
Junior Stephanie Lynch and senior Elizabeth Jacques return after bolstering Purdue's middle hitter corps last season, but the duo will have some help in the form of freshman standout Kristen Arthurs.
Lynch, an honorable mention All-America selection, led the Boilermakers in blocks with 1.14 per game, while putting down 2.71 kills per game on a team-best .328 hitting effort and serving up 23 aces. Jacques added 0.92 blocks per game and 2.00 kills per game, while hitting .286, second-best on the team, despite missing the end of the Big Ten season due to illness.
"Stephanie is committed to being an All-American player and to taking Purdue to the highest level possible," Shondell said. "She is very consistent and somebody that our players look to. She is very smart and powerful. She plays very big and high above the net and finds ways to beat teams by hitting shots and playing with a lot of intelligence.
"Liz could be an All-Big Ten player. She was playing like it for a good part of the Big Ten season before she got sick last year. I look for her to provide leadership and aggressiveness to this team. She is very physical and is a very efficient hitter. I think she is going to be a real key to the success of our team this season."
Arthurs, a 6-3 hitter from Newport, Mich., is the most decorated of Purdue's incoming freshman. A three-time all-state honoree at St. Mary's Catholic Central, she was Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year in 2006, while also being ranked as the No. 15 player on prepvolleyball.com's list of Senior Aces and as one of Volleyball Magazine's Fab 50 players.
"Kristen is a tremendous volleyball prospect," Shondell said. "She is tall, super intelligent and has the toughness it takes to be very successful in the Big Ten. She is one of the top recruits we have had at Purdue. She will give us great depth in the middle and she wants the ball and wants to be a leader. She also has the versatility to play on the left or right side. We will find some ways to get her on the court."
Gurnell also may be called to play in the middle with the departure of Emily Williams, who provided leadership and presence to the team, before injuries ended her career.
Defense will remain a staple of Dave Shondell's Boilermaker squads, however, in 2007, the back court may have a different look. Purdue likely will rely on some of its hitters to step into the passing pattern and play all the way around as just two veterans, seniors Anne Mastandrea and junior Kelli Miller, return. Six other players, including three freshmen, also are vying for spots in the back row, where the team must replace graduated senior Brittany Dildine (3.75 digs per game).
"With Miller and Mastandrea we have a couple of real Big Ten veterans," Shondell said. "They have been through the wars playing in the back row, which is what you need to be successful. One of them will play libero and the other will be our primary backcourt player. We will likely need some of our hitters to play back there and they are certainly capable of doing so. And, as other players develop, we will use them as well."
Miller led the Purdue defense with 4.04 digs per game in 2006, a tally which ranked seventh in the Big Ten and fourth on Purdue's single-season list. She also added 95 kills and 31 service aces, while splitting time between outside hitter, defensive specialist and libero. Mastandrea posted 1.52 digs per game and nine aces, while playing in 32 of the team's matches. She tallied double-digit dig tallies in seven matches and started three matches, including one at libero.
"We moved Kelli back and forth between left-side hitter and libero last year and that bothered her ability to do all of the things she needed to do as a passer and defender. This year, she will just need to worry about passing, playing defense and serving. If she does that, then she will give us a real rock in the back row. You are not going anywhere in college volleyball without a big-time libero, and we think that she has the ability to be that player.
"On the other hand, I think Anne has the potential to be an excellent libero and has shown that in the past. Anne brings great enthusiasm and energy to our team. She is a very good defensive player and is also one of our top passers. She is going to be on the floor a lot for us this year and is going to be critical to the direction that we go. She is going to have to play like a senior and be very good for our team to become better."
Redshirt junior Meghan McCormick and junior Krystle King may hear their name called after spending the past few years honing their skills in practice. McCormick played in 16 matches in 2006, while King saw action in four.
"Meghan has evolved from a practice player to a real match player," Shondell said. "She is going to have to be ready to step in and make plays for us this year. Meghan is one of the most postitive players on our team and she wants Purdue volleyball to do well. I anticipate her contributing a lot this fall and becoming more of a leader on this team.
"Krystle is a front row/back row player. She was probably the most improved player on the team last year, and she was one of our regulars in the back row this spring. She has worked to become a better player and its starting to show."
