Aug. 18, 2006
SAN DIEGO, Calif. - The University of San Diego women's volleyball team will host the USD alumns this Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Jenny Craig Pavilion as a final tune-up for the 2006 season. 2006 is a season in which the Toreros will aim to make their sixth consecutive NCAA Tournament appearence.
Sure the three-time West Coast Conference Defender of the Year and San Diego's all-time digs leader Jackie Bernardin is gone and so too is All-American setter and all-time WCC assist leader Lindsay Sherburne.
But the cupboard is far from bare for the University of San Diego women's volleyball team entering the 2006 season as USD returns two All-American candidates and have the bulk of the 2005 NCAA Tournament team returning, which makes interim head coach Brent Hilliard excited about this teams potential.
"I believe that if our team can stay healthy, we will have a good opportunity to compete for and possibly win the conference championship," said Hilliard.
Not only will the Toreros have to replace their veteran libero and setter, but USD will also have a change in the coaching ranks as well. Hilliard, USD's top assistant for the past five seasons, will take the reigns for this season as Interim Head Coach as USD's head coach Jennifer Petrie is taking the semester off to spend time with her new born son Charles and her two-year old daughter Jane.
Hilliard said that he is "humbled by this opportunity. Normally when a coach steps into their first head coaching job it is not for a top-20 program. I know it will be difficult, but I feel that my competitive experience as a player and an assistant coach will carry over and help me to succeed at this level."
Hilliard brings a wealth of volleyball experience to the head coaching position as he has won at the highest levels of volleyball. Hilliard was a catalyst for the 1991 Long Beach State men's volleyball national championship team en route to earning the NCAA Player of the Year award. In 1992, Hilliard was a member of the bronze medal wining U.S. Olympic team, and one year later, he helped the U.S. earn a silver medal at the Pan American Games.
The Toreros' goals for the season are the same as they have always been, to win the WCC Championship, advance into the NCAA Tournament, and once in the tournament, make it at least one step further in the field then any other USD team has made it. So USD's goal this season, to make it to the Elite Eight as the 2004 squad set the program mark by making it to the Sweet 16.
"We have lofty goals, and we don't know where we are going to end up, but we know it will all depend upon us staying healthy and peeking at the NCAA tournament time," said Hilliard.
The Toreros will rely on veteran leadership of All-American candidates Christie Dawson and Kristen Carlson as well as nine other returning letterman from last season's NCAA tournament team to help them achieve their goals.
Dawson, USD's projected starting middle hitter, returns to the Toreros after earning her first American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American honorable mention in 2005 coupled with a first-team All-WCC selection. Dawson led the team in kills with 483 and was tied for the team-lead in blocks with 84 and had a team-high 1,008 attack attempts.
"Christie has the potential to lead the conference in kills, and become one of its top blockers," said Hilliard. "I expect nothing less then her stats improving exponentially this season."
Junior Moira McCarthy returns for her third year as a middle hitter for the Toreros. In 2005, she had the third highest hitting percentage on the team at .275 as she recorded 289 kills in 109 games played. Hilliard said "Moira is one of our most efficient trackers, a bit undersized, but one of the most aggressive players on our team."
USD's next projected starting middle hitter will be Laurel Abrahamson, who returns to USD after a productive sophomore season and an even more productive spring. Abrahamson was tied for the team-lead in blocks with 84 last season and recorded 240 kills for an average of 2.12 kills per game and a .277 attack percentage. Hilliard sees her as a possible All-American candidate as well.
Lauren McClure also makes her return to the Toreros as a middle hitter after seeing limited time this past season. Hilliard is confident that she will see some court time this season as he expects his entire junior class to blossom in their third year.
Middle hitter and newcomer Amy DeGroot comes to USD after a standout high school career at Loyola High School in Frenchtown, Mont. She was named the 2005 Montana Class B volleyball and basketball Player of the Year. She helped her team win the Montana state championship in volleyball en route to a first-team All-State selection.
"I am very interested to watch her develop this season," said Hilliard. "I don't care what state you are in, weather it is Rhode Island, Montana or California, if you are named the state player of the year in two sports, that means you are an exceptional athlete."
USD's final middle hitter on the 2006 roster is Torey Ellick who comes to USD after a standout career at San Clemente High School where she helped lead her team to back-to-back undefeated South Coast Conference seasons. She was a first-team All-CIF selection as a junior and senior and Hilliard feels she is poised to make an immediate impact on the team.
