Aug. 15, 2007
LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Fourth year head coach Pat Stangle and the Wyoming Cowgirl Volleyball team are gearing up for what they hope is an exciting and successful campaign in 2007. Coming off a 13-15 record overall and a 7-9 mark in the Mountain West Conference a year ago, Stangle feels this group of returning players along with a good mix of newcomers gives them a solid foundation to contend this season.
"We've finished in the middle of the pack the last three years," said Stangle. "We need to ratchet up expectations and get better this season. With a great group of returners and newcomers, we believe we can do that."
Experience will be a key factor for the Cowgirls this year. They welcome back four starters and seven letterwinners, which includes three seniors and three juniors. Even though the focus will be on all of the veteran players on this year's team, they will also have a nice balance of youth coming in with five newcomers.
"I think having four starters with a lot of experience will be our biggest strength going into the season," he added. "If we can stay healthy and our freshmen develop quickly, we have a chance to meet our goals."
Two of those key returners are seniors Rachel Smith and Lauren Scott. Smith, an outside hitter from Thousand Oaks, Calif., started in every match and led the Cowgirls with 3.79 kills and 4.23 points per game, while adding 204 digs, 47 blocks and 18 service aces. Scott wrapped up her junior campaign leading the way with 93 blocks and chipped in 2.27 kills and 2.81 points per game.
"Rachel is motivated to get back to playing at the level she played at early in her career. If she does that, she'll be one of the top outside hitters in the conference. Additionally, she's chasing a few career records at Wyoming. I expect her to have a great senior year.
"I hope that Lauren stays healthy this season, because if she does, she has a chance to be one of the most dynamic middle hitters in the conference."
Besides Smith and Scott, several other players will be looked upon to carry the load both offensively and defensively. Senior outside hitter Angie Hellbaum will be one of those. Hellbaum is coming off a season where she played in 27 matches, while averaging 2.23 kills and recording 56 total blocks. The other returning starter is junior setter Tasha Weishahn from Beatrice, Neb. She started in all 28 matches and 101 games, while leading the team in assists (11.08 aspg) and service aces (.30 sapg) along with 2.44 digs per game.
"Angie has become very comfortable in our systems. Combine that with her athletic ability, in it should be a huge year for her.
"Tasha has started at setter the last two years, so having a veteran at that position is huge, especially in a timing offense like we run. She puts in extra time every day and has a strong desire to improve. It should be a great year for her as well."
Junior Samantha Eley comes in to the season as the starting libero. She finished the 2006 season with a team leading 377 digs (3.85 dpg), which ranks second on the all-time single season list in school history.
"Passing is the key to our offensive systems, so having an experienced libero returning will be one of the keys to our success. Sam understands the position and her role, so we're expecting big things out of her."
Libero Carissa Lee continued to be a solid contributor in the line-up. She played in 26 matches and 83 games, while recording 168 digs (2.02 dpg). Setter Jessica Kagarise also gained valuable experience in her first season as she played in 21 matches while averaging 2.02 assists per game.
"We have great libero/defensive specialists with a lot of experience. Carissa is in the mix for substantial playing time. I like how she approaches practices daily. She should continue to improve and really add to our success.
"Jessica continues to improve and put pressure on Tasha. We need her to do so everyday. If she does that, she'll battle for playing time and we'll improve as a team."
In the off-season, the Cowgirls brought in five freshmen. They include Jenna Arneson (6-1, OH, Dove Canyon, Calif.), Kayla Govier (6-3, MB/RS, Arvada, Colo.), JennaRae Jester (RS/MB, 6-2, Cheyenne, Wyo.), Chantilly Watson (MB, 5-11, Spanaway, Wash.) and Lauren Whitney (OH, 5-11, Coto de Caza, Calif.).
With the addition of the talented newcomers, Stangle feels they will not only provide more depth, but each could really compete for valuable playing time entering the 2007 campaign.
"We have a very talented group of freshmen coming in," Stangle said. "They all have a chance to help Wyoming get to the top of the MWC over the course of their careers."
The 2007 schedule will be both competitive and challenging for this Cowgirl team, as they will be on the road for the entire pre-conference schedule and the first couple of conference match ups as well.
To open up the non-conference season, they will travel to the state of Utah to face the Utah Valley Wolverines and the Weber State Wildcats, on August 24-25. They follow that up with their first tournament of the year, August 31-Sept. 1, in Irvine, Calif. They will take on the University of Portland, Toledo and the host school UC Irvine to wrap up the weekend. They will follow that up with their final tournament of the fall at the Jayhawk Invitational, Sept. 7-8, in Lawrence, Kansas. Wyoming will have match-ups with Morehead State and Kansas before closing things out against Saint Peters (NJ). The Cowgirls will also have one non-conference match against Northern Colorado mixed in with the conference schedule.
"We always try to schedule non-conference to prepare us for a tough, MWC schedule," said Stangle. "We like both our non-conference and conference schedules. Our success will be determined by two things: health and improvement. If we're fortunate in both of those areas, we like our chances."
This year's conference schedule starts out on a tough note for the Cowgirls as they open up with five out of eight matches on the road, including the first three in a row. In fact, they won't play their first home match until Sept. 28 against the BYU Cougars. The Cowgirls will see the likes of national powers Brigham Young, Colorado State, and Utah in conference play along with Air Force, New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego State and TCU. Each team will be playing in a home and away series.
"The MWC will be as deep as ever. We have a chance this season to get four or five teams into the NCAA tournament. Once again, we'll need to protect our home court and win a few on the road. If we can do that, and win ten or more matches, we could be one of those teams to make it to the NCAA tournament in December."
In all, the Cowgirls 2007 schedule includes three teams that participated in the NCAA Tournament (BYU, Colorado State and Utah). Two those teams, BYU and Utah, also finished the season ranked in the final USA Today/AVCA Coaches Poll.
The Mountain West Conference Volleyball Championships will be held on the campus of UNLV at the Cox Pavilion in Las Vegas, Nev. Each team in the conference will qualify for the single-elimination tournament, which begins on Wednesday, November 21, 2007 and runs through Saturday, November 24, 2007.