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WCC Countdown: Zags Volleyball Starts New Era Under Coach Gantt

Aug. 19, 2009

The book on Gonzaga University women's volleyball is vast; chapters include everything from West Coast Conference Players of the Year Lisa Petticord and Kelley Cunningham, to the 1990 Gonzaga NCAA Tournament Team, to the toughness of playing in the West Coast Conference.

The book will now hold a new chapter titled `Shift in Culture: The Dave Gantt Era'.Dave Gantt, former head coach at both Oregon State University and Montana State University, was handed the reins to the Bulldog squad in January of 2009; becoming just the fifth head coach in program history. Gantt takes over a program that hasn't finished higher than seventh in the West Coast Conference in seven years and a program that has only had double-digit wins in three of those seasons.

"There are a number of clichés' that best describe our goals this season," said Gantt four days into preseason. "They are quite simple in principle, yet have a very significant impact on our development as a team. Staying healthy would be number one, as we have little depth in certain positions. Number two would be to learn how to compete at a level that allows us a chance to win every set. This will help begin to shift the culture of the program and develop a paradigm that will allow us to see ourselves as a successful and worthy volleyball program."

Gantt has three key seniors that will play a vital role in the newest chapter of Gonzaga Volleyball: fifth year senior outside hitter Michelle Boevers, right side hitter Layne Brosky and a jack of all trades Emily Johnson.

Boevers closed out her junior campaign second on the team in both kills (319) and kills per set (2.73) and needs just 78 more to join the exclusive 1,000-Kill Club."As a fifth year senior, and one of the better athletes in the WCC, it's entirely up to Michelle how she approaches her final season," explained Gantt. "She has done some nice work over the summer and enters fall camp penciled in as a starter at outside hitter. Within our culture and system, Number 7 will be very impactive as she possesses the `gifts' to be a very high lever player. With the mindset and responses she exhibited late last spring, she could have a `no regrets' season and be a major difference maker during the 2009 campaign."

Brosky, the Zags leader both on and off the court, increased her hitting percentage tremendously last season, closing out the year hitting .265 with 252 kills. Brosky is the lone Zag returner to garner a WCC accolade last season, being named honorable mention All-Conference.

"The `professor' has been a constant fixture on the right side for the last three seasons," stated Gantt. "Possessing a very steady and enjoyable personality, Layne will be a major component of the glue that will hold this team together. With a tireless work ethic, she's averaged a little over 2.00 kills per set during her career and we need to keep her as involved with the offense as possible so she is an even bigger threat in her final season. The coaching staff knows she's ready to have a great senior season."

The final member of GU's senior triumvirate, Johnson is explosive both offensively and defensively. She finished her junior campaign with 259 digs, second on the squad, along with 212 kills and 18 service aces.

"Emily will be competing for time as an outside hitter, right side hitter, and libero this season," said Gantt. "Her dynamic athleticism allows her the potential to play a key role and be an integral part of our system this fall. Clearing her mind so she can `be in the now' will allow her to be quick, jump high, hit hard, and score points. That was our mantra and challenge during the spring and it will continue to be our main focus for her as we begin fall camp. Staying in `real time' and directing her attention to things she controls will allow Emily to have a breakout final season."

Other returnees looking to make an impact in 2009 are middle blocker Caitlin Cozad, defensive specialists/liberos Allyson Powell and Laura Day, and setters Denise Van de Mortel and Kelsey Bashaw.

Cozad, the lone returning middle for the Bulldogs, finished her junior season second on the team in blocks with 89 total and added 164 kills and 37 digs.

"'The `silent one' will need to use her speed, agility and heart. Utilizing those tools will allow her to be successful at the necessary level of play," said Gantt. "Caitlin has the potential to be very effective night after night and will be called on to `up her game' to become `automatic' and therefore a consistent threat when she's on the court. We're looking forward to witnessing her growth."

Powell and Day will shore up the openings in the Zags defense; both vying for either the libero spot or defensive specialists spot on the court. Powell played all 117 sets as a sophomore, finishing the season with 1.79 digs per set, while Day saw action in 114 sets as a freshman, tallying 1.47 digs per set, along with serving up 16 aces.

"A `hard rock miner' comes to mind when describing Ally's involvement," said Gantt. "She has the right mindset to handle a defensive role and the personality to smile throughout the process of elevating her game. Ally's size and presence is determined by the cumulative effect of all she contributes and is not measured in feet and inches."

"Laura is also in a defensive role and will be hoping to expand her skill set. Consistent passing and defensive play certainly describe Laura and will bode well for her as she strives to increase strength and quickness to become a more dynamic player."

Bashaw and Van de Mortel will battle for the starting setter position, as Bashaw ended the spring season as the number one setter after Van de Mortel missed most of the spring practices.

"We need Kelsey to continue to perform well to lead our team through the fall," explained Gantt. "She can be a perfectionist and a little tough on herself at times, but will have every opportunity to continue to gain momentum and improve as we move through the different phases of the season.

"After an interesting freshman year, Denise has gained the physical and psychological maturity to be more confident in her role running our team. From the first day of fall camp she will be competing for playing time and that is always healthy as we strive to raise the level of play in our program."

The Zags welcome four newcomers to the squad in 2009; three middle hitters in Jessie Genger, Meredith Crenshaw and Nikki Lowell, and one outside hitter in Terran Poindexter.

"We will have our challenges with three young middles, but we expect someone will raise their level of play and be a factor this season," explained Gantt. "Also, Terran could push for some quality time this year as a freshman."

Helping coach Gantt in changing the culture of Gonzaga Volleyball this season are three talented assistant coaches. Abby Bennett enters her fourth year as an assistant, while Brynn Murphy begins her third year and Allen Allen is in his first with the Zags.

"It is not often that such a solid group of people would avail themselves to the task we're faced with, but I can attest to our new staff being one on the finest," stated Gantt. "Having solid core principles as people and possessing a very clear vision of how good volleyball programs operate, our International, All-American, Pacific-10, and WCC accolades and experiences will provide solid leadership for our student athletes."