The UNC Asheville volleyball team begins preparations for the 2013 season today. Below is a preview of the upcoming season.
The UNC Asheville volleyball program looks to get back to its winning ways in 2013.
A young Asheville squad, faced with a difficult non-conference schedule, struggled at times in 2012 but still managed to go .500 in Big South Conference play (7-7) and advance to the semifinals of the Big South Tournament for the seventh time in the last eight years. The Bulldogs finished with a 12-20 overall record, their first season below .500 in five years.
However, Frederico Santos’ second Asheville squad battled through a lot of challenges last year that should pave the way for success in the future.
“We knew last season with so many young players that it would take time to develop chemistry that you need to have,” explained Santos. “Throw in a tough non-conference schedule, and we had some growing pains.
“But to our team’s credit, we kept working hard, and it began to pay off in conference play,” added Santos. “We had some great wins and were able to advance to the semifinals of the tournament.”
Despite being such a young team, the Bulldogs learned to win close matches. Asheville was 5-1 in five-set affairs in 2012 with four of those wins against league foes.
Now it’s time to take the next step in 2013. The Bulldogs’ roster is an interesting mix this season. Five seniors and one junior make up the upper class. Asheville’s eight remaining players are either freshmen or sophomores.
“We want to be more consistent this season,” commented Santos. “We’ve added some talented new players to the mix but hopefully they’ll jell with our returners quickly.
“I’m excited about the potential of this team,” added Santos. “This may be the tallest team we’ve ever had here at UNC Asheville. We enjoyed a good spring and everyone appears to be on the same page.”
The Bulldogs will be led this year by their five seniors, and all should make key contributions to the Asheville effort.
“We’ve got five seniors who know this is their final year of playing,” admitted Santos. “They want to go out winners and are determined to accomplish as much as they can.”
Middle blocker Anna Moore should be one of the top players in the Big South this season. She’s a two-time second team All-Conference selection and made the league’s preseason All-Conference team. The N.C. State transfer led Asheville in blocks (0.94), service aces (0.22) and hitting percentage (.267) and was second on the club in kills (2.62).
“Anna is the glue that holds our team together,” declared Santos. “She is a great offensive player and an excellent blocker on defense. Anna is a hard worker who brings a lot of leadership. She’s a calming influence on everyone and brings us some real stability. I’m looking for her to have a great senior season.”
Senior middle blocker Meredith Foster joins Moore along the front row. Foster, a two-sport athlete who also excels as a high jumper on the track and field squad, was second on the club in hitting percentage (.242) and blocks (0.66).
“I’m looking for Meredith to have a big senior season,” stated Santos. “She has great quickness and is really focused for the year. When Meredith gets going, she’s tough to stop.”
Senior libero Rachel Wells has been a great story for the Bulldog program. She came to Asheville as a walk-on and has turned into one of the best liberos in the league. Wells earned Big South All-Tournament honors for her play in last season’s event. She led Asheville in digs (3.65) and will compete for All-Conference honors this year.
“Rachel constantly pushes the envelope to be better and is doing everything to make sure we have a great season,” explained Santos. “She keeps getting better and could be the top defender in the Big South this year.”
Senior Alex Stewart joined the 1,000-dig club last year and brings a lot of experience to the back row. She can be a libero or a defensive specialist.
“We believe Alex and Rachel can form a pretty good defensive back row,” said Santos. “Alex is an experienced player who can provide a lot of things on defense for us this year.”
Senior Jaimie Dorfman is a versatile player who can be a setter and play in the back row. She’s an excellent server and was among the league’s leaders in service aces in 2011.
“Jaimie really helped us at the end of the season last year,” explained Santos. “Her serving is very tough to stop and she has embraced her role in the back. We believe she can help us as a setter if we need her.”
There’s just one junior on this year’s club, and that’s setter Lisa Riggsbee.
“We really like Lisa’s work ethic,” commented Santos. “She is a player who continues to improve and will compete for playing time during the year.”
Asheville’s sophomore class is headed up by setter Katie Davis. The Myrtle Beach, S.C. native was one of the top freshmen in the Big South in 2012 and earned a spot on the All-Freshman team as she averaged 9.07 assists per set. This summer, Davis was placed on the Junior National team and played in Europe this past July.
“Katie did a nice job coming in and getting synched with the rest of the team which is not easy for a freshman,” explained Santos. “She had a great year as a freshman and is only going to get better. Like all of our freshmen last season, Katie grew under fire and learned a lot during the year. She’ll be prepared for this year and be one of the top setters in the Big South.”
Sophomore outside hitter Christine Lakatos came on strong as the year progressed in 2012. She finished the year third in kills (2.18) for the Bulldogs.
“Once Christine started to figure out that she could put the ball away, she began to really contribute,” commented Santos. “Christine was a key reason for our second-half surge, and she’s only going to better for it this season.”
Catherine Fischer, a sophomore right side, didn’t play much as a rookie due to ankle injury. She was healthy in the spring, enjoyed a fabulous season and was a key part of a Bulldog spring tournament title at Tennessee that included wins over Appalachian State and the Lady Volunteers.
“Catherine is a versatile player who can play on the right side and in the back row,” admitted Santos. “She’s a good passer who really showed how good a player she could be in the spring. We’re anxious to see her on the court this season.”
Local player Emily Bare can play either on the right side or as an outside hitter. The former Roberson standout was another Bulldog who played well in the spring.
“We believe Emily could challenge for playing time in 2013,” declared Santos. “She has worked extremely hard to improve, and that was evident in the spring when she really played well.”
Sophomore Bryn Pfeiffer played in the back row for the Bulldogs a year ago and also has the ability to be a libero.
“Bryn made a lot of good defensive plays last year,” admitted Santos. “Her serving improved as the year continued. She did a solid job in the spring and could give Rachel a battle this fall at the libero spot.”
Santos and his staff have brought in three freshmen who could help right away.
Start with local player Taylor Sauer from nearby Enka HS in Candler. She’s an outside hitter who set state-wide records for kills in her senior season.
“We’re excited about Taylor’s potential,” stated Santos. “She’s had a great prep and club career and is physically ready for the college game. Taylor just needs the experience.”
A 6-1 outside hitter, Shelby Erickson, comes to Asheville from Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
“Shelby can play anywhere along the front row. She can be used as a middle blocker, outside hitter or on the right side,” explained Santos. “Shelby is quite strong for someone 6-1 and we’re looking forward to seeing where she can play.”
Asheville’s final signee is 6-3 middle blocker Madison Vaughn from North Iredell HS in Statesville.
“Madison is going to push Anna and Meredith,” declared Santos. “She is prepared to play and isn’t shy about putting the ball down. Madison is a tremendous prospect who has a lot of potential.”
“The biggest thing we need in the preseason is to develop chemistry. You’re always concerned about how chemistry will come together.
“One of our biggest strengths this year is going to be our depth. It’s been a while since we’ve had this kind of depth at Asheville. We have a deep bench, which gives us options throughout the year. Our starters are going to have to work hard all the time to keep their spot. When you have that kind of depth, everyone gets better and you become a better team.
“The Big South will be quite challenging this year. You have a lot of coaching turnover, which means new coaches with new systems and renewed enthusiasm. Liberty remains the favorite until someone knocks them off.
“We hope to be competing for a conference championship and to be playing our best volleyball at the end of the season.”