Volleyball Set to Open Preseason Workouts on Tuesday
Aug. 8, 2005
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Coming off its second-straight 25-win season, the Memphis volleyball program embarks on a new challenge--life in the realigned Conference USA. Although some of the teams have changed, the goals remain the same for the 2005 Tigers squad.
However, this year's team has a different make-up. The Tigers will be a young squad at the setter position, but with core contributors at other positions returning, Memphis should have an opportunity to compete for wins both at home and on the road.
Memphis had a solid spring with several players gaining experience, and the Tigers are looking to build on that this fall. In addition, the Tigers return a veteran core that made critical contributions and developed solid team chemistry en route to a 27-10 record in 2004. Memphis will need both as it enters play in the new Conference USA.
Despite the loss of perennial league powers Louisville, Cincinnati and Marquette, Conference USA should remain equally as strong in volleyball as it has been in the past. With the addition of Rice, Marshall and SMU, Memphis still faces a tough task in its quest for a league title. The Tiger program, which has been picked to finish third overall in the C-USA preseason poll, has worked hard to establish itself as a team to beat in Conference USA. Although given such high respect, Yerty and her staff know that what the preseason polls say has little to do with where everyone finishes the year.
Over the course of the spring workouts, several players showed the ability to step into the huge footsteps of Watts. Although Watts will be difficult to replace, expect the Tiger offense to run smoothly and the court leadership to be at the same level.
Most of the same can be said for Gilkey's loss. Gilkey, who was a dynamic attacker that provided crunch-time points, was Memphis's "go-to" player last season, so the Tigers will be more diverse offensively in 2005. Junior Melissa Nance, sophomore Ashley Liford and senior Fehi Tuivai will take on more attacking responsibilities. In addition, COLETTE RAMIREZ, a transfer from Virginia Tech, will challenge for playing time.
Leadership from the senior class has helped guide Memphis to 57 wins over the past two seasons and the 2005 campaign brings no exceptions. The Tigers will look to seniors Kristen Hardee, Nancy Nellans and Tuivai to provide guidance both on and off the court.
Nellans returns for her final season after being a starter for each of the last three campaigns. The South Bend, Ind., native has the ability to be a dynamic outside hitter and has matured on the court in terms of her ability to handle any set given to her. Tuivai has grown the most in terms of leadership. Look for the senior middle hitter to take on more of a leadership role. Yerty and her staff are hoping she will become more involved in the offense. Hardee had a great spring and emerged as a passer and a defender. One of the most explosive attackers on the team, Hardee is exciting to watch and is expected to make a sizeable contribution this year.
The strongest position on the court for the Tigers will be the libero. With veterans Clayton and Steckel returning for their third season, Memphis's passing game and defense will be stable at all times.
Clayton and Steckel have improved in both areas defensively and a passer as well as a defender. They will be looked on to provide court leadership.
Memphis returns everyone on the outside, led by Nellans. As one of the team's leading defenders, Nellans looks to take on more passing responsibilities in 2005. Liford, who returns for her sophomore season, has worked hard to improve her volleyball skills, and has trained, played and worked out all summer. After downing 305 kills as a freshman, expect her to be a major part of the offense. Also look for Ramirez to step in and contribute early. The Virginia Tech transfer will play either outside or right side for the Tigers.
The Memphis middle hitters may be the surprise group of the team this year. With Tuivai and sophomore Shelby Burton returning, Yerty expects a larger contribution from the middle. Tuivai led the 2004 team in blocks, and with her becoming more comfortable with the offense, she will be looked to do the same in 2005. According to Yerty, Burton could be one of Conference USA's middles in terms of attacking ability.
Extensive contributions are also expected from Nance, who will serve as team captain for the second-consecutive year.
The setter position is perhaps the most uncertain for Memphis. Hristina Slancheva, who has served as Watts's backup the past two seasons, has the opportunity to come in and earn the starting position as setter.
But for the Tigers to excel under Slancheva's leadership, the Bulgarian native must focus and come ready to play 110 percent everyday.
Along with entering a realigned C-USA, the Memphis volleyball program welcomes a new coaching staff. Former Tiger standout April Harriman returns to her alma mater, and Travis Filar also comes aboard as an assistant.