The UCLA women's volleyball team opens its 2006 season this Friday on its first of five road weekends to open the year. The schedule begins with a the first of two trips to the eastern time zone as the Bruins play this weekend at the State Farm/Vernon Manor Bearcat Invitational in Cincinnati, Ohio. This trip opens over 30,000 air miles that will be accumulated by the UCLA women's volleyball team before they play their first home match of the season against defending NCAA Champion Washington on Sept. 28 in Pauley Pavilion.
Bruins Return Five Starters, Libero
UCLA returns five starters and the libero from last year's team while adding five newcomers to a 20-player roster. The group of returning players is headlined by senior middle Nana Meriwether and sophomore setter Nellie Spicer, both of whom earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors last season with Meriwether earning third-team All-America honors. One of UCLA's newcomers in 2006 will be last year's Big West Freshman of the Year, Ali Daley, who joins the Bruins after playing last season at Long Beach State.
UCLA vs. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (2005 Record: 7-22)
Friday's match will be the season opener for both squads and will mark the first meeting between the Bruins and Golden Eagles. Tennessee Tech is coached by John Blair, who is in his fourth season at TTU.
UCLA vs. Western Michigan Broncos (2005 Record: 20-9)
The Bruins and Broncos have played on two previous occasions with UCLA leading the all-time series 2-0. The most recent contest was a 3-0 UCLA victory on Nov. 30, 1985. The Broncos, who finished second in the Mid-American Conference western division last season, are coached by Colleen Munson. Shie is in her second season at WMU.
UCLA vs. Cincinnati Bearcats (2005 Record: 20-12)
UCLA holds a 2-0- advantage in the all-time series against Cincinnati with the Bruins pulling out a five-game thriller on Sept. 9 of last year in Hawaii. The Bearcats are coached by Reed Sunahara, who is a 1989 UCLA graduate. The Bearcats tied for fourth in the BIG EAST standings last season and lost one starter and the libero from last year's team.
Banachowski Enters 40th Season
A dramatic five-game upset win over then-undefeated Washington on Nov. 12, 2005, made UCLA head coach Andy Banachowski the first women's Division I volleyball coach to win 1,000 career matches. Banachowski, who holds a career record of 1,004-266 (.791), is in his 40th season on the Bruin bench. He trails only UCLA men's coach Al Scates and Juniata (Div. III) head women's coach Larry Bock (1,069) for wins by a collegiate volleyball coach.
Banachowski was an All-America setter for Scates during his collegiate career at UCLA. (Scates holds a career record of 1109-200.) The first women's volleyball coach to be inducted into the National Volleyball Hall of Fame in Holyoke, Mass., Banachowski has coached the Bruins to six national championships, including three NCAA titles (1984, `90, `91).
2006 UCLA Women's Volleyball Outlook
With essentially the same group of student-athletes that played in front of a then-NCAA record crowd in Omaha, Neb., last December in the Regional Semifinal, head coach Andy Banachowski takes aim at a return trip to Omaha, site of the 2006 NCAA Division I Semifinals and Finals.
The Bruins lose just one starter, Nancy Barba, from last year's Sweet Sixteen squad and return both of the team's first-team All-Pac-10 selections in senior middle blocker Nana Meriwether and sophomore setter Nellie Spicer. Entering the fray for 2006 will be five newcomers, including sophomore transfer Ali Daley, who was the Big West Freshman of the Year at Long Beach State last season.
Coming off of a season that saw Nellie Spicer become the third Bruin in history to earn AVCA National Player of the Week honors, UCLA's starting setter returns for her sophomore campaign. Last season, she was selected for first-team All-Pac-10 and Pac-10 All-Freshman recognition after averaging 12.62 assists per game to go with a 0.67 blocks per-game average and 2.80 digs per game.
"I'm looking forward to seeing Nellie take the reins from the opening day of camp," said UCLA head coach Andy Banachowski. "Last season, she established herself as a premier setter in the country and we made a lot of progress with our timing and tempo during spring practice."
Sharing setting duties with Spicer will be sophomore transfer Nikki Jagd. Jagd played in 38 games over 21 matches during her freshman campaign at Pacific last season and saw spot duty over much of the season, but saw significant action against both top-ranked Nebraska in mid-September and against UC Davis in early October.
"Nikki will be an important back-up to Nellie at setter this season," said Banachowski.
Sophomores Jade Machado and Kaitlin Sather will both do some setting on the practice court and in game situations. Machado picked up valuable setting experience in June when Spicer was unable to play due to injury for part of UCLA's European Tour.
Carter played in 93 of the team's 114 games as a junior, averaging 2.66 kills per game to go along with a 0.77 blocks per-game average.
"Katie had a great spring for us," said Banachowski, "She really improved her timing on the quick ball to the outside and expanded her versatility, showing she can be effective on the right side, which will allow us to make some defensive adjustments with our block this season."
Sather, a first-team Pac-10 All-Freshman selection last season, led the Bruins with 412 kills while contributing 2.55 digs per game and a team-high 478.5 points on the season.
"Kaitlin matured nicely through spring practice," said Banachowski. "She has gotten stronger and is hitting a heavier ball. She is seeing the court better, and we will be counting on her both on the left and right sides."
Johnson improved sharply as the 2005 season progressed, playing in 75 games and finishing the season with the second-best kill per-game average on the team with 3.12. She returns for her junior season with a solid year of game experience under her belt. Johnson has played both on the outside and in the middle during her Bruin career, and could move back to the middle for the 2006 season.
