Volleyball Ready for First Road Test in MSU Classic
Sept. 11, 2008
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - After playing its first seven matches in the friendly confines of the Elma Roane Fieldhouse, the University of Memphis volleyball will hit the road for the first time as they make the trip south, to Starkville, Miss., to participate in the four-team MSU Classic.
The Tigers will open weekend action on Friday, September 12, when they take on the Sugar Bears of Central Arkansas at 10 a.m. They will face Centenary at 4:30 p.m. on Friday to round out the day's action. Saturday will see Memphis wrap up the weekend when it takes on host Mississippi State Bulldogs at 1:30 p.m.
Memphis comes in the tournament a game above .500 at 4-3 after splitting four matches in the Tiger Invitational last weekend. Senior setter Laura Côté, who earned all-tournament honors last weekend, continues to run the team efficiently with 289 assists. Her top options are freshman middle blocker Casey Sines and outside hitter Lauren Thompson. Sines leads the team in hitting with a solid .336 average on 65 kills. Thompson's 78 kills is a team-high. Sophomore outside hitter Katlin Inglish has been a reliable terminator on the outside, ranking second on the team with 68 kills. The Bellville, Texas native, has the squad's only two double-double performances of the year.
On the defensive side of the net, Memphis relies heavily on the block on sophomore middle blocker Emily Underwood. Underwood averages 1.82 blocks per set and leads the team with 51 total blocks--over 30 more than any other Tiger. The U of M back line has been firm with Christine Bach, Becky Shaffer and Lauren Trouy. Bach was named the Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week on Monday after breaking the program's record for digs in a single match--a record she already held--with 37 digs in a five-set loss to IUPUI. The sophomore has 129 digs to pace the Tigers. Trouy and Shaffer check in with 60 and 54 digs each.
In a field of young teams, Memphis will kick the weekend of with a battle against the most experienced group, in the Central Arkansas Sugar Bears. UCA's roster showcases eight upperclassmen and a combined six freshmen and sophomores. Winners of its last four matches, the Sugar Bears bring a 4-2 record into the weekend's slate. They swept competition to claim the UCA Classic last weekend. Head coach Steve McRoberts' team features a strong offense that averages 13 kills per set and maintains a .221 hitting average. Setter Robyn Smith likes to run the middles with sophomore middle blocker Chloe Smith and senior middle Emily Gordon getting the majority of the sets. Smith is the go-to attacker and has put away a team-best 53 kills, while Gordon is tops on the team with a .352 attack percentage and second with 43 kills. Freshman outside hitter Jessica Hays averages 3.13 kills per set.
The UCA defense has been stout, holding its opponents to just .090 hitting and averaging nearly 15 digs per set. Kelly Bence leads the team with 65 digs.
Memphis has defeated UCA in all five of the previous meetings, including a 3-1 win in Conway, Ark., last year.
After taking on the tournament's most experienced squad, Memphis will face the classic's most inexperienced crew in the Centenary Ladies. Centenary's roster features 10 true freshmen, a senior and a sophomore. They dropped each of the first five matches and have struggled to a 2-6 mark in the early season. The two wins came against Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State in the UCA Classic last weekend. CC hits just .063 offensively. Freshman outside hitter Jennifer Kunze leads the way with 64 kills, but hits just .052. Kinsey Mims leads the young squad in hitting, with a .282 clip on 28 kills. She also paces the Ladies with 11 service aces.
Bethany Kern's 116 digs in the back row anchors the CC defense, while she gets help at the net from Mims and Ashlee Freeman. Freeman has 20 rejections and Mims adds 14 blocks.
This weekend's match will mark the first time that Memphis and Centenary have met on the volleyball court.
The Tigers will wrap up the tournament versus host Mississippi State. State too is a youthful lineup, with nine true freshmen. MSU has had to count on the more experienced players to produce as they come into the weekend with a 3-4 mark. The bulk of the offensive production has come from the arms of junior Ioana Demian and senior Cristina Juncan. Both outside hitters, Demian and Juncan are tied for the team lead with 73 kills. Juncan leads the way with 2.92 terminations per set. Mississippi State hits .198 as a team, but holds its opponents to .177. Demian is joined by freshman Mandy Mellencamp for a squad-high 11 aces.
Memphis has dominated the all-time series with Mississippi State, winning 20 of the 26 matches played. The Tigers outlasted the Bulldogs, 3-2 in a hotly-contested match in the Memphis Invitational last season. The U of M has won each of the last two against MSU, including a 3-1 win en route to claiming the 2004 MSU/Microtel Classic.