2007 Outlook: Carrie Yerty and Tigers' hunt for program's first C-USA title
Aug. 17, 2007
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Fresh off one of the program's strongest seasons to date, Head Coach Carrie Yerty and the Memphis volleyball program is poised to make more history. With the return of its core group of talented student-athletes, the Tigers' target is one that is realistic.
"Our goal, as always is to compete to win a conference championship and to earn an appearance in the NCAA Tournament," said Yerty. "Anything less than that as a goal would be selling us short."
In terms of expectations, the success that Yerty and the Tigers have experienced over the course of the last four years (100 wins) is unparalleled by any other C-USA program. One of the nation's all-time winningest programs, Memphis has established a foundation based on team work ethic and a winning tradition.
"Our past seniors have really left a legacy in terms of pride and work ethic," said Yerty. "We're not fighting to be one of the middle-of-the-road teams anymore. We are fighting to win a conference championship. I believe that the kids that are currently in our program have embraced that and have whole heartedly taken that on as a responsibility for them to accomplish."
"The girls on this team are so committed to each other," Yerty stated. "They challenge each other, they accept each other and their roles, and they understand that in order for us to succeed they have to work together."
Nance was a captain for three and a half years and Clayton was a captain for two and a half years. Their leadership and their mentoring and discipline in the classroom, on the court and in the weight room were a vital part of the team's recent success. Leadership again will be a key in whether the Tigers can find success in 2007.
The question for this year's crew is `Can the Tigers have someone step in and fill those leadership roles?' and `Which players will step in and fill the supporting cast roles?'
"All three seniors were the type of players that said `climb on my back and I'll take you there' and they did that everyday in practice, in the weight room, in the classroom. One of our biggest keys will be to see who can fill those roles. We're not looking to replace those people, but fill those spots on the court with confidence and consistency." stated Yerty.
"Ashley has embraced the responsibility of being a leader," said Yerty. "She is such a competitor. Her intensity is incredible, but she is all about her team and team success."
Liford is expected to step in a fill some of the vacancy left by Christen Clayton and Melissa Nance in terms of the captain and leadership roles. Liford, who is one of the best leapers and fastest outside hitters in Conference USA, is maturing as a backcourt player and has focused on her ball control and defense in addition to being a strong server.
"I'd like to see Ashley have a great senior year," Yerty said. "She has been preparing for this year since she came to Memphis. She's excited about this year and has been training all summer for what she wants to be the best season in Tiger volleyball history."
Colette Ramirez did a great job at rounding out her senior season establishing herself as a go-to right side player.
Memphis is going to have to have someone come in and be a terminator from the right side. Four players have the potential to earn the right side position in sophomores Lauren Thompson and Rebekah Strickland, redshirt freshman Katlin Inglish and incoming freshman Kelsey Labrum.
Thompson had a great freshman campaign in which she gained valuable experience. She has the ability to play on the right or left side and has developed into a nice primary passer. Defensively, she has the ability to play all three backcourt positions. She will challenge for playing time either on the right or left side or in the back row.
Inglish is coming off a redshirt year, where she spent most of the year learning the offensive system and preparing for the opportunity for playing time this year. She will be looked upon to contribute on the outside and possibly on the right side. She has been focusing on developing her communication skills.
Strickland is one of the best stationary blockers on the team. At 6-2, she is a big net presence and understands what her role is and embraces her responsibilities. She gives 110 percent when given the opportunity in practice or a match. She has trained strictly as a right side hitter.
"Rebekah is one of the most selfless members of the team," said Yerty. "Whether she's on the floor or on the bench she gives the same positive attitude, the same energy and the same excitement for her team as you do when she's on the floor. She is an invaluable addition to our team."
Last year Strickland came in at big times and made big plays and will be counted on to do the same this year. Her confidence is growing as she understands the pace of the game as she gets stronger and more athletic.
Labrum will challenge for playing time on the right side as well as on the left side. She has solid ball control skills, is a dynamic jumper and puts up a big block.
