Volleyball Ready for Davidson Tournament
Sept. 3, 2003
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The University of Memphis volleyball team (3-1) used a powerful offensive display to post a 3-1 mark through the first four matches of the 2003 season, but in their lone loss of the early season, Memphis found its blocking and defense exposed in a tough 3-2 loss to host Arkansas State. Tiger Head Coach Carrie Yerty is looking to put a stop to that this weekend at the Davidson Wildcat Invitational.
"I thought all-in-all we played tight last weekend," Yerty said. "We saw great individual performances at times, but I want to see us focus on our blocking and passing this weekend. We are not tight when we pass in practice, but we were during our matches this weekend."
After finishing 13th in the league (out of 14) in blocking last year, Memphis is looking to step up and improve on that weakness starting this weekend. Through four games, Memphis is averaging 1.19 blocks per outing, while Tiger opponents are averaging 1.44 blocks a game. Memphis finished 2002, averaging 2.02 blocks per game to finish second-to-last in C-USA.
The Tigers' blocking scheme starts with senior middle Shella Neba (Aurora, Colo./St. Mary's), who currently ranks ninth in school history with 218 career block assists. Neba led the team with 10 total blocks last weekend at ASU, but posted just two block assists in the championship match against the Indians.
Neba received some help in the blocking game last weekend when freshman Melissa Nance (Frankfort, Ind./Clinton Prairie) stepped into the starting line-up. Nance is currently second on the team with eight total blocks, including one solo, and is currently fifth on the team with 27 kills while playing in all 18 games. The middles will receive some additional depth this weekend with the return of sophomore transfer Fehi Tuivai (Kent, Wash./Kent-Meridian/Eastern Washington). Tuivai missed last weekend's tournament to return home for a funeral, but will be back in the Tiger line-up this weekend at Davidson.
With Tuivai back, sophomore Kristen Hardee (Sante Fe, Texas/Sante Fe) will float between a middle hitter and outside hitter position, stepping in wherever she may be needed. At 5-11, Hardee can team with either of the other three middles to put a big block up in front of opposing hitters.
The Tiger outsides proved last weekend that Memphis is certainly not lacking firepower or depth outside. Senior Brittany Barnett (Dallas, Texas/Lake Highlands) was a known factor for last weekend's opponents and drew her share of blocking attention in the early games. But with the emergence of Tiara Gilkey (Creve Coeur, Mo./Pattonsville) and Nancy Nellans (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph) in the game plan, opportunities opened up for Barnett, who recovered from hitting negative in the first match to finish third on the team with 2.94 kills per game.
Gilkey, the Conference USA Co-Player of the week, will draw more attention from the get-go this weekend after averaging 4.72 kills and posting a .289 hitting percentage last weekend. With career highs in kills (27 against UT Martin) and digs (21 at Arkansas State), Yerty is looking for Gilkey to demonstrate consistency again this weekend.
"Tiara probably put together her best tournament or best four consecutive matches of her career last weekend," Yerty said. "We need for her to maintain that type of consistency and be our terminator. I was really pleased with her stability and thought that her stepping up her offense and her defense could mean great things for our season."
When opponents were not dealing with Barnett or Gilkey from the outside, Nellans also presented her share of problems. The sophomore finished second on the team with 69 kills over the weekend and is just 78 kills shy of her 500th career kill just barely into her second collegiate season. Averaging 3.83 kills per game, Nellans is one of three hitters that attempted over 140 swings over the four matches last weekend.
"Heather Watts (Sandy, Utah/Skyline) did a great job distributing the ball and mixing up the offense last weekend," Yerty said. "Anytime you have three hitters averaging almost three kills a game, that is pretty impressive; that's why she was named to her fifth straight all-tournament team."
Watts, who had the second-best single season assist mark last year with 1,575 (12.30/game), is currently averaging over 13.5 assists (13.83/game) and leads the team with eight service aces. Her eight aces moves her within seven of the 100 ace career mark, which is just 25 shy of the career top 10 in the Memphis record books.
The Tigers will open the Davidson tournament against 0-3 Radford University, Friday, at 4:30 p.m. (EDT). With a head coach (Michael Burch) who has only been at the school since July, the Highlanders are still trying to fit into a new offensive scheme. Radford does return five starters and eight letterwinners, so they are a team that is capable of upending an unsuspecting foe, especially with senior setter Bliss Morgan back. Morgan set up right side hitter Sarah Gates enough last weekend to help Gates earn an all-tournament honor.
Memphis then starts Saturday morning at 11:00 a.m. against undefeated Troy State (3-0). The Trojans won their own Labor Day tournament last weekend, sweeping Jackson State, Bethune-Cookman and Tennessee State. Senior middle Rachel Hassan leads the Trojans with 4.22 kills per game, while fellow senior Haven Triboulet adds 4.0 kills a game. All that offense is comes from junior setter Erika Leitzke, who is averaging 12.33 assists per game. Memphis leads the all-time series with TSU, 4-0.
The Tigers will again be in the feature match when they face host Davidson, Saturday, at 7:00 p.m. (EDT). The Wildcats, who are 2-2 through their first four matches, return a pair of Pre-Season All-Southern Conference honorees in seniors Latisha Chapman and Nicole Tonelli. Picked to finish third in the Southern Conference, Davidson returns the league's blocking leader from 2002 in Chapman, who is also averaging 5.56 kills per game and who already has 18 total blocks. But no other Wildcat is averaging over 2.0 kills a game, so Memphis will have to focus on stopping Chapman while not allowing another Davidson hitter to get hot.
After the tournament, Memphis will break out of tournament mode for a non-conference match at UT Martin, Sept. 9th. That will be the second meeting in two weeks between the two in-state foes. Memphis downed Martin 3-2 at the Arkansas State tournament, but saw the Skyhawks twice come back from a 2-0 deficit to force a fifth game.