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Hughes to Train with U.S. National Team, Noriega Returns for Another Stint

Jan. 23, 2008

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Following a successful tryout last week, Heather Hughes was selected to train with the U.S. National Team this spring and compete for a tournament roster spot in the summer. Hughes, a native of Fallbrook, Calif., is one of 10 players selected to train with the team, U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team Head Coach "Jenny" Lang Ping announced on Monday. In addition, Lang Ping announced 2000 Olympian and former LMU standout Sarah Noriega (Ulysses, Kan.) has returned to the team to train and is working toward earning a roster spot for the 2008 Olympics. She did not compete in the 2004 Olympics. Noriega served as an intern with the United States Olympic Committee in Colorado Springs last year.

"This group of young players will have a chance to train as a group under our system for a few months and get used to international volleyball rules," Lang Ping said. "These players will have the opportunity to compete for roster spots this summer at the FIVB World Grand Prix and Olympic Games. At the very least, if they do not make the Olympic Games roster, they will have gained valuable experience for the future with our program."

Heather Hughes (Photo courtesy of USA Volleyball)

The U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team hosted 13 players in the invitation-only tryout Jan. 7-12 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo. Joining Hughes at the tryout were Stanford's Bryn Kehoe (Setter, North Bend, Ohio) and Alix Klineman (Outside Hitter, Manhattan Beach, Calif.); Texas' Juliann Faucette (Outside Hitter, San Diego, Calif.), Destinee Hooker (Outside Hitter, San Antonio, Texas) and Lauren Paolini (Middle Blocker, Ann Arbor, Mich.); UCLA's Nana Meriwether (Middle Blocker, Potomac, Md.), Nellie Spicer (Setter, Barrington, Ill.) and Rachell Johnson (Opposite, San Diego, Calif.); California's Angela Pressey (Outside Hitter, Heathrow, Fla.) and Morgan Beck (Outside Hitter/Middle Blocker, Coto De Caza, Calif.); Cal Poly's Kylie Atherstone (Opposite, Chico, Calif.) and Long Beach State's Alexis Crimes (Middle Blocker, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.). Playing alongside the U.S. Women's National Training Team, the tryout participants were put through a rigorous week of drills and conditioning culminating with morning six-on-six scrimmages on Jan. 11 and Jan. 12. Upon completion of the tryout, the coaching staff evaluated the talent and asked several players, including Hughes, to return to Colorado Springs and train full-time this spring with the U.S. Women's National Training Team.

After being selected for the team, Hughes arrived in Colorado Springs on Saturday before taking part in her first official practice on Monday.

"I am very excited to have this opportunity to play with some of the world's best players, and after always being on the border of making the team and being selected as an alternate for the A2 squad the past few years, I finally made the team. I grew up in the [National Team] system and have been trying out at various levels since I was in eighth grade. I always knew that playing volleyball at such a high level was what I wanted to do," Hughes said.

When asked about her time spent at LMU on the volleyball team and playing for Head Coach Steve Stratos, the 6'2" opposite said, "playing for Strat helped with my confidence on the floor. I got a lot of repetitions and opportunities, and as a result, my ball control improved dramatically."

Hughes will now train with the team until April when the coaches will make cuts and submit a final roster. "I just want to make the best of the opportunities that I have been given, and the future is still unclear on where I will end up," Hughes said. "I enjoyed playing in the AVP with Emily [Day] last year, and that is always an option later on down the road, but for right now, I am concentrating on playing my best and enjoying the time with the U.S. National Team."

Heather Hughes (Photo courtesy of USA Volleyball)

Hughes earned AVCA All-Region Honorable Mention and first-team All-WCC honors earlier this year. She finished first in the WCC in kills and points with 5.00 and 5.56 per game, respectively. Hughes earned Collegiate Volleyball Update's National Player of the Week and WCC Player of the Week for the week of September 4, and led the nation in kills per game from September 10 to November 4, a span of eight weeks. She finished the season ranked 18th in the nation in kills per game, collected a WCC-best 19 double-doubles and was the only WCC player to record a triple-double, accomplishing the feat twice. In 2005, she was selected as the 2005-06 LMU Co-Female Athlete of the Year.

