Volleyball Ready for Season Opener
Aug. 27, 2003
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - - The University of Memphis volleyball team is ready to look across the net and see a different opponent standing there. After wrapping up two-a-day preseason camp, Sunday, the Tigers will spend this week getting into the routine of fall classes before departing for Jonesboro, Ark., to participate in the Arkansas State Classic Volleyball Tournament Friday and Saturday.
The Tigers, who finished 19-15 in 2002 and return all six starters from that squad, came into camp ready to make significant strides in Conference USA play starting in 2003.
"Everyone came into camp in great shape," Head Coach Carrie Yerty said. "We are already a lot further along than I thought we would be. For the most part, we are injury-free and both the team and the coaching staff are energetic and ready to play our first tournament."
The Tigers have a tough draw for their season-opener, facing Arkansas-Little Rock at 9 a.m., Friday. With a roster just eight players deep, UALR has a definite international flare with six student-athletes hailing from Eastern Europe (Croatia, Yugoslavia, Bosnia-Herzegovina) and Brazil.
The Trojans are led by returning sophomore middle Ivana Kuzmic. Kuzmic led the country in blocks per game as a freshman with 2.16 blocks per game, and was named the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year in 2002 while helping the team to a 14-13 overall record. Along with Kuzmic, UALR returns senior Maialla Hurga and junior outside Ivana Vracar, a second-team all-conference honoree in 2002. Picked to finish second in the Sun Belt East Division in 2003, the Trojans return their top three hitters from 2002, as well as their starting setter. Vracar led UALR with 3.01 kills per game, while Kuzmic added 2.76 kpg. Larisa Durmisevic was third on the team with 2.34 kpg in 2002.
"We're excited to play a team the caliber of UALR for our opening match," Yerty said. "It will be good to face that level of competition right away early in the season and with their dominant middle hitter, it will be a good challenge for us to see where we are."
Memphis will round out its first day in the tournament with a 3 p.m. match against Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels were picked to finish seventh in the Ohio Valley Conference for 2003 after finishing with a 12-18 overall and 6-10 league mark last season. EKU is looking to replace its two top hitters from 2002 with the graduation of Becky Galati and Marisa Kawa. The leading returning hitter is junior outside Lesley Aldrige, who was third on the 2002 team 2.68 kills per game. EKU will also be working with a new starting setter. Senior Joyce Moeller and freshman setter Kelly Jennings will be battling it out for starting duties for head coach Lori Duncan this season.
The second day of the tournament starts with an 11 a.m. match-up against two-time defending OVC champ UT Martin, Saturday. The Tigers and the Skyhawks will face each other on back-to-back weekends as both teams are slated to participate in the Arkansas State and the Davidson College tournaments. Despite a deep roster, the Skyhawks lost five seniors to graduation and were picked to finish fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference in a poll of league coaches. Returning senior Jamie Fitzwater is the top returning hitter for the Skyhawks, finishing fourth on the team with 2.82 kills per game last year. The Skyhawks are also looking to iron out who will be their starting setter and their starting libero with the graduation of players from each of those positions.
Memphis wraps the tournament against host Arkansas State. The two teams met twice last year, with Memphis taking both matches. The Indians struggled in 2002 when a freshman setter was forced into action. ASU finished 10-20 overall and 4-10 in the Sun Belt Conference. But with a year's experience under her belt, sophomore Tristan Erford should be much more comfortable in the ASU offense now that she has her top two hitters from 2002 back. Miranda Griffin led the team in 2002 with 2.68 kills per game, while returning junior outside Caitlyn Mitchell added 2.66 kills per game.
"We're excited to be playing in the ASU Tournament against a bunch of regional teams," Yerty said. "This weekend will present some good challenges for our team."
Memphis heads into the tournament healthy and looking to improve on their opening record under Yerty. Memphis is 5-2 in season-opening matches in Yerty's seven previous seasons, and the program is 17-15 overall in season-openers.
The Tigers will open their home stand with their own tournament, Sept. 12-13. Louisiana-Lafayette, Holy Cross and Tennessee Tech will join Memphis at that tournament. Memphis opens its Conference USA schedule at Saint Louis, Oct. 3rd.