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Young volleyball team looks to continue postseason tradition

Bearcats welcome seven newcomers to 2011 squad

August 26, 2011

Young volleyball team looks to continue postseason tradition

2011 Schedule

VESTAL, N.Y.—The 2011 edition of the Binghamton University volleyball team will have some large shoes to fill as six seniors exited last May, a group that included all-time kills leader Michelle McDonough. Seven newcomers occupy 13th year head coach Glenn Kiriyama’s roster, with just two seniors to navigate an inexperienced group through an arduous non-conference schedule. A young, but eager group of six freshmen and one sophomore-transfer look to put their stamp on a successful volleyball program built by Kiriyama.

With the departure of five starters some might see the 2011 season as a rebuilding year. However, over the past seven years Kiriyama has guided his teams to the America East tournament and he again sets that goal for this year’s team. On the heels of a disappointing showing in last year’s America East tournament, Kiriyama hopes the pain from the loss to UMBC in the semifinals will push his team further this season.

“Our goal is always to advance to the postseason,” said Kiriyama. “With a young team though it is going to be very tough early on, but we just have to keep working and get better as the season progresses.”

During Kiriyama’s seven year run, he has won 56 America East games and two titles. Chosen as the preseason number one in last year’s poll, the Bearcats fell a step short of the championship game. A thorn in the Bearcat’s paw, UMBC, defeated Binghamton all three times they faced each other in 2010. A sign of respect for Kiriyama’s program, the America East coaches voted the Bearcats third in this year’s poll, even after losing six seniors. Binghamton earned one first place vote, behind UMBC and defending champion Albany.

A determined and focused squad will take the court in Columbia, Missouri on August 26, and coach Kiriyama will finally know what kind of team he has. The 2011 season could be one of Kiriyama’s most grueling as he attempts to guide a very youthful team down an extremely difficult path. Sitting on 197 victories, Kiriyama will need one of his best coaching efforts to make it eight straight America East tournaments.

“There are a lot of question marks this year compared to teams in the past,” Kiriyama said. “We’ll be in flux here the first part of the season until the newcomers get comfortable and we figure out our rotations. Once that all comes together we could be a very competitive team.”

Chambers to lead a deep, yet young group of setters
Senior Julie Chambers returns at the setter position for the Bearcats. After filling in for injured Lindsey Mueller last season, Chambers, the America East leader in assists with 9.82 per set, will have to quarterback two new outside hitters. With two first team all-conference hitters putting away her sets last year, Chambers earned America East Setter of the Week four times. Along with Chambers are freshmen Amanda Dettman from Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Alexa Zbytniewski from East Northport, New York.

Having an abundance of setters was a luxury Kiriyama did not have in 2010. Following a season-ending injury to 2009 America East tournament Most Outstanding Player Mueller, Kiriyama was left without a setter. Chambers who had some experience at the position was called on to fill-in and gained a valuable year of court time. Now Kiriyama’s only problem will be deciding between a one-setter system or two-setter, with the emergence of Dettmann’s play during camp.

“The experience Julie (Chambers) gained last year really helped her,” stated Kiriyama. “She will see court time at setter and in the back row. She has improved in all facets of her game and will be a valuable component to our team this year.”

Dettmann a highly touted player in the Milwaukee area was named the 2010 Greater Metro Player of the Year. Her intellectual ability and extensive club experience allows her to be a natural leader on the court. Dettmann will figure into Kiriyama’s starting six once the season begins. Zbytniewski an exceptionally skilled setter in her own right accumulated 1,763 assists in her high school career, being named her league’s Player of the Year twice. She will add much needed depth to the position and gives Kiriyama an extra setter during practice, which will be extremely valuable.

New group of hitters must step-up and fill large void
Three brand new outside hitters will be patrolling the court for Kiriyama in 2011. After losing Michelle McDonough and Anna Leijna, the number one and number three all-time kills’ leaders and a combined 2,631 kills between the two, Kiriyama will move junior Iva Partaleva from the right side to outside. Partaleva, a junior who played her first season at BU last year after transferring from JUCO Seminole State College, earned crucial experience in 2010 accumulating 51 kills, 63 digs and ten service aces in just 50 sets of action.

“Iva (Partaleva) has worked tremendously hard this summer and has emerged as our main hitter. She has a nice arm with a solid collection of shots. She will be relied upon heavily and should see a good number of sets.”

Filling the large shoes left behind by McDonough and Leijna are freshmen Kristin Hovie from Neenah, Wisconsin and Annelot Nieuwenhuis from Mauwee, Ohio. Hovie, her school’s all-time kills’ leader, amassed 335 kills during her senior year and was named a Wisconsin all-state honorable mention selection. Hovie coined as the most athletic Bearcat, will fill the other outside hitter position.

“As Kristin (Hovie) learns the offense and gains more playing experience she will grow as a player and start to produce some really nice numbers,” Kiriyama said.

Nieuwenhuis was her team’s leader in kills with 254 and picked up over 200 digs on her way to being named an All-Northern Lakes League selection. Nieuwenhuis, a strong hitter that possesses a good serve should see time on the outside. Along with the two freshmen is sophomore-transfer Shannon Bruno, who joined the Bearcats after spending her freshman year at Sacred Heart. Bruno, from Ardsley, N.Y. gives the Bearcats some added depth at a very thin position. Bruno gives the Bearcats much needed height on the outside as the only six-footer, which will assist the BU defense.

