Aug. 30, 2004
With the 2004 NCAA Championship Semifinals and Finals taking place just a few miles down the 405 freeway from UCLA's Westwood campus in Long Beach, Calif., the UCLA women's volleyball team is poised to take a run at the title.
The 2003 season finished in Lincoln, Neb., for the Bruins after an NCAA Regional Final match that saw the Bruins give eventual NCAA Champion USC a run for their money for the first two games of the match. That Bruin team and the one that will take the court in the fall of 2004 will be very similar, with just one starter from last season, Cira Wright, absent from this year's roster.
Last season, the Bruins used a unique "True Blue" offense that was designed by Head Coach Andy Banachowski specifically for that team. Instead of the traditional positions of outside hitters and middle blockers, the True Blue offense features positions called Hammer, Flex, Utility, Quick and Technique in addition to the setter and libero positions. The True Blue system was designed to take advantage of the specific talent on the 2003 Bruin squad, and maximize the versatility of UCLA's players.
"We will probably start with the True Blue offense," said Banachowski, "but we can easily move ahead into a traditional 5-1 offense. During pre-season training, we will take a look at both offenses and decide which will suit us the best."
Senior Krystal McFarland was UCLA's starting setter last season after splitting time at the position in a 6-2 offense as a sophomore in 2002. As a junior, McFarland earned Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 honors while averaging 11.28 assists per game over 116 games played on the season. "Krystal continued to improve during our spring training," said Banachowski. "She earned second-team All-Tournament at USAV Open Nationals, which was a very deserving recognition for her." Backing up McFarland will be redshirt sophomore Tammy Jackson, who has minimal experience during the fall collegiate season, but who was able to pilot one of UCLA's two teams at last May's Open National tournament. The "Westwood Gold" team was set by McFarland and comprised primarily of UCLA's veteran players, while "Westwood Blue" was set by Jackson and was primarily the squad's 2003 freshman class. "The opportunity for Tammy to run a team at Open Nationals really boosted her confidence," said Banachowski. "She has improved a lot in the last year." Although transfer rules will keep her off of the competitive court this season, the Bruins will have a third setter in the practice gym as Brenn Larson joins the UCLA program after two years as a starting setter at Washington State. She will have two years of eligibility remaining, beginning with the 2005 varsity season. MIDDLE BLOCKERS
The Bruins used an offense with only a single traditional middle blocker last season, but junior Nancy Barba and sophomore Nana Meriwether are both capable of playing a true middle blocker position or fitting into the "True Blue" scheme, filling graduated Cira Wright's spot. Barba enters her third season with the Bruins and has continued to improve as her career has progressed. "Nancy has really worked on her strength," said Banachowski, "At the end of our spring season, she was hitting the ball as hard as anyone on the team." Meriwether joins the Bruins after being named to the ACC All-Freshman Team following her debut season in 2003 at Duke, and will provide Banachowski with a second player in the mold of a traditional middle blocker. Following the conclusion of the 2003 season, Meriwether transferred to UCLA and enrolled for winter quarter. She participated with the team during the 2004 spring season, including Open Nationals. "Nana provides us with an athletic player with speed similar to Cira's but she is taller, has more range and a higher vertical leap," said Banachowski. Freshman Stacy Dominguez rounds out the group of middle blockers. OUTSIDE HITTERS
Three seniors, Heather Cullen, Brynn Murphy and Brittany Ringel, headline this group of players for the 2004 Bruins. Murphy had an outstanding year as a junior in 2003, earning first-team All-Pac-10 notice as she averaged a team-high 3.78 kills per game and is the team's top returning blocker, having recorded a 0.93 blocks per-game average last season. She was also named to the All-Tournament team at all three of UCLA's regular season tournaments, earning MVP honors at the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational. Another first-team All-Pac-10 selection last season, Heather Cullen missed most of spring practice due to off-season knee surgery, the completion of a knee repair done during her senior year in high school. Last season, Cullen was third on the team with a 2.86 kills per-game average to go along with 2.35 digs per game. She was second on the team with 402.5 points scored on the season. "Heather was able to play all four days at Open Nationals despite the fact that she entered that weekend with very little training under her belt," said Banachowski. "Her participation at Open Nationals was a very good sign." Brittany Ringel was second on the team last season averaging 2.88 kills per game, while contributing 33 blocks and 17 service aces in 96 games. A powerful hitter, Ringel is a threat on the outside for the Bruins. "Brittany is getting comfortable with her outside attack," said Banachowski, "She has added a lot of shots to the power that she has always had." A trio of sophomores, Katie Carter, Becky Green and Colby Lyman, will also play large roles on this season's squad. Lyman started for much of her freshman season, earning first-team Pac-10 All-Freshman notice while downing 2.20 kills and 2.53 digs per game, the highest dig average on the team for a non-libero. A stress fracture kept Lyman out of the majority of spring practice, but her experience from the 2003 season will be invaluable to this team. Stepping into Lyman's spot during spring practice was Honorable Mention Pac-10 All-Freshman honoree Becky Green, who was UCLA's top server last year with 25 aces in 90 games played. One of six Bruins with at least two kills per game last season, Green was able to build on her experience with an expanded role last spring. "Becky had a great spring," said Banachowski. "She was able to really improve on her serving and attacking shots." Carter has the flexibility to play at virtually any position this season. At six feet, three inches, she has the size to play at the net, along with the offensive shots to play on the outside. Another member of the 2003 freshman class, Rachell Johnson, redshirted last season due to injury, but will give Banachowski another option on the outside. "Rachell is a dynamic athlete with the ability to put the ball away," said Banachowski. "We are going to have some pretty good depth in either offensive system now that this group has played a full year together." LIBERO / DEFENSIVE SPECIALIST
Named a first-team All-American in 2003 by VBall Magazine, Chrissie Zartman returns for her final season in the Blue and Gold. A First-Team All-Pac-10 selection as well as a member of the NCAA Regional All-Tournament Team, Zartman has anchored UCLA's defense for three seasons, turning in 551 digs for a 4.52 per-game average last season. She enters 2004 needing just 50 digs to become UCLA's all-time leader for career digs. Zartman's role will increase even further this season, as new NCAA rule changes will allow for Zartman to serve for a designated player beginning with this season. This change also means that a libero will only have to step off of the court during one player's service, instead of two, as was the case in 2002 and '03. "We have the best libero in the country," said Banachowski. "Being able to rely on Chrissie has established us as a defense-first team, and we're very excited that her role can be expanded this season." Joining Zartman in the back row will be sophomore Laura Kroneberger and freshman Jessica Fine. Kroneberger played in 59 games last season, recording 80 digs as a freshman. "Laura did a great job in the spring," said Banachowski. "Her defense improved and I think she will prove to be a solid passer as well, while Jessica is a good server, in addition to her solid defense." Kroneberger and Fine will primarily see action as back-row defensive specialists, coming in to play defense on a situational basis. SCHEDULE
This season's schedule features a non-conference trip to Cal State Northridge along with tournaments at Texas A&M and Hawai'i, and a trip to Utah to face the Utes and BYU just prior to embarking on a tough Pac-10 schedule. UCLA will also play a non-conference match against Pepperdine on October 26 at Pauley Pavilion. "This year's schedule is a good blend of tough matches along with opportunities to work on lineup adjustments," said Banachowski. "Hawai'i will be younger than they have been the past few years, but going over there is always tough. Playing BYU and Utah at altitude also will be a challenge for this team. "Once again, the Pac-10 is unbelievably tough. As a conference, we had four teams in the top-10 of the final AVCA poll last year, and the Pac-10 looks to be just as tough this season."