Aug. 29, 2007
It may be a bold statement to aver that the Clemson volleyball team expects to challenge for an ACC title and an invitation to the NCAA Tournament in 2007 given that the Tigers have not accomplished either feat since the 1999 season. However, the current corps boasts an impressive resume to support its claim.
Head Coach Jolene Jordan Hoover enters her 15th season at the helm with, arguably, her most talented squad ever. American Volleyball Coaches Association Honorable Mention All-Americans Jeannette Abbott and Danielle Hepburn, who are both beginning just their junior years, anchor a line-up that returns all six starters as well as sophomore libero and second-team All-ACC honoree Didem Ege.
Add to the mix a highly touted class of newcomers and the skill and depth of this team brings a smile to Hoover’s face.
“We’re in a good position to accomplish something special this season,” she said. “We return a very strong team, however, many schools in the league return a lot as well. It will be a very competitive season and we are really looking forward to being in the race for the ACC title.”
In 2006, the Tigers compiled a 20-10 overall record with a 15-7 mark against ACC competition to rank third in the league, their highest finish since the 1999 championship season. And they accomplished it all without the anticipated services of former second-team All-ACC selection and two-year starter Brittany Ross, whose career ended abruptly last summer. Freshman Lia Proctor was thrown into the left-two role, filling Clemson’s starting line-up, including the libero, with five underclassmen.
All seven are back for the 2007 campaign and now bring a wealth of experience to the court. Joining Hepburn in the middle is senior Meghan Steiner, while Leslie Mansfield, a veteran of 305 games, returns for her fourth season on the right side. Sophomore setter Kelsey Murphy earned the full-time starting assignment in just the second weekend of conference action last year and was named to the ACC All-Freshman team after ranking third in the ACC for assists per league match with a 12.07 average.
However, the squad will be tested early as the Tigers will kick off the season on Aug. 25 in Starkville, MS for the Mississippi State Microtel Classic. Along with Clemson and the host Bulldogs, Arkansas-Little Rock and 2006 NCAA Tournament team Murray State comprise the four-team field.
After a break for the Labor Day weekend, Clemson opens its home schedule on Sept. 7 for the 17th annual Big Orange Bash. The Tigers will play host to top-20 team Purdue as well as Florida A&M and in-state rival Furman in the 2007 event.
`We have a very strong field for our home tournament this year, there will be some great matches,” Hoover said. “We played Purdue very well last year. We extended the match to 4 games with them, after playing Northern Iowa in a 5 game match earlier in the same day. We’re looking forward to having the opportunity against them at home in Jervey.”
Hoover added a second home tournament this year to be held on Sept. 14-15. The Clemson Invitational includes Appalachian State, Georgia State and Kent State, teams over whom the Tigers hold a 19-3 all-time advantage.
Clemson will then begin the 22-match ACC schedule on the road against NC State on Sept. 21. With two seasons of the round-robin experience, Hoover hopes her players have fully realized the importance of each contest. Last season’s team started strong, winning eight of its first nine league matches, but fell in three of the next four to drop in the standings. The Tigers rebounded and finished strong with victories in their final two contests. However, the mid-season slump hurt their post-season chances and Hoover is confident the team learned the lesson.
“Every match is so valuable,” she stressed. We had a fantastic start last season, and then Leslie sprained her ankle the day before our road trip to Virginia and Virginia Tech. We dropped those 2 on the road and then the whole complexion for the ACC race changes. An injury can take you right out of the title hunt due to not having a season ending tournament.”
After an away date against North Carolina, Clemson returns to Jervey Gymnasium to play host to Virginia Tech and Virginia on Sept. 28-29. The Tigers will then endure a five-match road stretch with trips to Miami, Florida State, Wake Forest, Duke and Georgia Tech before a five-match home stand against Boston College and Maryland and the home contests with the Tar Heels, Wolfpack and Yellow Jackets to close out October.