"We will look for Shelby to be a team leader on the court," said Yerty. "Because she is such a dynamic player, the underclassmen look to her and respect her. We look for her and Ashley (Liford) to lead this team to a C-USA title."
"We have to find someone to replace Melissa's (Nance) role on the court in terms of steady production and stability at the middle blocker position," Yerty said.
That player will not be expected to put up put numbers, but will be looked to, to be a work horse, someone that can close blocks and put balls down when given the opportunity.
Sophomore Rachel Theard and redshirt freshman Emily Underwood are both young in the game and with the departure of Nance, the Tigers will need one of the two to step up and fill that role. Both are capable of earning playing time and will battle day-in and day-out. Underwood provides a big block, while Theard provides an explosive and quick attack. This year will be a growing year for both after a solid spring season. Preseason tournament action will be an early determinant in who will emerge as Burton's opposite.
"We will look to Rachel and Emily to step in and consistently provide a closed block and, when given the opportunity, to be open, available and ready to terminate." Yerty stated.
Back at the controls of the Tigers' offense is First Team, All-C-USA setter Laura Côté. Côté returns for her junior season after a record-setting sophomore campaign that saw her garner AVCA All-American honors. The Tigers will need an encore performance from Côté, who dished out more assists than any other sophomore in Memphis and Conference USA history last season. Yerty and the Tigers will look for Côté to become more of an attacking weapon. An efficient attacker, Côté has become more mature after training with the Canadian National Team this summer. She has gained confidence from being asked to set for the Canadians in the Fisher Games and trying out for the Pan Am games for her country.
Christine Bach will also figure into this year's rotation after red-shirting the 2006 season. Bach trained as a libero and setter in the spring and proved to be the coaching staff's biggest surprise. Bach will challenge for the starting libero or defensive specialist position, as well as back up Côté at the setter position. The Tigers will also benefit from Bach's ability at the service line.
"Christine has embraced the libero position and trained hard at it," Yerty said. "She has incredible ball control and a natural sense for passing and is a great reader on the defensive side of the net."
Yerty expects that either Bach or freshman Becky Shaffer will figure into the position vacated by Clayton.
"Becky is one of the fastest backcourt players that I've ever seen," said Yerty. "She has great ball control and she has a desire and a heart of a warrior."
Sophomore Gresham Gorman joined the volleyball team in the spring after spending just over two years on the hardwood with the Lady Tigers basketball team. She has a contagious attitude and is a fast learner and she has been a great addition. She is still learning the game at the Division I pace, but she is a great reader defensively. After another year of training she will be able to better contribute.
"I feel confident in April's training ability," Yerty stated. "She provides balance on our staff, has a real sense of loyalty and is committed to the success of Tiger Volleyball and Tiger athletics. She is willing to put in the time, energy and effort to succeed."
Anne Côté comes back for her second stint with the Tiger Volleyball program. This time she comes aboard as the second assistant after the departure of Travis Filar. A volunteer coach for the 2006 season, Côté was the perfect fit to fill the second assistant post as she understands the system, the team has embraced her, the staff has embraced her, and she provides maturity and a calm temperament to the staff. In addition, she brings a wealth of experience that the staff needs.
"When we think about scheduling, we have to consider what we can do to help our conference for multiple NCAA bids and RPI," said Yerty. "We also have to think about being at home as often as possible due to the fact that C-USA travel is so strenuous."
With that in mind, for the second consecutive season, Memphis will host a pair of home preseason tournaments--both of which are very competitive. The Tigers open the season against Louisville in the Louisville Invitational. The home tournaments will round out preseason action before diving into stiff C-USA play, beginning with a rematch against reigning league champ UAB.
Once again, the C-USA schedule will be no easy task. There will not be a free game anytime in league play and every match will be a battle to win.
All-in-all, the Tigers will be young in certain positions, but depth and leadership should provide the stability needed to notch its seventh consecutive .500 or better season.
"The unique thing about our team is that you don't have to have a superstar. We have enough talent on our team that if they embrace their roles and they all decide that it's o-k to be a supporting cast member then we'll have the opportunity to win and we'll have the opportunity to capture our first Conference USA Championship.