Aug. 18, 2008
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -
With just one senior and three returning starters from the 2007 squad, the goal of the 2008 Memphis volleyball team is to build to the future and take the program to the next step.
The young Tigers will look to the three captains--Laura Côté, Christine Bach and Lauren Thompson--for confidence, much-needed experience and leadership.
First-year head coach April Jauregui looks at her team's youth as a positive.
"We have several players who have not seen a lot of court time, and we look at that as a positive because what you get from that is an excitement and a competition level where you can push your players to be better because there is something to fight for," said Jauregui. "There's no set lineup where you have a certain six players are guaranteed to be in the game, and that's what I like. I want them to fight for positions on the court. I think it gives everyone a chance to play and it's exciting to see what the team will do and how they push themselves to succeed. So there's no limit to what we can do."
Memphis welcomes a strong recruiting class and returns a solid group of talent that is familiar with Conference USA and knows what the level of play is. That core group of Tigers have been a part of a championship level team and know what it takes to get to that point. It is now their chance to continue that tradition.
Entering her senior campaign, two-time All-C-USA setter Laura Côté will again lead the Tigers' offense as well as being the floor leader. Jauregui trusts her completely to lead this team.
"Laura is great at controlling the flow of the game," Jauregui said. "Her biggest strength is that, having been a three-year starter for the Tigers, she knows the conference well and she knows her opponents which could be an advantage for our young squad. She's excited about the challenge of leading this young team."
A year ago, Côté ranked third in the league in assists per game with 12.63, a figure that also ranked 38th in the nation. Côté was tabbed a 2008 preseason All-C-USA selection.
Sophomore libero Christine Bach will back up Côté at the setter position, but will see her time primarily in the Tiger back row defense.
With the loss of three outsides from last year's squad, Memphis will be relatively inexperienced at the outside hitter position. Jauregui's challenge will be finding out who fits best and where. Tri-captain Lauren Thompson will lead the crew and will be the main contributor from the outside. Thompson returns as the team's top outside hitter after downing 125 kills in 2007. Junior Rebekah Strickland, who has spent a lot of time at the middle blocker position, will see time on the right side, while sophomore Katlin Inglish will see significant action. Inglish will be expected to step in as a passer in the Tigers serve-receive game. Memphis will add freshmen Altrese Hawkins and Kelsey Knoche to the mix of outside hitter options in 2008.
Memphis lost one of the league's top middle blockers, and possibly the best middle the program has ever seen in Shelby Burton. Filling the void she left vacant won't be easy, but Jauregui feels like the 2008 U of M middle blocking corps is up to the challenge. Strickland has two years of experience in the middle and made 56 blocks a year ago. She will see time in the middle alongside sophomore Emily Underwood. Underwood had 20 blocks in limited action in 2007, but had a solid spring season and appears ready to challenge for a starting job. Junior middle blocker Rachel Theard earned the starting nod in six of the nine matches she played in before her season was cut short by a severe illness. She has recovered and is ready to contribute as one of the team's few veteran players. One of the most athletic players on the team, Theard's versatility could earn her time on the outside as well.
Despite playing a pair of sophomores in the back row, the Tigers are more experienced at the at libero and defensive specialist than any other positions on the court. With Bach and Becky Shaffer combining to play in 242 games last year, the Memphis back row defense should be as solid as any in Conference USA. Bach, a C-USA Defensive Player of the Week and All-Academic honoree in 2007, made the bulk of the starts at libero, while Shaffer took over the defensive specialist role. Bach posted the second-highest digs total in Memphis volleyball history a year ago (489 digs) and claimed the program's single-match record when she picked up 35 digs versus SMU. Shaffer, a fiery competitor, has trained hard to return from off-season knee surgery. She made over 250 digs a year ago. Junior Sarah Chambers returns and will add depth to the back row, as well as giving Jauregui an added option at the service line.
Memphis brings in a highly-touted group of four freshmen and one four-year college transfer to this year's club. Middle blocker Carolyn Baker is expected to fight for a starting position immediately, while fellow middle Casey Sines will add depth to the position. Jauregui also brings in a pair of talented outside/right side hitters in Hawkins and Knoche, who could both earn starting roles. A transfer from Lambuth, Lauren Trouy will give depth to the Tiger back line, while providing the team with experience and leadership.
With Jauregui taking over the controls of the program, coaching responsibilities have also been altered. The first-year coach retains assistant Anne Côté for a third season.
"Anne's knowledge of the game and experience is invaluable to our coaching staff," Jauregui said. "It's always good to be able to discuss ideas with her and know that no matter what the situation, she has seen it."
With the change of roles, Côté will handle recruiting within the U.S. and Canada and serve as the team's academic liaison.
Jauregui welcomes a new face to the staff in Marko Majstorovic. A native of Serbia, Majsorivic will bring a new dimension and coaching style to the program.
"Having coached at several levels in Europe, as well as coaching at the PAC-10 level at the Univesity of Oregon, Marko will bring different coaching techniques to our program," said Jauregui.
The 2008 schedule is one that showcases a variety of levels of competition. Jauregui and her Tigers will host 17 home matches as well as two preseason tournaments in 2008. The highlight of the schedule will take place on November 20-23 when Memphis hosts the 2008 C-USA Championships. This year marks the first time since hosting the Great Midwest Conference tournament in 1991 that Memphis has held a conference championship.
This year's slate looks to be a stronger one as the Tigers will play 12 teams that posted winning records in 2007, two squads that advanced to the 2007 NCAA Tournament and six that won 20 or more games a year ago.
Memphis will open up the year with its two home tournaments before hitting the road for a pair of road tournaments at Mississippi State and UAB/Samford.
"The 2008 season will give our squad an array of competitive experience," said Jauregui. "Our goal is to play a variety of teams in preparation for the C-USA regular season."