Aug. 20, 2007
SPOKANE, Wash. - There is a lot of buzz going around about the Gonzaga University women's volleyball team.
What is the buzz you may ask? THAT THIS IS THEIR YEAR. And there is no denying it.
The Bulldogs return 14 players in 2007, including all their starters from a season ago. Gonzaga boasts four seniors who have started for the majority of the past three years and returns two potential starters who missed 2006 due to injuries. It only gets better. The Zags add three newcomers who can only add depth to such a strong and experienced squad.
"We have very high expectations for this season," stated sixth-year head coach Kip Yoshimura. "We have four talented seniors who each have started for nearly three straight seasons. Added with that are key underclassmen and the addition of a strong incoming freshman crew. It is not just a matter of having older players out there this season, but having older and experienced players. I truly believe that this is going to be a special year for us."
The four seniors who are the key to the Bulldogs success this season are setter Heather Dunn, middle blocker Briawna Mueller, outside hitter Becky Jones and libero Alecia Douglas. All four started and played in all 111 games for Gonzaga last season.
Dunn, who begins her third straight season as the Zags mainstay setter, finished the 2006 campaign dishing out 1,273 assists (11.47 per game); the third-most sets in a single Gonzaga season. The WCC honorable mention honoree also had 267 digs, 54 total blocks and 105 kills.
"Heather will return as our starting setter," said Yoshimura. "She had a breakthrough year last season. She has become a better player and certainly is a tremendous leader both on and off the court. I would rank Heather in the upper echelon of the WCC setters. For us to have a great year she has to have a great year."
Mueller continues to be a dominating force above the net for the Bulldogs. She finished the 2006 season with a team-best 138 total blocks (110 block assists, 28 solo blocks). Mueller also finished with 277 kills a season ago and a team-best .281 hitting percentage. On her career, Mueller has blocked a total of 389, which ranks her fifth in the GU career record book.
"Briawna is a three-year starter for us in the middle," explained Yoshimura. "Her knowledge of the game and the composure she possesses will be a great asset for us this season. She is one of the best blockers in the conference and will become one of the best hitters in the middle."
Jones, another three-year starter, could arguably be one of Gonzaga's best outside hitters. She broke the 1,000 kill plateau as a junior and is currently ninth all-time with 1,096 kills. Jones finished her junior campaign with a team-best 417 kills, her second-straight season with 400-plus kills. She also was strong defensively for the Bulldogs collecting 349 digs, second-best on the squad, along with 55 total blocks. Jones earned honorable mention WCC for the second straight season.
"Becky is another three-year starter for us who has already amassed 1,000 kills. Amazing," stated Yoshimura. "I expect her to have another strong season for us. She has vastly improved her efficiency, her maturity and her defense. Add all that to her already dominating offensive skills and she will be one strong player for us."
Douglas will again be the starting libero for the Bulldogs in 2007. In her first season as the fulltime libero, Douglas flourished. She closed out her junior campaign with a team-leading 375 digs and 30 service aces.
"Pencil Alecia in as our starting libero," said Yoshimura. "She has the ability to control the game from the back court. She is a great defensive-minded player who also has a stellar serve."
In addition to the four seniors, Gonzaga returns four juniors, four sophomores and two redshirt freshmen to the squad.
Last season was Renius' first full season with the volleyball squad after playing two seasons on the GU women's basketball team. Renius made a huge splash for the Bulldogs last season. She finished tied for first on the squad in hitting percentage at .281 and was second in kills with 280 and blocks with 122 (90 block assists, 32 solo blocks).
"Elaina, as a newcomer to the conference last season, surprised many," explained Yoshimura. "She has continued to improve and should be a force in the WCC again this year."
Dillingham saw action in 108 games for Gonzaga as a sophomore. She recorded 182 digs and served up 10 aces.
"Paige's versatility is a plus for us," stated Yoshimura. "She can play any of the six positions. We expect her to get a lot of playing time in the back court as a defensive specialist, but at any time she could stay in at the front row and be an offensive threat."
Tuatagaloa and Garcia had strong sophomore campaigns. Tuatagaloa saw action in 69 games, finishing with 69 kills and 47 blocks, while Garcia played in 71 games and collected 112 digs.
"Tianna is our front row defensive specialist who has an uncanny ability to block," stated Yoshimura. "She is coming off a great spring that saw her improve her strength and ability. Tianna will give us some options at the outside positions.
