LARAMIE, Wyo. -
Saturday, Aug. 30
The University of Wyoming volleyball team opens the 2014 season at the Montana Invite this weekend, as well as a match next Monday against regional rival Utah Valley in Evanston, Wyo. The Cowgirls open play against Pac-12 foe Washington State on Friday at 4:30 p.m. MT. UW continues play on Saturday against Cal Poly at 9:30 a.m. MT. and wrap up the tournament against host Montana at 7 p.m. MT. The Cowgirls' matchup against the Wolverines on Monday is set for 4 p.m. MT. in the Evanston High School gymnasium. Live stats for all of the matches can be followed on GoWyo.com, while there is a fee to watch live video through the GoGriz.com website.
Head coach Chad Callihan welcomes back four starters and nine letterwinners to this year's squad that finished 21-13 overall and 11-9 in the Mountain West a year ago. The Cowgirls were picked to finish fifth in the MW Preseason Coaches' Poll. Senior Erin Kirby is the Cowgirls' top returner after being named to the preseason all-conference team for the first time in her career. The three-time All-Mountain West selection led the league in blocking last season while finishing ranked second in the country in that category. In all, the squad consists of two seniors, four juniors, four sophomores and seven redshirt freshmen and true freshmen.
The Cowgirls carry a seven-match winning streak going into Friday afternoon's contest against Washington State. The seven-match streak came in MW matches and is the longest winning streak for the Cowgirls in program history in conference matches.
The Cougars return 11 letterwinners and five starters from a team that finished 18-15 overall and 5-15 in the Pac-12. Washington State is led by sophomore Kyra Holt. She was named the 2013 AVCA Pacific North Region Freshman of the Year and was named to Preseason All Pac-12. Holt recorded 3.89 kills per set last season with 479 kills. Senior Ver'Leea Hardaway was second on the team averaging 2.36 kills per set and 0.86 blocks per frame. Senior Shawna Lum brings experience defensively after averaging 1.14 digs per set last season.
The Mustangs return five letterwinners and three starters from last season's team that finished 12-17 overall and 6-10 in the Big West. Junior Hanah Schleis is the top returning offensive player for the Mustangs after averaging 2.47 kills per set in 2013. Sophomore Taylor Gruenewald led the team in hitting percentage at .302 earning a spot on the Big West All-Freshman team. The offense is paced by setter Maddie Kuber who averaged 9.2 assists per frame last season. The Mustangs were picked to finish six in the Big West Conference Preseason Coaches' Poll.
The Grizzlies, the host of the season opening tournament, return six letterwinners and two starters from a team that finished 16-15 overall and 12-8 in the Big Sky in 2013. Montana also won its first match in the Big Sky tournament since 1996. Senior Natalie Jones is Montana's leader this season. She averaged more than one block per set. Sophomore Raegan Lindsey will look to fill the setter spot for the Griz, as she led the team in service aces and added almost two digs per set. Montana was picked to finish ninth in the Big Sky Preseason Coaches' Poll.
The Wolverines will tangle with the Cowgirls for the second-consecutive season. Utah Valley returns 10 letterwinners and five starters from a team that finished 18-15 overall and 11-5 in the Western Athletic Conference. UVU returns its leading offensive threat in senior Kalani Norris, as she averaged 2.78 kills per set with 333 on the year. Junior Lauren Bakker was named the WAC Preseason Player of the Year after she averaged 2.25 kills per set and 1.31 blocks per frame a season ago. Senior McKenna Tait anchors the Utah Valley defense averaging 4.23 digs per set in 2013. The Wolverines were predicted to finish third in the WAC this season.