I've held off doing a volleyball team preview in hopes of getting down on campus to check out a practice and be able to take some notes. That hasn't happened yet, but I wanted to give a bit of a run-down of what I expect from the team before the Red and Black Scrimmage tomorrow.
In defense, we still have the stellar Molly Sauer that will likely be the starting Libero in the backcourt. Molly has been the rock for this team for the past two years. She is even-keeled, non-emotional (at least externally), and provides a secure base for this team to build on, exactly what you want in a Libero position. This year, she'll be called on to display a little bit more outward leadership, and maybe be a bit more vocal in her communication with the rest of the team, but she will need to remain true to herself to lead effectively.
Also in the backcourt will be Gabbie Wiley. One of the southpaws of the team, Gabbie will also be, again, of the weapons at the serving stripe for the Cardinals. Look to Gabbie to sub in for one of the attackers for the path across the back-row and bolster the digging and passing prowess of the team.
Kali Eaken will be returning in the setter position. From what I understand, this position has been a bit up in the air. Kali has the experience from being the starting setter last year, but a transferring newcomer is making a run at this spot.
Piper Roe is a sophomore middle hitter/blocker this year. She still has, probably, a year of coming off the bench, but she is building her strength, power, and expertise.
Maggie DeJong and Jasmine Bennett will be the stalwarts for the team this year in the middle. Maggie got moved out to be an opposite hitter last year and did a fine job, but she'll be back "home" in the middle this year. Jasmine Bennett has had another year to build her strength and power. He length and reach will continue to be a major asset, but if she can bring some more power, that will help even more. Health has also been a bit of a factor for Bennett in the past year, and reports are she is dealing with some niggling issues so far this year. If she goes unavailable for a period, it will be a chance for Piper to step up and show her progress.
Left side hitting will be anchored by sophomore Melanie McHenry, and former middle Tess Clark. While Tess is still listed as a middle blocker on the gocards website, all reports have her going to the left side and hitting outside this year. Her power will be a huge benefit, and her expertise dealing with blocking will only need limited adaptation to adjust to blocking the line. McHenry returns with a year under her belt, and ready for the speed and power of the game this year. While she was a major asset to the team last year and came in fresh to the college game and made a great mark, she did have a tendency to get a little bit overwhelmed last year. Expect her to be more consistent and solid in her play this year. I also look to see her show a little more discernment in her hitting. She has power, but wisdom in placement goes a long way to making that power effective.
Coline Coessens will also be returning as an outside hitter. She got some playing time last year, but I expect to see her in regular rotation on the front-line.
Megan Sloan is the only player listed on the roster as an opposite hitter this year, so I expect to see her get some playing time on the right side. Megan has height and power, but she struggled last year in applying it effectively. Similar to Melanie McHenry, another year of experience and learning, and I expect Sloaner to be much more effective in her play.
Two returnees that won't actually be on the court are Brooke Betts and Dani Busboom Kelly. Brooke will be a Graduate Assistant on the coaching staff. She first played college ball at UofL before transferring to Xavier to finish out her playing career. Dani, of course, is the new head coach of The Cards. She spent a year as an assistant coach under Anne Kordes before getting one of the dream assistant coaching positions back home in Nebraska. Dani is Nebraska born and raised, as well as playing her collegiate volleyball there. We welcome Brooke and Dani back to The 'Ville
Alexis Hamilton is following the familiar Assumption and KIVA path to UofL Volleyball, and like so many that follow that path, she will be spending her time in the backcourt as an aspiring Libero. You'll likely see her play the other half of the rotation from Gabbie Wiley in the DS position, as I think it unlikely that she dislodges Molly Sauer from the differently colored jersey.
We discussed above that Kali Eaken will have competition for the setter position, Wilma Rivera is the reason. Out of Puerto Rico, and coming to us by way of Penn State, reports are the Rivera is making a real play for the setter position. Rivera didn't see much playing time with the Nittany Lions, but there's a good chance she will here in Louisville. A second-string setter at Penn State is likely to be a starter just about anywhere else in the country, and it's a credit to Kali that this isn't a lock of a position.
Amanda Green joined the Cards in the spring semester, transferring in as a redshirt freshman from Marquette. She made an immediate impact in spring play, and I expect to see her get a significant amount of time in the outside hitting position for the Cards.
Alexia Byrnes is a freshman setter. I haven't heard a great deal about her play, but I don't have any serious expectations of seeing much of her on the court this year with Wilma Rivera and Kali Eaken being far more likely to get that time. Alexia and Alexis, both freshmen...that's certain to be confusing.
Lastly, we have two freshmen defensive specialists that will be looking to take a shot in the backcourt rotations, but not likely to see a great deal of time this year behind Gabbie and Alexis. Akela Yuhl...not "Juhl" as in Emily Juhl from a few years back...I've already seen that confusion happen once or twice, and Natalie Palastro. Every time I see Palastro, I think Palestra, the classic basketball venue in Philadelphia. Natalie is from Pennsylvania, but from the far side of the state in Pittsburgh. Akela comes to us from Manhattan Beach, CA, a place where people tend to know a thing or two about volleyball.
The rest of the coaching staff are newcomers. Dan Meske also served as an assistant coach with Dani at Nebraska. He then spent two years as head coach at DII Augustana College in Sioux Falls South Dakota. Kolby O'Donnell comes to us after four seasons as an assistant coach at UC-Santa Barbara (The Gauchos).
The side seating has been completely replaced, a sorely needed upgrade, and the hallway wall next to the concession stand has been removed and replaced with glass and some doors to allow more light into the hallway, increase overall visibility and give a more overall open feel. The arena should contribute to the team by providing a loud and raucous venue where the fans will be right on top of the action. I'm excited to see the facelift tomorrow night.
Field Hockey is in action this afternoon at 1:30 as Paulie previewed for us all yesterday, vs Miami of Ohio for an exhibition match. And Women's Soccer will officially kick off the fall sports season tonight with a 7:30 match, available on The ACC Network Extra against Boston University (The Terriers) at Lynn Stadium. I believe Paulie is planning on attending both events, and I suspect Case will be there for the Soccer match.