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Clemson Volleyball 2006 Season Outlook

Clemson Volleyball 2006 Season Outlook

Aug. 15, 2006

The 2006 Clemson volleyball team will have a similar, yet also fresh, appearance. The team will look familiar on the court, as five starters and libero Anna Vallinch return, but the view on the sidelines will differ with first-year assistant coaches Jing (Jason) Hou and Korrinn Krog instructing alongside 14th-year head coach Jolene Jordan Hoover.

The Tigers have been considered a young team for the past two years but will have a core group of sophomores and juniors back in 2006 that have set higher expectations for themselves. With a grueling conference schedule, Hoover and her staff are placing an emphasis on winning matches at home.

“We have a great, intimate environment in Jervey Gym,” said Hoover. “If we can use that to our advantage and take care of the matches at home, we are half-way there.”

The Tigers’ home facility has become a difficult place for the opposition as fans pack the seats for every match. Last season, Clemson ranked 32nd nationally in attendance as it drew an average of over 1,000 fans for its 15 home matches.

The Tigers will open the season at the Mortar Board Premier tournament held on the campus of Purdue University in West Lafayette, IN on Aug 25-26. Bradley and Northern Iowa, a 20-match winner from 2005, complete the four-team field with host Purdue. The Boilermakers are one of four NCAA Tournament teams on Clemson’s schedule in 2006, as they advanced to the Elite Eight of last year’s event before falling to eventual champion Washington.

“The Purdue tournament will be very competitive,” said Hoover. “All the teams in the event are quality teams. It will be a tough opening weekend, but with the double round robin in the ACC, we have few opportunities to see teams like this.”

Clemson will then begin its home schedule with the 11th annual and 16th overall Big Orange Bash on Aug. 31 to Sept. 2. This year’s event should prove to be a spirited tournament with in-state rival South Carolina making its first appearance. The two teams will kick off the Big Orange Bash in a highlighted Thursday match-up.

Also included in the 2006 tournament are Charlotte, Tennessee State and Western Carolina.

“The Big Orange Bash will be an exciting tournament,” Hoover said. “The addition of South Carolina to the event this year will make it that much more competitive.”

In the final non-conference match-up of the season, the Tigers will play host to Furman on Sept. 16. The contest will again pit Hoover against one of her former players as Michelle (Thieke) Young is entering her seventh season at the helm of the Paladin program.

The 2006 season marks the second year of the home-and-home, 22-match ACC schedule without the presence of a conference tournament. Hoover hopes the Tigers have learned the importance of every match. No longer can a team rely on a strong showing at the ACC Championships for a bid to the NCAA Tournament. An invite can only be earned from consistent play throughout the season.

“Now that we have experienced the double round robin format, I think the team understands how mentally challenging it is,” Hoover said. “Every match is very important. There is not an opportunity at the end of the season with a tournament. That hurt us last year with all the injuries, but it is the same for all teams.”

Clemson opens league play on Sept. 22 against Duke in Durham, NC. The Blue Devils are one of three 2005 NCAA Tournament participants that the Tigers will face during conference play, as Maryland and North Carolina also advanced to the national tournament last year. Clemson will then play host to Miami on Sept. 29 for the first home ACC match of the season.

“The ACC is very competitive and there is a great deal of balance within the league,” said Hoover.

The Tigers will play five straight road contests towards the end of the season, beginning with the Florida State contest on Nov. 3. They will then have four home matches to close out the regular season, including the regular season finale against Virginia on Nov. 24.

OUTSIDE HITTERS The Tigers return one of the most talented duos in the ACC on the outside with 2005 ACC second-team honoree Brittany Ross and AVCA East Region and ACC Freshman of the Year Jeannette Abbott. Both players have also earned early honors for the 2006 season, as they were named to the preseason All-ACC team.

“Brittany will be starting for her third year and will be an important piece of our offense, while Jeannette is coming off of a nice freshman debut, being named rookie of the league and of the district,” Hoover said. “These two will see a lot of swings throughout the season.”

Ross also earned AVCA East Region honorable mention last season after tallying a team-best 525 kills while hitting a .248 percentage. The junior from Sunrise, FL ranks second in the Clemson record books with a 4.14 kill per game average and became just the 11th player in school history to join the 20-20 club. She posted 26 kills and 20 defensive saves against Virginia Tech last season.

Ross also tied the Clemson record for kills in a single match during the 2005 season, as she recorded 32 kills against Georgia Tech on Nov. 15 and then accomplished the feat for a second time in as many matches.

Abbott returns for her second season as a Tiger after one of the most prolific rookie campaigns in school history. The Downers Grove, IL native started all 30 matches in 2005 while becoming the fifth Clemson player to earn ACC Freshman of the Year honors and the second to be named the region freshman of the year. Abbott set the Clemson record for kills in a season by a freshman with 515, bettering Ross’ mark of 472 from the 2004 season. She also tallied 304 defensive saves on the year, which ranked second on the team, and had a 4.36 kill per game average that was listed fourth in the ACC.

MIDDLE BLOCKERS

Four players will vie for the two starting middle blocker positions on this year’s team as junior Meghan Steiner, sophomore Danielle Hepburn and red-shirt sophomore Laura Boozer return. Hoover will also add freshman Lia Proctor into the mix at the middle.

Hepburn, a 6-2 native of Opa Locka, FL, enters the 2006 season as the starting middle blocker after earning the job in all 30 matches last year as a freshman. She demolished the record for blocks by a freshman, recording 143 to better 2005 Clemson Hall of Fame inductee Cindy Stern’s mark by 34 blocks. She also posted 120 block assists to help the Tigers total 494 block assists for the season, a mark that ranked fourth in program history.

