Volleyball to Face UT Martin in Non-Conference Clash
Sept. 9, 2003
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The University of Memphis volleyball team (6-1) will travel to Martin, Tenn., to face the UT Martin Skyhawks for the second time in two weeks, Tuesday. The last meeting, at the season-opening Arkansas State Tournament, was won by Memphis 3-2, but UTM rallied back from 2-0 down in that match to force a fifth game.
The Tiger offense is off to a solid start, currently ranking third in the league in hitting percentage (.269) and second in assists (14.96/game) and kills (16.32/game). A trio of Tigers are averaging over 3.0 kills per game, led by junior Tiara Gilkey (Creve Coeur, Mo./Pattonsville). Gilkey leads the team with 129 kills in the first 28 games of the season (4.61/game). She also leads the team with 85 digs (3.04/game) and is tied for second on the team with 12 total blocks.
Senior Brittany Barnett (Dallas, Texas/Lake Highlands) has recovered from a difficult opening-game against Arkansas-Little Rock, where she hit negative for one of the few times in her four-year Tiger career. Barnett is currently second on the team with 3.29 kills per game, and as her offense has come around, so has her defense, posting 79 digs, third on the team, and putting up 12 total blocks through the first 28 games.
Sophomore Nancy Nellans (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph) is the third Tiger averaging over three kills an outing with her 3.22 kpg average. Nellans struggled in the opening game of the Davidson College tournament after having a stellar Arkansas State tournament, but is currently third on the team with 87 kills and is currently fifth on the team with 2.41 digs per game.
All the offense comes from having junior setter Heather Watts (Sandy, Utah/Skyline) quarterbacking the team. Watts is currently second in Conference USA with 13.75 assists per game and is just one service ace shy of her 100th career ace. Watts is also just nine assists shy of her 2,000th career assist, which already ranks her fifth in career history. Watts is 637 assists shy of the fourth place mark in the career record book, where Amie Hamilton finished her Tiger career. Watts played her freshman season as a defensive specialist, learning the Tiger offense from Hamilton, who was then in a senior season that would earn her second team all-conference honors.
But while opponents are used to seeing the Tigers have dominating outside hitters, Memphis has found a mix of middle hitters that are offering up some variation in the offense. Freshman Melissa Nance (Frankfort, Ind./Clinton Prairie) currently ranks seventh in Conference USA with her team-leading .337 attack percentage, while senior Shella Neba (Aurora, Colo./St. Mary's) is also hitting over .300, downing 61 kills and hitting .316 for the season.
But the Tiger defense and blocking games have been an area that Head Coach Carrie Yerty wants to see improvement in. Memphis currently ranks 13th in the 14-team league with 1.41 blocks per game and allowing the opponents a .206 hitting percentage, the 8th-best percentage allowed in the league. But the Tiger defense has improved as of late, currently ranking 6th in the conference in digs per game.
The Tuesday night match at UT Martin will be a one-match break from the tournament format for the Tigers, as Memphis returns home to host its own four-team tournament this weekend. The Skyhawks are still winless through the first seven matches of the season, but the Tigers cannot take the team for granted. The Skyhawks twice came back from 2-0 deficits in the Arkansas State tournament to force a fifth-game and played stiff competition at the Mississippi State tournament last weekend and are playing in their home opener.