June 22, 1999
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
The 1999 Cowgirl Volleyball team will be a much younger squad from a year ago. Wyoming loses three significant players from a team that went 16-14 overall and 10-4 in the conference, finishing third in the Western Athletic Conference Mountain Division.
Heading into her fourth season at Wyoming, head coach Susan Judge welcomes back three starters and eight letterwinners from last season.
The 1999 Wyoming squad will be made up of three seniors, three juniors, two sophomores, one redshirt freshman and four freshmen. But despite the squad's youth, Judge envisions a group of players who should develop into a very formidable team, but the question will be how will they replace three experienced seniors.
"It's going to be a concern for any coach when you try to replace three starting seniors, one in particular obviously being all-conference for two years and the Mountain Division Player of the Year in Jami Laya, who had a lot of impact on this team," said Judge. "But you have to move on, and I think with Anna, Anne and Jami, they were all very good athletes who helped build a program to a certain level. In replacing them, we will definitely be a different team and can't expect to be the same, so we have to figure out what we can do to improve with a new roster of players."
In the off-season the Cowgirls brought in four freshman from the high school level. Judge feels the addition of the talented newcomers will provide her team with more depth entering the '99 campaign.
"If I could say one thing in general about this group is that they have a lot of maturity, unexpected maturity," said Judge. "I feel they are well rounded individuals, both academically and athletically. They all have very high grade point averages, high aspirations academically and I think that work ethic carries over athletically. Maturity can often lead to discipline and that's one thing we're always searching for to make our team better."
"I think they will fit into the team very quickly and make an immediate impact as freshmen," Judge added. "They are all good athletes, and that's a primary thing we want in all the athletes we bring into the program, that they are athletic and have good size."
Judge will look to several people this season for leadership this fall, especially her three returning starters. Junior middle blocker Melody Friehauf, senior setter Angel Whalen and senior middle blocker Jessica Zehr, along with several others will be expected to make strong contributions this season.
"I felt that leadership was something that was really missing on our team last year. But I think some new personalities have emerged," commented Judge. "Our seniors could have a real impact on the leadership role, because they have the experience at this level, being around for a while, and wanting to go out on a good note. Jessica (Zehr) has invested a lot as a starter, and has seen the program through different times, as well as Colette (Perryman). Angel Whalen certainly hasn't been here as long, but she's certainly committed to the program. Melody Friehauf, even though she's not a senior, will be in her fourth year at Wyoming and her third year of competition. I think she has the ability to lead. Overall, I still think it's up in the air, but several people have made significant contributions in the leadership area. It will be interesting to see who steps up and takes that position."
Now entering her fourth season at Wyoming, Judge has established a consistent style of play, both offensively and defensively, but says there are always some slight changes every year.
"We're going to look to try a lot of different things offensively, hoping to speed things up this year and give our middles responsibility like we have in the past. But we'd like to see our outsides, especially our left side, be able to control the match and be more balanced. "
"The rightside will be very interesting. We've moved sophomore Carla Vandenbark to the rightside and she's done particularly well. Molly Scavuzzo, a redshirt freshman, has a lot of ability on the rightside. In both of them, we will try to create a new starter. I don't think that we can replace Jami (Laya), but I know these two individuals will be very good blockers, the key will be how well they fit into the offense."
Judge anticipates the Wyoming tradition of strong blocking will continue, particularly with the size the Cowgirls will put up along the frontline.
"We return several players in that position including two starters in Melody Friehauf and Jessica Zehr. Melody is obviously a returning all-conference selection from a year ago, and Jessica being a solid player since her freshman year, which should be really exciting," added Judge. "Sophomore Rachel Lau also has a lot going for her in this position and will definitely see more playing time. With that kind of competition each day in practice and matches, they will really raise the level of play for our middles."