USD's other All-American candidate, outside left-handed hitter Carlson, is expected to make a huge impact on the Toreros in 2006. Last season, Carlson was averaging 5.36 kills per game until she suffered a season-ending injury at the start of conference play. USD was 13-1 before she went down for the season. Carlson was ranked ninth in the nation during September in kills with 5.19 per game en route to being selected the WCC Player of the Month. Carlson is expected to make a full recovery and help lead the Toreros through the 2006 season.
"I think there are a lot of schools that are hoping she will not be ready," said Hilliard. "She is one of our main passers, is a great server, team leader and is capable of being first-team All-American."
Two-year starter Erin Wiskar makes her return to the court for USD in 2006. Last season, Wiskar posted 241 kills and was third on the team in blocks with 63 and fourth in kills per game at 2.34. Wiskar, according to Hilliard, is "no doubt the best blocker on the team and if she can improve her attacking, I have no doubt that she can be one of the best outside hitters in the conference."
Outside hitter and USD's third senior, Laura Murphy, will see significant time on the court this season as she has stepped up her game during the spring. Hilliard feels that she has made the biggest improvements among anyone on the team during the spring. In 2005, Murphy recorded 26 kills and 34 digs.
Jessica Andersen is another outside hitter that Hilliard expects to see some action after a very productive spring. Hilliard feels that she has made big strides over the spring and will be a huge right side help for the Toreros. In 2005, she saw limited action but did appear in 17 games recoding 16 kills on 50 attack attempts.
Newcomer, Jaimarie Sutherland, transfers to USD after playing one season at UC Santa Barbara. Hilliard is excited about this transfer because he feels that she "understands what it takes to compete at this level and (he) expects a lot out of her and foresees her battling for a starting spot this season."
Jessica Nyrop has one of the most difficult jobs this season, and that is replacing Sherburne at the setter position. Nyrop has been buying her time for the past two seasons backing up Sherburne, and now will have the chance to show everyone that she will step in and the Toreros will not miss a beat. Nyrop was a top-100 recruit out of Lake City High School in Harrison, Idaho after earning a first-team All-State 5A honor as a senior in 2004.
"Jessica is very gifted athletically, has great hands, is one of our best defenders and will most likely be one of the best setters in our conference," said Hilliard. `She has big shoes to fill, but I think she will do a great job. She has a lot of attributes that we haven't had here before, so it will be fun to watch her."
USD's Rachel Salcer will serve as USD's second setter. Salcer is a talented setter who has seen limited action due to USD's All-American setter Sherburne. As a senior in high school she was a big part of her team capturing the CIF championship.
Another new face to appear in a key role for the Toreros this season will be Kayleen Webster at the libero position. With the departure of three-time WCC Defender of the Year Bernardine, Webster will look to step in and keep the Toreros rolling. Webster is a freshman from Sonora High School in La Harva, Calif. who was a two-time first-team All-Freeway League selection. Hilliard is calling her "the best passer I have seen this year so far at the club level."
Backing up Webster at Libero will be Andrea Csaszi, who was a very highly recruited libero and outside hitter in the country this past year. Csaszi comes to USD after back-to-back first-team All-CIF honors while playing at Rancho Buena Vista High School in Oceanside, Calif.
"She is just a phenomenal libero. With her here we have depth at this position and that only makes us a stronger team," said Hilliard. "If Webster or ( Breanne) Ogden goes down I have no problem throwing Casazi in there and I feel we wouldn't miss a beat. She could be challenging for time as a starter as well."
Breanne Ogden makes her return to the Toreros after a solid spring that saw her improve dramatically according to Hilliard. The coaching staff sees her as getting court time because Hilliard believes that she has the best serve on the team. Hilliard said that "she gets points just by standing back there and bombing serves, so she will find a way to get out on the court."
USD will use all of this talent to battle through yet another strong schedule. The Toreros will face five teams ranked in the top-20 last season as well as a strong University of Michigan squad and a much underrated New Mexico State University team. Hilliard and the coaching staff have made this schedule as a surprise to no one. The Toreros have been scheduling tougher and tougher each season as they have grown into an elite program.
"USD is primed to be extremely competitive this year. We expect to not only compete for a conference championship, but also a national title," said Hilliard. "Our region, the west, is a really tough region to come out of, but I am confident if we stay healthy that we will have a very successful `06 campaign."