Clemson will play its final regular season match at Jervey Gym on Nov. 16 against Florida State and will conclude the conference schedule on the road against the Terrapins and Eagles on Nov. 21 and 23, respectively. The Tigers then hope their season will continue with their sixth appearance in the NCAA Tournament, which begins with first- and second-round action on Nov. 29.
Middle Hitters The middle hitters will be a major strength in 2007 with veterans returning at both positions. Danielle Hepburn completed one of the most impressive individual seasons last year, etching her name in the Tiger annuals and accumulating a lengthy list of honors. She anticipates another successful year in 2007, as she enters the season as Clemson’s career leader in blocks per game with a 1.47 average from her freshman and sophomore seasons. Hepburn will look to improve upon her record-setting 158 block assists in 2006 and to climb the career list for the statistic. Already 10th in school history with 278, a similar season would easily move her into third place, if not higher.
“I am so proud of Danielle,” Hoover exlaimed. “She is so solid in the middle for us. I couldn’t ask for two stronger middles than what we have with Danielle and Meg. Danielle put up some big numbers for us last season. She has been working really hard this summer and I am confident that she will keep impressing us.”
The Miami, FL native also owns the fifth-best hitting percentage in school history after posting an ACC-best .365 figure last season. The statistic brought her career average to .309. Hepburn is well on her way to becoming, not only a Clemson superstar, but an ACC legend as well.
At the other slot, Meghan Steiner returns for her senior year after finally turning in an injury-free season in 2006. The healthy Steiner doubled her kill total from her sophomore year while improving her career hitting percentage by nearly 60 points to a .284 average that ranks 10th in Tiger history. Her .340 figure from last season ranked third in the ACC while her 1.15 blocks per game average was listed ninth among league players.
As a senior and three-year starter, Hoover will also look to the Crystal Lake, IL native for leadership on the court, a role the intelligent and energetic Steiner should easily adopt.
“Meg is known around the entire league for how hard she works. She is very quick and loves a fast tempo set. Meg was able to have the type of season that she is capable of due to her and Kelsey connecting so well offensively.”
Providing depth at the position will be Lisa Jedlicka and Laura Boozer. A talented rookie from nearby Hillcrest High School, Jedlicka becomes the fourth South Carolina product on the Tiger roster. By adding the 6’1″ middle, Hoover has solidified Clemson as the premier collegiate team in the Palmetto State, signing the best in-state players from the last two years.
Meanwhile, red-shirt junior Boozer has made solid contributions off the bench for Hoover. The Columbia, SC native filled in for an injured Steiner in 61 games in 2005 and totaled 94 kills that season. Playing behind Steiner and Hepburn, Boozer saw limited action in 2006, earning time in just 13 games. However, Hoover continues to see her improve in practice and is confident the 6’2″ Boozer can be effective if needed.
“Laura is such a valuable player for us even though she doesn’t always see much court time,” Hoover said. “She’s in tough competition with Danielle and Meg. Laura is the consummate team player and would do anything to help us win. She is always ready and understands the importance of her role for our team.”
Outside Hitters The left side of the net also returns two starters in Abbott and Proctor, but rookies Meghan Hinemeyer and Cansu Ozdemir may challenge for a spot, according to Hoover.
As a first-team All-ACC selection and Clemson’s career leader in kills per game, Abbott’s position appears secure. The junior from Downers Grove, IL also holds school records for total attempts by a freshman and sophomore and is just 72 away from entering the career top-10 list. With 1,012 career kills, Abbott is only the 15th player in Tiger history to record at least 1,000 kills in her career, accomplishing the feat in just two seasons. She is 82 shy of that top-10 list as well and could easily move into seventh place all-time with another dominant year.
“Jeannette carries a big load for us.,” commented Hoover. “She loves that role, handles it well and thrives in competition. Jeannette knows the game well and understands our game plan. She worked hard this summer on her fitness and tightening up her game. She wants a championship.”
