Tiger Volleyball Picked to Finish Eighth in C-USA Preseason Poll
Aug. 4, 2006
IRVING, Texas - The University of Memphis volleyball was tabbed to finish eighth in the 2006 preseason polls as selected by Conference USA volleyball coaches. The Tigers, who finished eighth in last year's standings, return eight letterwinners from its 2005 squad that finished 16-16. Marshall is the preseason favorite to repeat as the C-USA Champion in 2006.
Included in Memphis' eight letterwinners are five regulars, highlighted by senior libero Christen Clayton who set the program's record for digs in a single-season with 466 (3.79/g). The Tigers also welcome back junior middle blocker Shelby Burton and junior outside hitter Ashley Liford. Burton led the team in both hitting (.295 attack percentage) and blocking (108 total blocks) a year ago, while Liford returns as the Tigers' top attacking option after downing a career-best 366 kills in 2005. Sophomore setter Laura Côté is back to run the offense. The Canadian native handed out a Memphis freshman record 1,451 assists a year ago.
The Thundering Herd returns three starters and 10 letterwinners from last season's club that participated in the NCAA Tournament. The postseason appearance was only the second in program history and the Herd finished 2005 with a 26-6 (15-1 C-USA) record, its fourth straight 20-plus win season. Marshall junior Kelly-Anne Billingy was again voted C-USA Preseason Player of the Year after earning All-American honorable mention and C-USA Player of the Year honors in 2005.
The other Thundering Herd returning starters in addition to Billingy include junior Stephanie Cahill and sophomore Taylor Tanner. Cahill was named third-team All-C-USA in 2005 after finishing ninth in C-USA with 15 double-doubles on the season. The junior averaged more than three kills and three digs a game for the Herd and started every match in 2005. Cahill recorded double-digits in kills in 24 of Marshall's 32 matches. Tanner started 24 matches last season and averaged 2.21 digs per game.
Billingy, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter from Trincity, Trinidad, ranked in the top five nationally throughout 2005 in kills per game. She finished with 552 kills for a 5.58 per game average. Billingy finished with a .344 hitting percentage on the season and along with being named C-USA Player of the Year, she was also the C-USA Tournament MVP and was the Sports Imports/AVCA National Player of the Week on Oct. 31.
Houston, which returns nine letterwinners and three starters from its 18-12 (10-4 C-USA) 2005 squad, is second in the preseason poll. The Cougars will see the return of senior middle blocker Becca Sartori and sophomore outside hitter Justine Farmer. Farmer, a C-USA All-Freshman honoree in 2005, finished eighth in the league last year with a 3.71 kills per game average. Sartori was voted second-team All-C-USA in 2005 and took her game to a new level in C-USA play. The senior was third in the league connecting on a .355 attack percentage in conference games. The Houston native also powered home 380 kills and finished just outside the Top 10 in C-USA with 3.45 kills per game.
The Cougars will host this year's Conference USA volleyball tournament at Hofheinz Pavilion. The four-day event will begin on Thursday, November 16 and conclude with the championship match on Sunday, November 19.
SMU is picked to finish third in 2006 as the Mustangs are coming off a 13-16 (8-7 C-USA) campaign in 2005. SMU will be led by sophomore Natalie Peters, a second-team All-C-USA pick a year ago, and juniors Rachel Giubilato and Caitlin Rainbird. Peters' name can be found all throughout SMU annals after just one season on the Hilltop. The Austin, Texas, native has the top spot on SMU's all-time blocks per game list (1.41) and is already in fifth place all-time in career solo blocks. Giubilato led SMU with 3.70 kills per game and the trio accounted for 65 percent of the team's kills in 2005.
The Golden Hurricane of Tulsa is slated at fourth in the poll. Tulsa will have new leadership in 2006 as Ed Allen was named the fifth head coach in the program's history on May 9. Allen brings 14 years of experience as a collegiate head coach to TU and has a 365-146 career coaching mark in previous stops at Presbyterian College and Division III Anderson University. Allen inherits an experienced team that returns four starters and won 23 matches last season, the most since 1980. TU also posted 10 league victories, the most ever in conference play by a Golden Hurricane squad.
Rice is chosen to finish fifth in C-USA action as the Owls return three starters and its libero in 2006. Senior Tessa Kuykendall, a third-team All-C-USA selection last season, is one of the returning starters and led the team notching 3.22 kills per game and finished third in the league with a 1.21 blocks per game. Kuykendall, along with junior Yvette Kirk and sophomores Jessica Holderness and Karyn Morgan, will look to lead the Owls back to the NCAA Tournament.
Tulane follows as the coaches pick to finish in sixth place for the second consecutive year. Head coach Liz Kritza enters her second year at the helm with five starters and seven letterwinners set to return. The Green Wave will look to build on its impressive run in the 2005 C-USA tournament that saw the No. 11 seed advance to the semifinals. Reigning C-USA and Midwest Region Freshman of the Year Sara Radosevic returns to lead the Green Wave in 2006.
East Carolina is tabbed to finish seventh in 2006 and returns seven letterwinners from last year's squad that finished 20-11 overall (9-6 C-USA). Senior setter Heidi Krug returns to pace the Pirate attack after being selected to the All-C-USA third team in 2005. Krug finished second in the league averaging 13.36 assists per game.
Memphis, UCF and UAB fill sports eight, nine and ten in the poll, respectively. UCF returns 70 percent of its offense in 2006 and three players that recorded 200 or more kills. UAB finished 14-13 in 2005 after going 1-24 the previous year and hopes to continue its winning ways in 2006. Sophomore Ivana Bozic, an All-C-USA third team and All-C-USA freshman team member in 2005, returns after averaging 4.45 kills per game. The Blazers as a team return 81 percent of their offense and 78 percent of their digs.
Rounding out the final two positions are UTEP and Southern Miss. UTEP also enters 2006 under new leadership as Ken Murphy begins his first season with the Miners. He takes over a team that went 21-10 a season ago, the best team record since 1989. The Miners also ended the 2005 season with an 8-2 (.800) home record and a 10-6 conference mark. Junior Christie Murphy returns to fuel the Miner offense after averaging 2.78 kills per game. Southern Miss looks to rebound from a 9-19 (0-14 C-USA) season. The Golden Eagles welcome back six letterwinners, including three starters and the libero who supplied 65 percent of the offense and 72 percent of the team's defense in 2005.
The 2006 C-USA volleyball season begins August 25, as all 12 league schools set off the season in tournament action around the country.
2006 Conference USA Preseason Coaches Poll 1. Marshall (8) 2. Houston (4) 3. SMU 4. Tulsa 5. Rice 6. Tulane 7. East Carolina 8. Memphis 9. UCF 10. UAB 11. UTEP 12. Southern Miss First Place Votes in Parenthesis