"Our biggest weakness is that we're young. There are so many unknowns right now and I can't elude to experience and training, because we're going to have four new athletes joining the team this year. As far as athleticism, they should be able to adjust and fit well into our program, if they come in with an aggressive attitude and not hesitant. They can make a big impact and make us a much stronger team. Ball control may also be another potential weakness, which in turn affects our offense. We worked a great deal on that in the spring, and I feel that within the first couple weeks of the season we will have enough experience to be more consistent with our offense."
That consistency on the offensive side of the ball will have to come from several players, who are now moving into very key roles on this year's team.
"Marci Hammack, a second team defensive specialist selection from last season, has really carved out a niche out for herself in what she can do for us defensively. She has taken on this role aggressively and we will expect a lot from her," said Judge. "Jamie Burke has great amount of potential. She's really our only outside hitter with any experience, so there will be good opportunities for her to see significant court time."
With the return of junior Melody Friehauf and senior Jessica Zehr at middle-blocker positions, Wyoming will also have one of the top blocking tandems in the MWC. Friehuaf, a second team conference selection last season, recorded a team high 153 blocks and was ranked nationally several times during the year. Zehr finished up her season strong with 83 blocks for the year, third on the team.
"We're going to expect a lot out of Melody, because she's obviously one of the best blockers in the country. We hope her offense can somewhat match her blocking ability. We really focused on that in the spring with her, in changing her armswing, and hopefully this will make her more productive offensively. Jessica has probably gotten herself into the best shape possible, however she is coming back from off-season shoulder surgery. She has worked extremely hard to rehab, so we should be able to rely on her. She worked a great deal over the spring, and I expect that attitude and momentum will carry into this fall. She should be able to do a lot with her leadership abilities and is one of our more outgoing players. Both should be big leaders for us, since they've had the most experience. I really have a lot of high expectations for the both of them."
This season, Wyoming will be joining seven former Western Athletic Conference schools in the new Mountain West Conference. Those schools include Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV, Utah and San Diego State. The Cowgirls will play each of these teams in a home and away series.
"The new conference is going to be fantastic. It will be tough every year," commented Judge. "I think BYU has established themselves on a national scale and on a consistent level. I don't think they're unbeatable, by any stretch of the imagination, but they'll be the team everyone is going after. It's really going to be a dogfight, and I'm looking forward to the challenges that are going to be there, and it will only prove what a fine conference we have. The things we will encounter with this new conference, such as travel, will be very positive. But one of the biggest things will be our old rivalries, and being able to compete against them both at home and away each year. I think that is important, and we're very excited about that."
The 1999 non-conference schedule will be highlighted by matches against several NCAA tournament teams. Wyoming will start their season out on the road as they face Wake Forest, Western Carolina, Montana State and William & Mary in the Wake Forest Deacon Invite on Sept. 3 and 4. Wyoming will continue their travels at the Oklahoma Open on Sept. 10 and 11, were they will go up against Oklahoma, Wichita State and 1998 NCAA Participant Arkansas- Little Rock. The Cowgirls will also have several non-conference match-ups, which includes Denver, Colorado, Evansville, James Madison, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh before entering MWC play.
"I think our schedule provides us with an opportunity to be challenged at a high level, plus several chances to win," said Judge. "Our conference schedule is going to be pretty tough. It doesn't allow us to have any down matches, and we really need to be in good shape by the time we head into conference play. The Mountain West Conference is obviously different than what we've been in the last three years, which will probably be the most challenging conference schedule I've faced. We are respecting that and trying to prepare in those terms."
In conference competition, the Cowgirls will face the likes of 1998 NCAA Tournament teams Brigham Young, Colorado State and Utah. They will also play Air Force, New Mexico, San Diego State, and UNLV. In all, the Cowgirls will be playing six teams that participated in the NCAA Tournament (Arkansas-L.R., BYU, Colorado State, Colorado, Notre Dame, Utah).
The Mountain West Conference Championship will be held this year in Provo, Utah. Each team in the conference will qualify for the tournament, which begins on Wednesday November 24 and runs through Saturday, November 27.