Proctor then played in all but one game as a freshman last season. She tallied 234 kills for the year while posting 53 total blocks. The Dorman High School product hit double figures for kills in nine matches in 2006 and set a career-high with 20 in just her second collegiate match. With a year of experience behind her, Hoover expects Proctor to increase both her kill total and hitting percentage in the upcoming season.
“Lia did an outstanding job stepping into a starting role in her first year.,” Hoover added. “With the loss of Brittany Ross right at the beginning of the season, we asked a lot of Lia. She adjusted well to a new position and was steady for a freshman. As she gains more confidence as an outside hitter, she will keep improving. She has an exciting future ahead of her.”
Hinemeyer and Ozdemir add much needed depth at the outside position and both bring a winning attitude to the program. Hinemeyer led her high school team to the 2006 state championship, while Ozdemir’s club team has captured numerous regional and national titles.
Right Side Three-year co-captain Leslie Mansfield will maintain her position on the right side for her senior campaign. The versatile St. Charles, IL native is perhaps the Tigers’ best all-around player as one of just two that plays a full rotation. She started all 30 matches in 2006 and has earned the assignment in 64 over her career. Last year, Mansfield tallied 233 kills with a .234 hitting percentage. She also led the team with 35 service aces, ranked second with 338 defensive saves and was third with 101 set assists, while also recording 82 total blocks.
“Leslie is our glue,” Hoover stressed. “She does so much for our team and the numbers don’t always reflect how much she contributes. She is an important part of our offense and is so solid defensively.”
Setters Hoover returns ACC All-Freshman Courtney Lawrence also has starting experience. Murphy displayed her abilities to place the ball last season while also proving to be a threat at the net with her six-foot frame. She became the first Tiger setter to record over 1,000 assists a single season since Stephanie Haskell tallied 1,340 in 2003, recording 1,116 in 2006. The mark ranked second highest in school history for a freshman, trailing only former ACC Freshman-of-the-Year Jessi Betcher’s total from 1999.
“Kelsey’s numbers were impressive, and those stats didn’t include several matches at the beginning of the season. But her most impressive stat is the team hitting percentage.
“Many of our hitters had their best seasons thus far, and Kelsey contributed immensely to that. Kelsey puts up a big block for us and she’s impressive offensively as well.
Murphy set a Clemson record for assists in a single match for a freshman with 73 against Maryland, which was also the fifth-most all-time for a Tiger player. She then ranked third on the team, behind Hepburn and Steiner with 100 block assists and 104 total.
Her back up, Lawrence, already ranks seventh in school history with 2,024 career assists in her three years in Tigertown. The Redondo Beach, CA native is a veteran of 235 games and has also accumulated 34 service aces, 268 defensive saves and 123 total blocks over her career.
“We’re very fortunate to have the depth with the experience that Courtney brings as well,” Hoover said. “Courtney is very solid. She understands her role on the team and wants to help us win any way possible.”
Defensive Specialists Although the Tigers must replace the program’s career leader for digs per game in Didem Ege, senior Sue Eckman and junior Katie Bridges will all return for the 2007 season. Ege was named second-team All-ACC, as well as to the conference all-freshman team, after she set school freshman records for defensive saves in a single season and a single match. The Istanbul, Turkey native’s 544 digs were also the third-most all-time and her 4.86 digs per game average ranked fourth in the league.
Ege built up her resume even more over the summer by playing on the Turkish junior national team.
“Didem is invaluable,” Hoover stressed. “She was so steady for us last year and we are so fortunate that she is a part of our team. She brings so much to our program on and off the court, and I have a great deal of admiration and respect for her. She is a very talented player and a fantastic teammate.”
Eckman will then be the top choice to replace Vallinch in the back row, as the native of St. Charles, IL has recorded 463 career digs. She played in just 28 games last season but is a veteran of 259 with 33 starts over her three-year career.
Meanwhile, Bridges, a walk-on from nearby Pickens, SC, has seen action in six games in her first two seasons at Clemson.
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