"Frances has two solid years of experience behind her. She is a consummate team player who will add depth to our backcourt defensive core."
Boevers returns to the Bulldogs after redshirting last season due to a late-summer knee injury. As a freshman, she ranked second on the squad in kills with 296 despite missing the final seven matches of the season. Boevers also ranked ninth in the WCC in kills-per-game with 3.44.
"We are excited to have Michelle back after two knee injuries," said Yoshimura. "She is at full strength and will be, at times, our best player on the court. I think she will have a great impact on our team."
Johnson and Brosky both started at different times last year. Johnson saw action in 92 games for the Bulldogs and finished with 218 kills, 63 digs and 42 blocks, while Brosky got on the court in 90 games, finishing with 171 kills, 53 digs and 51 blocks."Emily gained invaluable experience as a freshman starter," explained Yoshimura. "She continues to get stronger and will add depth or start for us at the outside position.
"Layne truly showed she was one of the best right side players in the conference as a freshman. I look for her to shine for us in 2007."
Returning to the mix after redshirting her freshman campaign is Caitlin Cozad. Another redshirt freshman the Bulldogs were eager to come back was Kelsey Bashaw, who unfortunately suffered a season-ending injury late in the summer.
"Caitlin is coming off a medical redshirt year," stated Yoshimura. "She had a great spring and is becoming the player we recruited her to be."
Powell, the state MVP as a senior setter at Selah High School, will change from a setter to a back row specialist this season. She will be the Bulldogs emergency setter following the injury to Bashaw.
Beatty played four years of volleyball at West Linn High School earning second-team honors in both 2005 and 2006. She helped West Linn win the OSAA 4A State Championships as a freshman.
Hanzlik played volleyball at Regis Jesuit High School in Greenwood Village, Colo., and earned MVP honors four-straight years.
"Our three newcomers could all have the ability to see court time this season," explained Yoshimura. "They will only make our team stronger."
The four corps seniors, along with the Bulldogs' other 14 players, are ready for the tough non-conference and grueling conference schedule that lies ahead.
The 2007 schedule is highlighted by four in-season tournaments and matches against four NCAA Tournament participants, which includes a rare appearance by the University of Washington at the Martin Centre.The Zags begin play Aug. 24-25 in the first of their four in-season tournaments. Gonzaga will face off in a first-time meeting with Canisius University to open play at the University of Montana Tournament. Also featured in the tournament is host Montana and UC Irvine.
Before hosting the Gonzaga University Tournament Aug.31-Sept. 1, the Bulldogs will welcome in-state rival Washington State University to the Martin Centre for only the third time in 16 years. The Cougars played at Gonzaga in 1991 and 2005. GU will match-up against WSU on Aug. 29.
"Hosting Washington State is huge for us," said Yoshimura. "Hosting any Pacific-10 school is exciting and challenging."
The Zags are hosting the Gonzaga University Tournament for the second-straight year. Washington, which last played at the Martin Centre in 1990 in the Gonzaga September Classic, will be Gonzaga's first competitor Aug. 31. Also participating in the tournament will be Boise State University and Morgan State University.
Gonzaga will host Montana on Sept. 3 before traveling to the University of New Mexico Tournament Sept. 7-8; its third tournament of the season. Along with New Mexico, the tournament features Bowing Green State University and University of Northern Colorado.
The Bulldogs fourth and final in-season tournament of the year will take place at Texas Christian University Sept. 14-15. Gonzaga will face first-time opponents TCU and Alcorn State University along with Sam Houston State University over the two-day tournament.
West Coast Conference action opens with a two-match road trip that features Saint Mary's College (Sept. 27) and Santa Clara University (Sept. 29), a 2006 NCAA Tournament participant. Gonzaga will play a total of 14 WCC matches to round out the season. Key WCC matches are against the University of San Diego and Pepperdine University, both 2006 NCAA Tournament participants.
The Zags will wrap up the regular and conference season hosting the University of San Francisco on Nov. 17.
"We had some victories over some strong WCC squads last year," Yoshimura stated. "We defeated Loyola Marymount for the first time since 1992. We earned a victory at Saint Mary's and swept the University of San Francisco. Those are the victories we are building on. With nearly the same team we are looking to finish in the upper half of the conference. This should be our year."