America East All-Rookie selection Ortiz to command back row
A position that had major questions in 2010 will be the only group not featuring multiple freshmen. Led by three returners including sophomore Xiomara Ortiz, the backline for the Bearcats should be the steadiest on the court. Ortiz, who played every match as a freshman, finished second in the America East in digs per set with 4.17. She was named to the America East all-rookie team and Rookie of the Week once. Ortiz will play a vital role in the success of the Bearcats.

“Xiomara (Ortiz) has improved quite a bit since last fall,” noted Kiriyama. “She has extended her range in the back row and become a lot more vocal. Her advanced ability to read on defense will make her a factor in our serve/receive.”

Senior Jen Fiorentino, junior Jordyn Suhr and freshman Emily Litwin round out the defensive specialist group. Fiorentino saw action in 42 sets grinding out 44 digs. A tenacious worker, who has upped her defensive game, also has the ability to pass off digs which should ignite the offense. Suhr joined the team in 2010 after her play on the Binghamton Club squad impressed Kiriyama. During camp Suhr has taken on a leadership role, tutoring the freshman and becoming more vocal with her teammates.

Litwin, a Williamsville, N.Y. native, was named to the All-Catholic League first-team twice and a 2010 All-Western New York first-team honorable mention selection. Her exceptional ball control skills will push Ortiz at the libero position and give Kiriyama yet another solid defender in his back row.

Trio of six-footers occupy the middle
Returning in the middle for Kiriyama will be junior middle blocker Alex Roland. The dynamic force in the middle for BU finished the 2010 season fifth in the America East in blocks per set. The 2009 All-Rookie selection will look for help from sophomore middle hitter Grace Vickers. In limited action in 2010 Vickers earned some valuable playing experience which should bode well for her second collegiate season. She has advanced her transition game and expanded her offensive range. Vickers could be a pleasant surprise for Kiriyama in 2011.

“We are expecting big things out of Alex (Roland) this year,” stated Kiriyama. “She will have to take a leadership role in the middle and help out the other girls. Her work ethic during camp has been terrific, which has translated into a more fit Alex.”

Roland and Vickers will welcome the six-foot-three Jordan Snapp from Valparasio, Indiana to the middle and assist in her acclimation to college volleyball. Snapp set her school record for solo blocks in a season which will give Kiriyama another player to halt opposing team’s attacks. She also displayed an imposing offensive repertoire while in high school putting away 240 kills her senior year. Her versatility gives Kiriyama the option of playing her in the middle or on the outside, contributing one way or another.

Schedule features 18 non-conference matches, conference opener at home against defending champion Albany
In preparation for a tough conference season, Kiriyama put together yet another demanding non-conference schedule. Even with seven newcomers and the heart of his team lost to graduation, Kiriyama has scheduled 18 non-conference matches including the typical four preseason tournaments in hopes of getting his young team experience. The Bearcats will get a break this year however, returning home after their first preseason tournament. Binghamton will host defending MAAC champion Niagara at West Gym (Aug. 31), a place they did not see in 2010 until October 8. BU owns a record of 36-13 (.735) at West Gym over the past six years and being home early could propel the Bearcats through a long preseason calendar.

Binghamton opens up the season at the Mizzou Tiger Invitational in Columbia, Missouri. The Bearcats will play host Missouri (Aug. 26) to kick off the season. The Tigers are coming off a successful 2010 where they reached the Sweet 16 and won 22 games, finishing fifth in the Big 12. While in Columbia, BU will also face North Dakota State, Idaho State and Tulane. North Dakota State is coming off an NCAA tournament berth and is the preseason favorite to win their conference title after claiming the Summit League championship in 2010.

“By playing tough teams early on we hope it sets the tone for the rest of the season,” said Kiriyama. “It’s a challenging schedule and every tournament has good teams, which will make it tough on our young team, but will prepare them for America East play.”

Following Binghamton’s home-opener, the Bearcats will travel to Storrs, Connecticut to compete in the UConn Toyota Classic hosted by the University of Connecticut. After the UConn tournament BU once again returns home to host Siena (Sept. 7). Last season Binghamton swept the eight-time MAAC conference champions in straight sets on their home floor. Subsequently the Bearcats travel to New Jersey to play in the Rutgers Invitational where BU will face Princeton and Howard for the second time in eight days along with Rutgers. The Bearcats close out their preseason tournament schedule in New York City as they compete in the Columbia Tournament hosted by Columbia University. There Binghamton will face old assistant coach Rachel Refenes and her new St. John’s squad. BU will also take on Iowa and St. Francis (NY).

Just before the America East schedule begins, Binghamton will take the quick trip to Cornell (Sept. 23) to close out non-conference play. Two days later the Bearcats will be primed to open up their conference schedule at home against defending champ Albany. Binghamton will play four of their first six conference matches on the road before finishing up with four of five at home to end the year. Splitting their conference schedule is a home matchup with Syracuse (Oct. 19). BU’s final two home matches, which could prove crucial for seeding the postseason tournament, are against Hartford (Nov. 11) and New Hampshire (Nov. 13). Binghamton swept both season series last year, dropping a combined three sets in four matches.

“In-conference is always a grind, but we look forward to opening up with Albany at home,” noted Kiriyama. “They are a dominant foe and it will be a great opportunity to prove ourselves. The girls will learn very early what it takes to reach the top of this conference.”

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