Aug. 22, 2000
by uclabruins.com reporter Jeff Siegel
LOS ANGELES - The sights are set high for the 2000 UCLA women's volleyball team, and this is a group that expects to achieve its "Over the Top" goal.
The Bruins return five starters from an impressive lineup that concluded the 1999 season with a loss to eventual NCAA Champion Penn State in the Central Regional Final. UCLA will face a daunting schedule on its way to reaching the team's goal of finishing the season in Richmond, Va., site of the 2000 NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball Championship.
UCLA's success at the U.S. Open Nationals in late May will hopefully be a taste of things to come. At the tournament, the Bruins finished second to the Dominican National Team, while senior middle blocker Elisabeth Bachman and senior defensive specialist Michelle Quon were named to the All-Tournament Team.
"We had a very productive spring, particularly from the standpoint of improving some individual skills," said UCLA head coach Andy Banachowski. "Being able to play four days in a row at the Open Nationals really helped the team progress, and the level of competition that we saw in the Dominican team and the College All-Star team really helped to elevate our play. I think it was the best spring competition we've ever had."
UCLA's most exciting player can be found on the outside in the person of junior Kristee Porter. "She is a legitimate candidate for National Player of the Year," said Banachowski. "She's that dynamic. Kristee has gotten better every year that she has been here, and she is in position to have a great season."
As a sophomore in 1999, Porter became the second fastest player in NCAA history to record 1,000 kills, reaching the milestone in the 50th match of her career. She also posted the top single-match kill total of the year for the Pac-10, a 36-kill performance at Arizona, and notched three matches over 30 kills. That gives her seven career matches over 30 kills, a total that exceeds the previous Bruin standard of six, set by Liz Masakayan and Natalie Williams. Porter's seventh was an impressive 31-kill performance in a three-game NCAA Tournament win over Pepperdine on Dec. 9.
Joining Porter on the outside will be sophomore Lauren Fendrick, another starter from the 1999 squad. Fendrick spent much of the spring season with the UCLA softball team, proving invaluable as a reserve pitcher for the NCAA runners-up. Fendrick put together an impressive postseason in 1999, as she played with a broken toe and still racked up double-figure kills against Ohio State (17) and Pepperdine (11 kills, three blocks).
"Lauren had a great tournament with us at Open Nationals," said Banachowski. "She has developed some consistency with her jump serve, which will be an added weapon in her arsenal."
Redshirt freshman Ella Harley could very well be on the left side as well. "Ella could easily hold her own out there with anyone," said Banachowski. "She just needs to have some meaningful court time, which she didn't get last year as a redshirt."
Three freshmen round out the outside hitter corps for the 2000 Bruins, Alyssa Rylander, Regan Beam and Natalie Ray. "They're all good volleyball players," said Banachowski, "and they're all good athletes. We're looking forward to having them in practice as they learn our system and compete for court time."
Returning for her third season as the Bruins setter is junior Erika Selsor. Her first two seasons at the helm have resulted in a career assist total of 3,031, which ranks fifth in UCLA history. Selsor's growth as a setter was evident in the numbers last season, as she led the Pac-10 in assists per game (14.12, eighth in the NCAA) and directed an offense that ranked among the NCAA's elite in kills per game (17.71, 3rd), assists (16.26, 4th) and hitting percentage (.287, 9th).
"Erika has come in from day one and led this team," said Banachowski. "She is getting more comfortable in that role, her play is improving, and she has added a jump serve since last season."
Joining Selsor will be freshman Krystal McFarland, who Banachowski sees as a complete player who will be able to learn the Bruin system behind Selsor while possibly contributing elsewhere on the floor.
"Krystal will be a very reliable backup to Erika as she learns the system and begins to compete for playing time," said Banachowski.
Senior All-America candidate Elisabeth "Wiz" Bachman is back for her final season, and if her performance during the spring season is any indication, she will be a force to reckon with on the court this fall. Bachman was named to the All-Tournament Team at the Open Nationals in May for her performance in UCLA's runner-up effort.