Hughes' name is heavily stamped in the LMU record books after an illustrious four-year career, as she has claimed the top spot in aces (157), second in kills (1,679), digs (1,261) and total attacks (4,435), fourth in games played (438) and kills-per-game (3.83), seventh in service aces-per-game (0.36) and ninth in digs-per-game (2.88).

"The thing about Heather that makes her so valuable to a team is her ability to do so many things. During the tryout, [The National Team] used her as a setter, as an opposite hitter and even as a libero," Stratos said. "When I talked to the assistant coach, Sue Woodstra, on the phone, the thing that she talked about most was Heather's ability to play volleyball. She said that she was a great all-around volleyball player. At the National level, you don't have the substitution patterns that you have here at the collegiate level. There are very few substitutions, so an opposite who has the ability to play all the way around, pass and do all those things, really improves her stock. As a result, I think that Heather has a great shot at making it and being very successful."

Sarah Noriega

Noriega became just the fifth volleyball player in LMU history to have her number retired on October 13, 2007, an honor reserved for the top athlete, student, and person. Her jersey joined those of four other LMU volleyball greats: Tracy Holman (1994-97), Sarah McFarland (1997-2000), Mardell Wrensch (1992-95), and Kealani Kimball (2000-2003).

Noriega led the Lions from 1994 through 1997, but recently completed her degree in psychology from LMU in ¬¬the spring of 2007. She was an AVCA first-team All-American, a Volleyball Magazine All-American, a three-time All-West Coast Conference first-team selection and the 1997 WCC Player of the Year. She was also a three-time All-District VIII honoree and was LMU's Female Athlete of the Year for the 1997-98 school year.

Noriega was a member of three WCC Championship teams with the Lions. In her senior season, she was named the February National Player of the Month by Volleyball Magazine. That year she posted 614 kills and led the nation with a kill average of 6.90, both of which still rank her third in LMU history. Noriega helped the Lions to their most successful season in program history in 1996, when the team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen. Playing opposite the setter, she led the Lions to a 26-3 overall record, a perfect 14-0 mark in conference play, and a WCC crown.

Before returning to LMU to complete her degree in 2007, Noriega played with USA Volleyball and the U.S. National Team. In her first season with the squad, she played in 68 games and tallied 191 kills. Then in her second year, Noriega played in 144 games and led team USA with 409 kills, 82 blocks, and 28 service aces. The National team qualified for the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, and Noriega had an impressive performance at the Summer Games, recording 185 kills and a .393 kill percentage, which ranked her fourth on the team.

Sarah Noriega (Photo courtesy of USA Volleyball)

Noriega still pervades the LMU career record books, ranking fourth all-time in kills (1,446), second in kill average (4.71), third in attack percentage (.319), sixth in total attempts (3,019), sixth in block average (0.97), and ninth in total blocks (298). She also still holds the NCAA record for kills in a four-game match, when she recorded 47 kills on November 7, 1997, against San Diego.

"Noriega had been injured following the 2000 Olympics, and has worked her way back into shape. She is someone who has a great deal of experience playing at a very high level, and it is very exciting to see her giving it another shot before she calls it quits," Stratos said. "Sarah is a great person, and with her being there, she could prove as a role model for Heather.

U.S. Women's National Training Team (as of Jan. 21, 2008)
Foluke Akinradewo (MB, Junior at Stanford, Plantation, Fla.)
Cynthia Barboza (OH, Junior at Stanford, Long Beach, Calif.)
Morgan Beck (OPP, Junior at California, Coto De Caza, Calif.)
Cassie Busse (OPP, Prior Lake, Minn.)
Alexis Crimes (MB, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.)
Juliann Faucette (OH, Freshman at Texas, San Diego, Calif.)
Destinee Hooker (OH, Sophomore at Texas, San Antonio, Texas)
Heather Hughes (OPP, Fallbrook, Calif.)
Lindsey Hunter (S, Papillion, Neb.)
Rachell Johnson (OH, San Diego, Calif.)
Bryn Kehoe (L/S, North Bend, Ohio)
Alix Klineman (OH, Freshman at Stanford, Manhattan Beach, Calif.)
Angie McGinnis (S, Fraser, Mich.)
Sarah Noriega (OPP, Ulysses, Kan.)
Lauren Paolini (MB, Junior at Texas, Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Angie Pressey (OH, Heathrow, Fla.)
Tracy Stalls (MB, Denver, Colo.)
Katie Wilkins (OH, Lakeside, Calif.)