With three seniors and two juniors among this season's probable starters, the UCLA women's volleyball program is poised to take a "Step Beyond."
The Bruins have progressed to the NCAA Regional Final the last two seasons, and will take aim at the 22nd Final Four in program history in 2001. Along the way, ?Ne Bruins will most likely reach numerous individual milestones, as Kristee Porter's 2,000th kill, Erika Selsor's 5,000th assist and head coach Andy Banachowski's 900th career win all are on the horizon.
The Bruin offseason included successful trips to Europe during spring break in March and the U.S. Open Nationals in May.
Senior Kristee Porter will be the key element to UCLA's success in 2001. Her outstanding talent is evident in the following numbers: 17 career matches with 30 or more kills, a Pac-10 record 741 kills last season as a junior, and the fact that she needs just 177 kills to break the UCLA and Pac-10 career record of 2,115, set by Natalie Williams (1989-92).
Last year, Porter led the Bruins in both kills (741) and digs (418), the first time a Bruin has done that since Annett Buckner in 1994.
A three-sport athlete for the Bruins, Porter did not participate in the majority of volleyball's off-season training due to her responsibilities with the UCLA basketball and track and field teams, but Banachowski expects Porter to be in fine form by the start of volleyball season.
"Hopefully, Kristee will be able to start where she left off for us at the end of last season," said Banachowski. "She has oustanding talent and is a stable figure for us on the left side."
Joining Porter as a returning starter at this position will be junior Lauren Fendrick, who notched 54 aces last season, becoming the first Bruin to top 50 service aces in a season since Elaine Youngs served 51 aces in 1992.
"Lauren had the opportunity to travel with the U.S. Junior National team last spring, and started some matches for them," said Banachowski. "Her block has improved, and she made some strides in her play while she was with them."
Redshirt freshmen Regan Beam and Natalie Ray both return in 2001 with a full year of practice in the UCLA system under their belts. "Both Regan and Natalie improved their skills over the past year, and will challenge their teammates in practice to earn court time in game situations."
Two incoming freshmen, Brittany Ringel and Marissa Borelli, round out Banachowski's group of outside hitters. Ringel's combination of power and aggressive style of play may garner her some playing time.
"Brittany comes in as someone who can immediately challenge for court time," said Banachowski. "She has size and power, and adds immediate depth to this team. Marissa is a ball-control player who relies on her consistency."
The Bruins have the luxury of a very experienced setter, as fourth-year starter Erika Selsor enters her senior season as the quarterback of the Bruin offense. Just 145 assists shy of becoming the third player in Pac-10 history to record 5,000 career assists, Selsor was third in the nation last season as a junior, averaging 14.71 assists per game.
"Erika will continue to give us stability at setter," said Banachowski. "She gets better each year as she has another year of experience running this team."
"Krystal gained confidence and understanding of our system during the spring season," said Banachowski. "She's very capable of stepping in and playing the opposite position as well as doing some setting."
Bowles has spent much of the past two seasons on the right side, and also has set for the Bruins in game situations during those seasons.
Right Side Hitters
Returning starter Ashley Bowles returns for her senior season on the right side. A three-time All-Pac-10 selection, Bowles topped the 1,000 career kill plateau last season, and is just three aces shy of 100 as a Bruin.
"Ashley improved her attack at both antennas last spring, as well as improving her jump serve," said Banachowski. "She has worked hard in the weight room, and that will pay off for her this fall."
Lauren Hogan has continued to improve following 1999 surgery on her right shoulder, and is a capable backup on either the right or left side for UCLA.
"Lauren has gotten much stronger and has become a good blocker," said Banachowski. "She has done a good job this off season and is capable of setting on a broken play." Hogan is also a capable backup at outside hitter.
Leading the way will be junior Angela Eckmier, who missed the 2000 season while recovering from a torn ACL in her right knee. Since her surgery last fall, Eckmier has progressed steadily and aims to be in top form for the start of the season
"Physically, Angela is our strongest middle," said Banachowski. "We're expecting her to step in and solidify our middle blocker spot, just as we did last year before she got hurt."
Sophomore Cira Wright was a role player in the middle last year, primarily as a defensive sub for Selsor in the front row, but will be counted on for a major role this year. Wright put together 26 blocks in 36 games a year ago for an 0.72 per-game average.
"Cira is starting to understand the nuances of the game in general and our system in particular," said Banachowski. "Having lost Wiz (Bachman) and her powerful attack to graduation, we will have to be quicker in the middle this season. Cira is ideal for that."
Like Eckmier, Cullen did not play a fall season in 2000 as she missed her senior year of high school volleyball because of a torn ACL. "Heather's biggest asset is her desire to be on the court," said Banachowski. "She has good size, experience and movement and will be a solid player for us."
Murphy's strengths include her power and size, which impressed Banachowski during recruiting. All of Wilkes' previous playing experience has been at middle blocker, and Banachowski expects to start Wilkes at that position during preseason camp because of her superior speed and jumping ability, although her 5-10 stature may lend itself more to an outside hitter position in the collegiate game.
When the Bruins take the court against Michigan on August 31, it will be the first time in 120 matches that Michelle Quon will not play in the back row for UCLA.
Splitting time in the back row last year, Lee notched 223 digs over 110 games for a 2.12 average to go along with 21 service aces. "Stacey is very confident in her ability to pass every ball that comes her way," said Banachowski. "She did very well during our spring practices and is a rock-solid back row player for us."
Zartman enters the UCLA program with a great deal of history and experience, particularly on the beach. In fact, Zartman will participate in the Junior Beach World Championships, Aug. 20-27 in France, while the Bruins are in preseason training. She will rejoin the team in time for the season opener in Hawaii. Zartman's mother, Sharkie Boehnert Zartman, played for Banachowski at UCLA from 1971-73, and Chrissie will wear #23, her mother's playing number as a Bruin.
"Chrissie is a solid volleyball player," said Banachowski. "She has good passing, digging and jump serving skills, and we will utilize those talents. Although her size will lead us to start her as a defensive specialist, her effectiveness as a hitter could allow us to play her in the front row. She will become a major contributor to this team."
The season opens at the 19th annual Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic in Honolulu, where the Bruins will face off against Michigan, Kansas State and host Hawai'i.
From there, the team travels to Lincoln, NE, for the US Bank/Arby's Classic, and will face Notre Dame, Pepperdine and the defending NCAA Champion Nebraska Cornhuskers.
"Nebraska won it all last year and they expect to be even better this season," said Banachowski. "This tournament will help tell us where we are and what we'll need to do to make a run at the end of the season."
The 18-game Pac-10 schedule follows, with road non-conference matchups against Pepperdine and St. Mary's (CA) also scheduled for November.
Scoring and Rule Changes
Rally scoring will make its women's collegiate debut in 2001, adjusting the NCAA scoring format to match the international game.
"Rally scoring will move the game along faster," said Banachowski. "I think it's a good thing in the women's game. During the men's season last spring, I think it made the games more exciting and helped to keep the fans interested."
The let serve also will be introduced this fall, allowing serves to hit the net and remain in play. "The let serve will give servers more confidence," said Banachowski. "Players will adapt to that rule easily."
This Bruin team plans to grow into their season, as several young players settle into their roles on this 2001 team. "We may not be great at the beginning of the season," said Banachowski, "but I think this year's team has a lot of growth potential. We are capable of being in the mix come December." With all the pieces in place, the Bruins look to take a "Step Beyond" in 2001.