"Rachell is capable of playing either outside position," said Banachowski. "She had some big-time kills last year and we may look to work her in the middle because of her lateral quickness."
Returning after a year away from volleyball, Becky (Green) Mehring looks to recapture the form that made her the team's kill leader as a sophomore in 2004. Green averaged 3.00 kills per game and 2.10 digs, and was second on the team with 320.5 points. After getting married and having a baby over the last 18 months, Mehring is ready to return to volleyball.
"Becky has had a nice comeback so far in training," said Banachowski. "It will be good to have her back on the court, since she is an experienced left side hitter, good defender and a good passer. She could be the key to our success this season."
After fighting injuries through much of last season, Colby Lyman could see action either on the outside or in the back row during 2006. The senior co-captain played in just 55 games last season, downing 99 kills but contributing 2.84 digs per game and 0.49 blocks per game.
"Colby's physical condition will dictate how much she can play in the front court this season," said Banachowski. "I am a big believer in Colby's ability to score and block on the right side. Hopefully she will be able to overcome her foot problem, but if not she will be a strong contender for the libero position."
Daley was named the 2005 Big West Freshman of the Year last season at Long Beach State, posting a 3.43 kills per-game average to go along with 2.21 digs per game and 418 points on the season.
"We expect Ali to contribute right away," said Banachowski. "She brings impressive credentials with a powerful arm and a solid hitting percentage. She will be in the mix for playing time at outside hitter."
Clements comes to UCLA from New Orleans, where she starred at Isidore Newman High School before being displaced to Episcopal High School in Houston for her senior season due to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
"Being left-handed, Emily is comfortable on the right side, is a good blocker and passer and just needs to adjust to the speed of the college game," said Banachowski. "Diana will also be a welcome addition to the team, adding depth to our outside hitting corps."
Leading UCLA's group of middles is the Bruins top returning player, senior Nana Meriwether. A third-team AVCA All-American last year, Meriwether also earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors and was the conference's blocks leader for the 2005 season, checking in at 1.73 per game. Off-season shoulder surgery curtailed her participation in spring practice, but Meriwether is expected to be back on the court at full strength for the start of the season on August 26.
"Nana was very impressive with her hitting and blocking at the end of last season," said Banachowski. "We expect her to regain that form very quickly and hold down a starting middle blocker spot this season."
Schoen was a key part of UCLA's early-season action in 2005 before tearing an ACL at the start of the Villanova match on Sept. 17. Prior to her injury, she had recorded 36 kills in her first 20 games as a Bruin over seven matches.
"Meghan is making good progress coming off of her knee surgery," said Banachowski. "Her arm swing looks good, and she will be in the mix in the middle just as she was before her injury last season."
Carstensen returns for her sophomore season after playing in 20 games as a freshman last year. She averaged 0.50 blocks and 1.30 kills per game during her time on the floor.
"Elise had a good spring," said Banachowski. "She made good progress on her attacking skills and will be a big help for us in our offense."
Dominguez played in just one game last season and did not record any statistics. "Stacy made good progress in the last two weeks of spring practice," said Banachowski.
Rachell Johnson could also wind up in the mix for one of the middle blocker spots, a position that she has played both at UCLA and prior to the start of her collegiate career.
"It will be an interesting battle for the libero position," said Banachowski. "We may end up having different liberos for different matches and different games."
This wide-open field includes the incumbent at the position, sophomore Jordan Smith, who earned Honorable Mention Pac-10 All-Freshman notice last season while averaging 3.86 digs per game. Smith opened camp as an outside hitter last fall, but quickly switched to the back-row position.
"Jordan came in last year and took over the position," said Banachowski. "She wasn't at 100% physically during spring practice, and a lot of other players have made good progress."
Socci primarily saw action as a serving specialist last season, finishing third on the team with 27 aces over just 79 games on the court for a 0.34 average. "Blair has gotten better defensively, specifically with her passing," said Banachowski.
After a fall season away from the team, Fine returned for spring practice and showed that she can contend for the libero position. As a freshman in 2004, she averaged 1.63 digs per game, playing as a defensive specialist while All-American Chrissie Zartman held down the libero position. "Jessica ended up being among our best passers at the end of spring practice."
Kroneberger returns for her senior season after averaging 1.73 digs per game last season as a defensive specialist. "Nobody in the defensive specialist group had a better spring than Laura," said Banachowski. "She is playing with more confidence than ever before and has added a jump serve to her repertoire."
Another player who saw court time as a defensive specialist last year as a freshman, Machado recorded 1.11 digs per-game over 36 games of action. "Jade passed as well as anyone on the team during spring practice and distinguished herself as one of our best diggers."
Ferrell was the starting libero for TCA, the club team that won the 18 and Under championship at the Junior Olympics tournament in Atlanta in early July, 2006.
If Lyman's foot injury does not allow her to return to front-court action, look for her also to be in the race for playing time at the libero position.
The Bruins will be road warriors for the first five weeks of the season, making two trips to the Eastern Time Zone with a flight to Hawaii in between. UCLA will rack up over 30,000 air miles between the start of the 2006 season and the Bruins first home match on September 28 against defending NCAA Champion Washington.
Along the way, UCLA will play in tournaments in Cincinnati, Honolulu, Denver and College Park, Md., before opening Pac-10 play at Oregon and Oregon State.
"It's a pretty tough schedule," said Banachowski. "We are certainly going to be a road tested team by the end of the season.