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2008 Binghamton Volleyball Season Preview

Outlook

As the 2008 Binghamton volleyball season approaches, the team will be looking to continue its current four-year streak of successes making it to the conference tournament. Tenth-year head coach Glenn Kiriyama has the luxury of returning four starters and the libero from last year's squad. But if the team expects to get back to the conference championships, they must overcome the loss of a three-time all-conference selection and last year's team captain.

"We've got a good group of core players back," Kiriyama said. "We lost a couple of starters, but everyone else is back and has gained another year of experience and knows what it takes."

Outside Hitters

Senior Ashley Allen and sophomore Michelle McDonough are the top returning hitters for BU and will anchor the unit in 2008.

Allen comes into the fall as the most experienced hitter on the team. At an athletic 6'2" she provides a big net presence and a quick attack. As a junior, she finished third on the team in kills (2.60 k/g) and blocks (0.88 b/g), and ranked fourth in digs (1.98 d/g).

The senior will also have to replace the leadership of former outside hitter Kathleen Schauer, who was the team's lone captain.

"Kathleen was a pretty steady performer all four years that she was here," Kiriyama said. "Her leadership and steady play around the net will be missed."

Allen, along with senior libero Jaclyn Strader, will serve as a team captain for the 2008 Bearcats.

"Ashley has gotten better every year and she has stepped up as a leader for us in the spring and the preseason," Kiriyama said. "We are counting on her to do a solid job for us in the front row."

McDonough started every match for BU at the outside hitter position in her first collegiate season in 2007. She led the team in kills (2.66 k/g) and finished third in digs (2.83 d/g) en route to earning America East All-Rookie accolades.

"Michelle is an athletic kid who can do a lot," Kiriyama said. "She's fast on the court and can play defense and pass and can hit well. She's going to be counted on to do quite a bit for us this year."

Senior Brianna Strong returns after missing most of the 2007 season with an ankle injury. The former America East All-Rookie selection will see time at the outside hitter position this fall.

"Brianna will definitely be a contributor," Kiriyama said. "She's worked hard to get back in shape and we'll definitely be using her this year."

Sophomores Anna Lejina and Sandra DeVito will also all see time at the outside hitter position. Lejina, who transferred to Binghamton from the University of Latvia, is one of the team's most powerful hitters.

DeVito appeared in 23 games as a freshman last fall and posted a career-high 14 kills against Stony Brook on October 7.

"Sandra's a hard hitter with a hard swing," Kiriyama said. "When she's on, she's tough to stop. As she gains more experience she'll be a valuable contributor for us."

Middle Blockers

In each year since joining the America East Conference in 2002, Binghamton has ranked among the league's top shot-blocking teams. In 2007, the Bearcats led the league in total blocks and ranked 30th overall in the nation with 3.37 per game. This past fall also marked the sixth straight season that a Binghamton middle has paced the America East in blocks.

"We've had some talented girls up there in the middle." Kiriyama said. "They've done well and they've worked hard to get there. It takes a hunger up there at the net to chase down the sets."

Recent graduate Jacki Kane led the conference in blocks each of the last three seasons while also garnering three straight first-team all-conference honors. Kane was a driving force in the team's America East Championship run in 2005 and capped off her stellar career as the program's all-time leader in blocks with 611.

"Jacki was a great performer for us," Kiriyama said. "It's always tough to replace a player that has started for a few years but we've got some people who are hungry to fill right in."

Fortunately for BU, the task of replacing Kane will fall onto the very capable shoulders of junior Dawn Lammert. Lammert ranked second in the conference in blocks to Kane in 2007 and is the conference's top returning shot blocker (1.55 b/g). Lammert led the team in hitting percentage (.258) and posted a .321 clip in league matches - the fourth highest mark in the conference. An exceptional athlete at 6"1', she also lettered on the school's track and field teams where she competes in the high jump and pentathlon.

"Dawn's a solid presence for us in the middle," Kiriyama said. "She works hard, plays hard and is just not satisfied unless she plays well. Even though she had such a great year last year we want her to even improve on those numbers. If she can do that then we'll be fine up on the net for defense."

Also playing in the middle will be sophomore Mercedes Montford. The Gilbert, Arizona, native appeared in 16 games in her freshman year.

