Aug. 26, 2003
Head coach Andy Banachowski will take to the court this season with a very young group of Bruins that has great potential. His roster will include five freshmen, five sophomores, five juniors and just two seniors.
The Bruins return a core of four starters in addition to their libero from the 2002 season. Additionally, there are several veterans on the 2003 squad that had significant playing time last season, although they were not starters a year ago.
One year ago, the Bruins ran a 6-2 offense, utilizing two setters, and both of those setters return in 2003. Redshirt junior Krystal McFarland reached the 1,000 assist milestone in her first season as a full-time player. She averaged 8.55 assists per game during her 117 games on the floor, in addition to 19 service aces and 2.20 digs per game. McFarland proved to be a team leader as a captain in 2002, and is expected to continue in that role this season.
Sophomore Haley Jorgensborg was the other setter in the offense, playing in 107 games with a 5.60 per-game assist average to go along with 189 digs and 13 service aces. Jorgensborg stepped in to her role immediately, as the Bruins used the two-setter system from the beginning of the season.
Another veteran, redshirt freshman Tammy Jackson, is the third setter on Banachowski's roster. Jackson did not see game action during the 2002 seeason, but has the experience of an entire year of training in Banachowski's system.
"Krystal and Haley are almost dead even entering our fall training," said Banachowski. "We feel very good about where both of them are with their setting abilities, and Tammy is a reliable third setter."
Senior Cira Wright is UCLA's returning threat in the middle, and begins the season in position to spend a second year as a starter. Brynn Murphy, who played primarily as an outside hitter last year, but was a middle blocker as a freshman, and Nancy Barba will also battle for time in the middle.
Wright started for the Bruins as a junior in 2002, playing in 113 games last season. She was one of five Bruins to average over 2.00 kills per game and score over 300 points, and led the team with 133 blocks for a 1.18 per-game average. She earned Most Valuable Player honors at the Nike Portland Invitational and was named to the Albuturkey All-Tournament team last season.
Murphy is a very versatile player who is capable of hitting from any front-row position, but Banachowski anticipates that she will contribute most effectively in the middle during the 2003 season, returning to the position she played as a freshman in 2001. Hitting from the outside as a sophomore last year, Murphy averaged 2.59 kills per game to go along with 15 aces, 109 digs and a 0.89 per-game blocks average. That total was the best of any Bruin who did not play middle blocker for the majority of the season.
Barba is the third returnee fighting for time at the position. After sitting out nearly the entire first half of last season with an injury, Barba returned to the lineup after Angela Eckmier's career ended with an ACL injury in early November, and performed well. She recorded 54 kills and 32 blocks during her 40 games for the Bruins, most of which came during the final month of the season.
Incoming freshman Katie Carter is expected to begin pre-season training with the middle blockers, although she is quite capable of also playing on the outside.
"I think that with this group of players, we will have a mix of size and quickness in the middle that should allow us to match up with all kinds of scenarios on the other side of the net," said Banachowski. "All three of our returning players added some shots to their repertoire during spring practice that will help them to be more effective this season."
UCLA's corps of outside hitters is led by returning starter Brittany Ringel, who looks to continue her strong role in the front row. Ringel is UCLA's top returning kill-leader, averaging 3.30 kills per game and 373 putaways for the year. She was second on the team in 2002 with those totals, behind graduating senior Lauren Fendrick. A Pac-10 All-Academic honorable mention selection, Ringel added 1.72 digs and 0.40 blocks per game for the Bruins last season.
Joining Ringel on the pins will be fellow junior Heather Cullen, who was third on the team last season with 2.71 kills per game and a total of 386.5 points scored on the year. Cullen and Ringel both saw significant time in the front row during spring practice, and will vie for playing time this fall.
A role player as a freshman in 2002, Teryn Spragg had a strong spring practice season and is a reliable third option on the outside for Banachowski. A strong group of newcomers will join the veterans to comprise UCLA's outside hitters. Colby Lyman is a left-handed hitter who would fit naturally on the right side for Banachowski. Becky Green is a natural left-side hitter with strong defensive skills who will develop into a strong outside hitter with added strength and conditioning. The third freshman, Rachell Johnson, has played on both pins during her high school and club careers. An excellent jumper with a fast arm swing, Johnson is capable of creating a multitude of problems for the team on the opposite side of the net, particularly once she has adjusted to the collegiate game.
Libero / Defensive Specialist
One of the best liberos in the country, junior Chrissie Zartman returns for the Bruins in 2003. An AVCA All-Region selection last season, Zartman led the Bruins in the back row with a school-record 535 digs for an average of 4.53 digs per game. Zartman was one of just two players on the roster to play in all of UCLA's 118 games last season.
"We feel she is the best player in the country," said Banachowski. "She passes and digs as well as anybody, and is certainly going to be the glue that holds us together."
Freshman Laura Kroneberger will back up Zartman. Kroneberger is a good defensive addition to the Bruin squad, and is expected to serve as Zartman's backup with an inside track to take over the position following the conclusion of Zartman's career.
Natalie Ray and Morgan Smith will both serve as defensive specialists during the upcoming season, coming in to serve and play back row when needed. Ray, a senior, recorded a service ace and nine digs during her 17 game appearances last season. Smith played in four games, earning two digs.
"Both Natalie and Morgan can come in, serve, and play good defense," said Banachowski. "They both had strong spring practice seasons with serving and defensive skills."
The Bruins begin the 2003 season with their traditional trip to Honolulu, where they will face two teams that are expected to be ranked in the top-15 in the national polls, including host team Hawai'i, who will most likely be a preseason final-four pick.
From Hawaii, the Bruins will travel to Missoula, MT, where Banachowski anticipates an opportunity to see several different combinations of players during UCLA's three matches at the Montana Invitational. UCLA will then travel to Austin, TX, for the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational.
"It's a pretty tough start to the season," said Banachowski, "particularly in Hawaii where we will face a challenging UH team on their home floor. Overall, we have a good pre-conference season with a mix of teams that will give us a chance to see some of our less experienced players."
UCLA will then open its home and Pac-10 schedules with a televised match against cross-town rival USC in Pauley Pavilion. "The Pac-10 is tough again," said Banachowski, "plus we have Cal State Northridge and a very tough Pepperdine team remaining on our schedule."
"It will be a growing year for us," said Banachowski. "We have a lot of options heading into the 2003 season with many young players mixed in with juniors and seniors to lead this team."