Bachman topped off the 1999 season with first-team All-District VIII honors, and established a new Pac-10 and UCLA standard for season hitting percentage, finishing with a .429 mark that was good for second nationally. Along the way, she notched a .938 hitting percentage in an Oct. 28 match against Washington (15K-0E-16TA), a mark that is third-best in NCAA history. Additionally, she led the Pac-10 in blocks per game with a 1.33 average.
"Wiz had a tremendous tournament at the Open Nationals," said Banachowski, "and it was nice to have her training with us rather than in Colorado Springs. She has just become more dynamic and stronger this spring and over the last year."
Joining Bachman as a starting middle will be junior Angela Eckmier, who will be in her first season in that role. Eckmier made significant contributions throughout the 1999 season, and was able to step in and add extra front-row defense in several key situations.
"Angela is physically our strongest player," said Banachowski. "She's going to be a very powerful threat for us as a solid blocker and good attacker."
Outside hitter Ella Harley may see time at middle blocker should the need present itself, although true freshman Cira Wright will be the primary backup at that position.
"Cira has the ability to compete for significant playing time in the middle," said Banachowski. "We have good quality in the middle this season."
Ashley Bowles did an outstanding job holding down the right side spot for the Bruins last season, in addition to stepping in on occasion at setter. Bowles had an All-Pac-10 season a year ago, following up an equally impressive freshman campaign. The team leader in digs last season, Bowles had 330 on the year and was ranked seventh in the conference with a 3.08 digs per-game average.
"Ashley is a top-level player who missed all of our spring practice with a hamstring problem, but still played very well for us at Open Nationals," said Banachowski. "Because of her, we're very solid on the right side."
Joining Bowles on the right side will be redshirt sophomore Lauren Hogan. Hogan missed the 1999 season due to a right shoulder problem, and is making a successful comeback from shoulder surgery. "Lauren did a nice job in the spring recovering from her surgery," said Banachowski. "She has developed a lot of shots as she has nursed her arm back into a full swing."
The Bruins have the advantage of having possibly the best defensive player in the country on their roster in the person of senior Michelle Quon. Quon was selected to the All-Tournament Team at Open Nationals as a libero, which is a player who cannot serve or attack, but can enter the game an unlimited amount of times in a defensive role.
Despite the fact that Quon was on the floor for only half of the Bruins rotations in 1999, she finished with 302 digs, just 28 shy of the team lead.
"Michelle will be on the court as much as we can get her out there to pass and play defense," said Banachowski. "She has only gotten steadier and more spectacular as the years have gone by with her passing and defense."
Joining Quon in the back row will be freshman Stacey Lee. "Stacy is a very aggressive defensive player, who I think will become a fan favorite just as Michelle Quon has," said Banachowski.
The Bruins open their 2000 season at the State Farm/NACWAA Women's Volleyball Classic in Gainesville, Fla. UCLA opens the schedule with defending NCAA Champion Penn State, the team that ended the Bruins' tournament run last December. Florida and Colorado State round out the top-notch tournament field.
"There's no question that we have a really tough schedule this season," said Banachowski. "We're going to be challenged from our first outing at the NACWAA Tournament. They always bring together tough teams at that tournament, but one thing we've always welcomed is a challenge."
The challenge continues as the Bruins head from Gainesville to Honolulu for the Hawaiian Airlines Rainbow Wahine Classic, a tournament field that includes Iowa and Texas A&M in addition to host Hawai'i. From there, the Bruins head east to South Bend, Ind., and the Adidas Invitational featuring Michigan State, Nebraska and host Notre Dame.
Pac-10 play consumes the remainder of September through early November, with a single non-conference home match against Pepperdine on Nov. 7. The Bruins regular season concludes with another tough tournament over Thanksgiving weekend, this time at Baylor, before the NCAA Tournament begins.
"We have a very tough preseason," said Banachowski, "and I don't think we'll have any walkovers. This will wind up being a long and grueling season for us. Despite all of that, we're brimming with excitement for the upcoming season. We really stepped up to the challenges we faced at Open Nationals, and I think we're going to be able to play with anybody at the highest level throughout the year."
With a little luck and continued success, Banachowski plans to lead this year's Bruins "Over the Top."