“Danielle had a great freshman year and will keep getting stronger and more confident,” Hoover said. “She read the opponent’s offense very well last year, as far as her blocking and defensive responsibilities. She is continuing to work hard on her strength and her offense.”

Steiner’s two seasons at Clemson have been plagued by injuries, but she has been productive when on the court. Last year, she started 18 matches and recorded 145 kills. Steiner also ranked second on the team with 83 total blocks, despite missing 10 matches.

“Meg likes to run a very quick tempo offense,” said Hoover. “It was tough on her rhythm when she was out for four weeks. Then, each of the setters took a turn with an injury. If she can get some consistency, Meg will be one to watch out for.”

With Steiner sidelined last season, Boozer earned significant playing time at the middle position. She tallied 94 kills in 61 games while recording a team-high .270 hitting percentage. A native of Columbia, SC, Boozer had her best match of the season against in-state rival South Carolina. She posted 12 kills with no errors in 18 attempts while totaling five block solos and a service ace in the contest.

“When Laura stepped in for Meg, she got better with each match she played,” said Hoover. “Laura is an important player for our team. She has the ability to play all three positions at the net, so she can contribute in many ways for us.”

Proctor comes to Clemson from Inman, SC where she excelled as a multi-sport athlete at Dorman High School. She helped the Cavaliers capture three State volleyball titles as well as three State championships in basketball. At 5’11”, she has the ability to play the middle or outside positions.

“We also added a very talented freshman with in-state standout Lia Proctor,” Hoover said. “I believe that she will elevate her level just within the first few weeks of practice, being able to be in this environment.”

RIGHT-SIDE HITTERS Junior Leslie Mansfield returns for Hoover on the right side. A Tigers co-captain from a season ago, Mansfield battled a shoulder injury during the 2005 season, but Hoover expects the St. Charles, IL native to be a factor on this year’s team.

Last year, she displayed her versatility and willingness to help her team by handling the setting responsibilities for seven matches while Clemson’s primary and back-up setters were injured. She tallied 210 set assists for the year. The 2006 season should find her back in her more natural position on the right side.

“Leslie had shoulder surgery last August and never seemed to be at full strength,” said Hoover. “She played a very important role for us last season when we lost our two setters at the same time due to injuries. Leslie stepped in and ran the offense for the team. She is back at full strength and working hard on her game.”

SETTERS Clemson’s primary and back-up setters both return to the Tiger squad for the 2006 season, as Courtney Lawrence will enter her third year with the program and Dawn Robertson will begin her senior season. Hoover is also eager about the addition of freshman setter Kelsey Murphy.

The left-handed Lawrence already ranks eighth in the Clemson annuals with 1,861 set assists. Her average of 8.86 assists per game is also listed in the record books at number four in program history. The native of Redondo Beach, CA split setting duties her freshman year and then suffered a stress fracture that kept her out of five matches in 2005. She tallied a career high 66 assists against Wake Forest last year and was just three shy of 1,000 for the season. Lawrence also led the Tigers with 31 service aces in 2005 and posted 63 kills in 91 games played.

Robertson participated in 87 games last year, more than double the total from her freshman and sophomore seasons. Robertson’s setting abilities were hindered during the season after she injured her wrist, but she still recorded 235 set assists while also tallying 15 service aces. She earned three starts in 2005 and recorded a season-high 50 set assists against NC State.

Murphy, a 6’0” freshman from New Lenox, IL, will also vie for the setting position. She comes to Clemson from Providence Catholic High School, the same school that produced former volleyball alumnae Megan McEnery and former assistant coach Jodi Steffes. Murphy is also related to former Tiger volleyball player Jenny Yurkanin, a setter from 1987-90.

“Kelsey is very talented and gives us another dimension at the setter position,” said Hoover. “Her aunt played at Clemson prior to my arrival, so we may be experiencing our first legacy.”

DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS Hoover is excited about the depth and talent that returns in the backcourt this year. Anna Vallinch has been the Tigers’ starting libero for the past two seasons and returns for her senior campaign, while junior Sue Eckman, a veteran of 231 games, and sophomore Katie Bridges, who saw limited action last year, will also be back. Clemson welcomes international standout Didem Ege to the program, as well as walk-on Hillary Douglas.

Vallinch holds the Tiger record for defensive saves per game with a 4.82 average and has a chance to set the Clemson record for total defensive saves over a career. After tallying 620 in 2004 and 541 in 2005, she needs just 363 this season to claim the record. Vallinch tied Denise Murphy for the school record with 36 defensive saves against Boston College last season and also holds two of the top three positions for digs in a season.

“We return Anna at the libero position, a position that has become invaluable,” said Hoover. “How we handle that first ball contact decides what we can do offensively. Anna is very solid and consistent.”

Eckman started 14 matches and played in all 118 games for the Tigers last season. She totaled 229 defensive saves in 2005 while also serving 24 aces. Bridges played in just one game last season. She served two points in Clemson’s 3-0 victory over Alabama A&M in the Mizuno/Auburn Challenge.

Ege, a native of Istanbul, Turkey, is an exciting addition to the Tiger squad as she has participated on the Turkish Junior National Team for the past two years. The 5’8″ Ege could make an impact early in her Clemson career.

“Didem has a pretty impressive resume,” Hoover said. “Having someone with international experience and someone who has competed at a very high level will be a huge asset to our team.”

Joining Vallinch, Eckman and Ege in the backcourt will be walk-on Hillary Douglas. Douglas lettered three seasons at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Miami, FL and was a member of the same club team, which attended the Junior Olympics in 2005 and 2006, as Ross.

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