Setters

Sophomore Lindsey Mueller returns as the Bearcats' field general after earning America East All-Rookie honors last year. Mueller dished out 40 or more assists 11 times en route to setting a BU freshman single-season record for assists with 1,226. The multitalented setter also excelled on the defensive end, posting double-digit digs in 24 matches and finishing second on the team with 3.40 digs per game.

The freshman setter took over the reigns of the Bearcat offense in 2007 and immediately assumed a leadership role on the court. Nowhere was her leadership more evident than in the team's America East Championship semifinal match against Stony Brook last season. After being forced out of the second game with an ankle injury, she returned to the floor for the final two games and courageously contributed 40 sets and nine digs.

"Lindsey is one of our top players on our team," Kiriyama said. "She's a gifted athlete who can run down some balls and make some sets that some of the others can't. She's a competitor and just wants to play. She's got that fire."

Newcomer Julie Chambers will add some depth to the setter position. The freshman from nearby Nichols, N.Y., was an all-state honoree as a high school senior and set her school's single-season records for service points and assists.

"Julie's very athletic and she moves and jumps well," Kiriyama said. "She gets to a lot of balls and has the strength to push the sets all the way across the court."

Libero/Defensive Specialists

Senior co-captain Jaclyn Strader returns as the starting libero after posting a school-record 536 digs in 2007. She led the team for a second-straight season with 4.58 digs per game and tallied double-figure digs in 30 matches. Her 1,261 career digs are just five short of the school's all-time record. The Kettering, Ohio, native also led the team with 43 service aces.

"Jaclyn's been an integral part of our serve/receive and our defense," Kiriyama said. "She'll be directing the backcourt offense whenever she's on the court."

One of the top reserves for the Bearcats this season will be senior Katie Thomas. After transferring from Sacred Heart, Thomas averaged 1.53 digs per game and had double-figure digs in three matches last season.

"I think she's going to be an important part to our success this year," Kiriyama said. "Katie's really a dynamic player and she's really worked hard in practice."

Junior Julia Vint is one of the team's top servers and will provide depth on the back line. "She's got a tough serve," Kiriyama said. "It's a hard serve coming at you and it's hard to pass."

Second-year player Megan Rogers will also see some time as a defensive specialist on the back row. The versatile Central New York product can also man the setter position.

"Megan has a variety of skills and plays all the back-row positions," Kiriyama said.

Schedule

The Bearcats will feature a highly competitive non-conference schedule. The squad will open its season at the Northern Arizona Invitational on August 29-30 and then spend the next three weekends at the Pitt Classic, the University of Virginia tournament and finally the Bowling Green tournament.

"It's probably going to rank as one of the toughest preseason schedules that we've had here," Kiriyama said.

The Pitt Classic will also feature some stiff competition for the Bearcats. They will face the Ohio Bobcats, winner of five-straight Mid-American regular season conference championships, on September 5. Later that day, Binghamton will square off against Big East-member and tournament host Pittsburgh.

Binghamton's first home match of the season will be September 16, against Colgate, and the America East portion of the schedule will begin October 3 against Stony Brook, last year's top seed at the America East Championships.

"We start off with the defending conference regular-season champions," said Kiriyama. "That will set the tone for us as the conference season progresses."

The Stony Brook match is the second of a five-game home stand for the Bearcats in the West Gymnasium. During that stretch they will also welcome Robert Morris and America East members Hartford, Maine and New Hampshire.

"It's always fun to play at home," Kiriyama said. "We always draw well here and the girls respond well to the crowds that we get."

Following the home stand will be a tough road match against conference-rival Albany on October 17. The Great Danes won the America East tournament in 2007 and advanced to the second round of the NCAA
tournament. However, this will just be one of the many tough conference matches this year in the America East.

"The conference has gotten stronger every year," Kiriyama said. "We're anticipating almost every match being a battle." If this season goes anything like the last four for the Bearcats, they could see themselves participating in the America East Championships on the weekend of November 21-22, which will be hosted by the conference's regular season champion. Kiriyama thinks this year's team has the experience and motivation to return to the tournament.

"They've been there before," he said. "I think they're hungry to get back this year."

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