A Young And Talented Squad Kicks Off Season Friday
SPOKANE, Wash. - A young but very talented squad is prepared for the start of the 2012 Gonzaga University women's volleyball season when it begins this weekend at the Northwest Challenge in Seattle, Wash.
The Zags are returning seven letterwinners led by a trio of seniors and welcome nine newcomers, seven of which are freshmen.
With a solid mix of experienced players and inexperienced players, the preseason has had a focus of mentoring and nurturing the newcomers with the leadership of players who have been in the program for a few years. That charge has been led by seniors Kylie Edinger, Mengya Wang and Terran Poindexter.
"Leadership is something those three possess individually and collectively," head coach Dave Gantt said. "We have a need for others in the program to lead as well. It is a collective effort and by virtue of their experiences, one might expect the seniors to be the leaders, but it does not mean it always has to be them. I like the personality of the group as a whole being able to lead the team."
Outside of the leadership skills, the performance and health of the seniors is also key for the 2012 season.
"I think the number one concern with seniors is keeping them healthy," Gantt said. "If we can keep them healthy, then I really like our ability to stay in matches and create opportunities for ourselves. If health becomes an issue, we get really young in a hurry. If they are not in the lineup, it might not be a smooth trip. We are hopeful we can keep them healthy and involved."
Last season, as juniors, the trio had performances that left the coaches optimistic about their potential this season. Together the seniors combined for 502 kills, 212 digs and 109 blocks.
The offensive attack begins with right side hitter Edinger who played in all 105 sets and led the squad in kills (248) and kill percentage (.233) last season.
"Kylie has the ability to be one of the best middles in the conference," Gantt said. "She is extremely intelligent, very athletic and when she and the setter are on the same page, she can put up nice numbers. She works well with both our setters and if we make first contact plays like we are supposed to, she will be very successful."
Running the team from the setter position is something Wang has become better at every season since she transferred to Gonzaga from Barton Community College. Last season, she tied for second on the team with 41 assists and a 0.65 set per set percentage.
"Mengya just has a great feel for the game. She is a setter and just brings in a background of understanding tactically where the ball should go. She understands really well the whole 'Who do I get this ball to in this situation'. This has just been trained into her over the years and she handles it well," Gantt said.
Outside hitter Poindexter will look to continue her success last season. She finished the 2011 season with 246 kills and a .207 kill percentage. Defensively, Poindexter averaged 1.04 digs per set.
"We need three good rotations out of Terran in matches this season," Gantt said. "She needs to be a factor for us at the net. When she is on the front row, we need to be scoring. If we can run our middle, which is a primary focus in our training, then Terran should be able to score some points on the outside. She can get to the ball quickly which was evidenced by last year."
"Our juniors here should be making an impact as well," Gantt said. "Kristina has a really nice fall training camp. She is putting herself in a position to help us in a number of ways. Our hats are off to her and the entire staff is excited about her summer work coming into camp. The other bookend to Kylie in the middle is Meredith Crenshaw. If she can manage her game the way we have seen her manage it, we have a pretty nice team."
Gonzaga will be battle tested early and often. The team is participating in four preseason tournaments beginning this weekend at the Northwest Challenge hosted by the University of Washington. The Bulldogs will face Portland State University on Friday and close the tournament Saturday facing Washington and Boise State University.
"We know we are competitive enough to put ourselves in a position to make plays for the win," Gantt said.
The Zags will be looking to improve on last season's record of 8-21 overall mark and 2-14 West Coast Conference record. They were selected to finish ninth in the WCC's preseason poll.
"I hope we prove the coaches poll wrong. I do not think we are as ineffective as everyone else might think," Gantt said.
Other thoughts from Gantt...
On the 2012 newcomers: "It is always a challenge to have 18 players on the roster, but we have managed it really well. We have eight new players this fall, seven of which are freshmen. I like what they all bring to the court. This year's recruiting class is the biggest and some of the most depth that we have ever brought in."
On redshirt sophomore Katie Rutherford: "Katie is a setter who is a transfer from Colorado State University last January. She is a newcomer to the team this fall but not for our training last spring and this past summer. I like what she is doing and right now at setter we have a very good competition going on. Between her and Mengya, we are going to be very confident at that position. Someone at a high level is going to be running our team which is always a good thing."
On the addition of Renee Lovell as a volunteer assistant: "With the addition of Renee, we keep fine tuning every component of the program. The coaches are on the same page. I am really happy that we have been able to transition from coaches departing without major impact to coaches who are here for the long term."
On his coaching staff: "With any staff, the longer you are together the more in tune everyone will be with the system and each other's strengths as time goes on. So I think no matter which one of us talks to a player, they will get the same feedback. It might be delivered in a different way but the players will get the same information of the system we want to run."
On the 2012 expectations: "I want to be over .500 in non-conference and I want to win our matches at home. To me that is very realistic. That means we have to do the right things at the end of sets to finalize. We lost a number of sets last year by two points. We are right there."