Freshmen Jessica Ullrich, Jordan Fullove and Bashen also will fit into the defensive scheme. Ullrich, a 5-8 three-time all-conference honoree from Wheaton North High School in Winfield, Ill., has experienced success in the club ranks as a member of the 1st Alliance Volleyball Club, which finished in the top five at the Junior Olympics in 2004, 2006 and 2007. Fullove, a 5-7, three-time all-conference selection from Fort Wayne, Ind., looks to return to form after knee surgeries. She garnered prepsports.com defensive team honors after her sophomore year and was one of the site's top 50 players as a freshman.
"Jessica's passing and defense are very advanced for an incoming freshman and she has a very effective jump serve," Shondell said. "She is tough, she is a competitor and I think she will outwork a lot of people in the gym. She will give us some of that Brittany Dildine-type grit.
"Jordan has had a couple of knee surgeries that have slowed her progress a little bit, but she was really good before she got hurt. She was one of the top three or four ball control players in the state of Indiana this past year. She has grown up around the sport of volleyball, plays with great awareness and is a team player. She and Ullrich both played a very high level of club and high school volleyball. I think they both will be ready to help us and will have a chance to play for us this year."
Sophomore Meagan Sesselmann also looks to improve and earn some match time.
The Boilermakers will face some stiff competition during the 2007 season. Twelve NCAA Tournament teams, including seven that finished the season ranked in the AVCA Top 25, await.
Purdue, which finished the 2006 season ranked 18th, will take on No. 8 USC, No. 15 Utah and No. 22 Duke in non-conference action before facing No. 5 Penn State, No. 6 Minnesota, No. 11 Wisconsin and No. 16 Ohio State in Big Ten play. Winthrop, Florida A&M, Oregon, Michigan State and Michigan round out the group of NCAA Tournament competitors on the slate.
"It is a tougher schedule than I realized," Shondell said. "It is clearly the toughest non-conference schedule that we've ever played. Our opponents were 247-99 overall last year and 142-47 in conference play. I recognize that some of them aren't playing in BCS conferences, but there aren't going to be any nights off. And all of these programs are improving. It certainly will help us get ready for the Big Ten, which is the rationale for scheduling tough."
The team kicks off its campaign at the Duke Invitational in Durham, N.C., where the Boilermakers will face Winthrop, East Carolina and the host Blue Devils. Winthrop won its fifth-straight Big South title in 2006 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. ECU went 19-12 last season, while Duke registered a 29-4 mark, en route to the ACC title and an appearance in the NCAA Second Round.
The Boilermakers begin their home campaign on Aug. 31, when they welcome Dayton, North Carolina and Utah to the IAF. Dayton finished 2006 with a 22-11 mark and an 11-2 record in the Atlantic 10. UNC is looking to improve on its 11-20 overall mark. Utah is coming off a 28-4 season, including a perfect 16-0 tally en route to the Mountain West title and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Purdue then will travel to the Clemson, S.C., for the Big Orange Bash, where the team will face Furman, Florida A&M and Clemson. All three teams posted winning seasons in 2006. Furman posted a 19-11 record, including a 15-3 mark in Southern Conference play. Florida A&M went 21-7, including a 19-match winning streak and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title, and Clemson tallied a 20-10 mark, including a 15-7 effort in the ACC.
The Boilermakers wrap up the non-conference season at the Big Ten/Pac-10 Challenge in Columbus Ohio. Purdue and Ohio State will face off with USC and Oregon in the showdown. USC registered a 27-5 season and a Sweet 16 berth, while Oregon went 17-12 and garnered its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1989.
Purdue jumps right into Big Ten action on the road at Minnesota, which advanced to the NCAA Elite Eight, and Iowa. The team will play its first home Big Ten contest of the season against Ohio State, which advanced to the NCAA Sweet 16. Matches against Elite Eight competitor and defending Big Ten Champion Penn State and Sweet 16 competitor Wisconsin follow.
"There are going to be some really good teams in the Big Ten this year, starting with Penn State," Shondell said. "Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio State also should be very good. Michigan, Michigan State and Northwestern are going to be very dangerous as well. You can't count out anyone in this league. Anything can happen because all of the programs are on the rise."