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Saint Mary's Travels to Tucson for Opening Weekend

Aug. 21, 2007

WHAT'S ON SCHEDULE: The Saint Mary's volleyball team begins the 2007 season at the Four Points University Plaza Wildcat Classic in Tucson, AZ. The Gaels will play two matches on the opening day of the tournament, Friday, August 24, facing off against Eastern Washington University at 12:30 p.m., before facing Utah State at 5 p.m. at the McKale Center. Saint Mary's will then match up against the host team of the tournament, Arizona, on August 25 at 7:00 p.m. In all, the Gaels will play three matches over their opening weekend.

ARIZONA TOURNAMENT: The Gaels will travel to Tucson, AZ for the second time in program history. The Gaels will participate in the Four Points University Plaza Wildcat Classic held at the McKale Center on the University of Arizona campus. The Gaels have faced each of the teams participating at least once. Saint Mary's has competed against Utah State four times in program history, Arizona, twice in program history, and Eastern Washington once in program history. Saint Mary's will travel to Tucson, AZ Thursday afternoon and will return to Moraga early Sunday.

SAINT MARY'S VERSUS EASTERN WASHINGTON: The Gaels have faced the Eagles once prior to this weekend's competition. Saint Mary's was defeated in the previous match-up three games to one, which took place in 1996. The match was played on a neutral site. The Gaels will play the Eagles for the second time on Friday at 12:30 p.m.

SAINT MARY'S VERSUS UTAH STATE: The Gaels will be facing the Aggies for the fifth time in program history. Saint Mary's is 4-0 against the Utah State Aggies and last faced them in 2005 at the Stanford Invitational. All four matches have been played at neutral sites, a streak that will continue at 5:00 p.m. on Friday.

SAINT MARY'S VERSUS ARIZONA: The Gaels have faced the Wildcats twice in program history; both match-ups resulted in Arizona defeating Saint Mary's. The most recent meeting between the two teams took place in 2002 when the Gaels faced the Wildcats on a neutral site, losing the match three games to none. The Gaels look to gain their first win over Arizona while competing on the Wildcats home floor, Saturday at 7:00 p.m.

SAINT MARY'S PICKED TO FINISH SIXTH IN WCC: The Gaels were picked to finish sixth place in the WCC by the conference's coaches, released earlier this month. The Gaels earned 27 overall points, while also receiving one first place vote. Saint Mary's finished tied for fourth in conference last season with a 6-8 record. Pepperdine was picked to finish first, receiving five first place votes after advancing to the NCAA Tournament last season. San Diego was picked to finish second, Santa Clara was picked third, and Loyola Marymount was picked fourth. Just edging out the Gaels for fifth place was San Francisco with 30 points. Following the Gaels, Gonzaga and Portland were picked seventh and eighth, rounding out the 2007 preseason poll.

2007 GAEL VOLLEYBALL OUTLOOK: The Saint Mary's women's volleyball team enters the 2007 season with another year full of high hopes. The Gaels lose four starters from the 2006 season but have five high level recruits entering the program to add to the already talented mix of underclassmen. This year's recruiting class received "High Honorable Mention" from prepvolleyball.com and is expected to play a key role in the team's success.

Saint Mary's battled tough throughout 2006, ending the season 11-14 overall and 6-8 in conference. Last season four Gaels were given all conference honors, including returning middle blocker Megan Burton. Burton was named to the All-Freshmen Team and will be an important member of this year's squad, providing a high level of volleyball knowledge and leadership. Junior Brittany Barker led the conference in blocks with 1.59 per game and will provide the team with two years of starting experience. Although the Gaels are young Browning is excited to see how they will develop and compete.

FIVE FRESHMEN JOIN THE ROSTER: Saint Mary's head coach Rob Browning will add five freshmen to this year's team. The Gaels welcome Kelly Huston, a 6-2 outside hitter from Encinitas, CA, Kapua Kamana'o, a 5-9 setter from Honolulu, HI, Shannon Lowell, a 6-2 middle blocker from San Jose, CA, Christy Payne, a 5-7 setter from Pleasanton, CA and Megan York, a 5-9 outside hitter from San Antonio, TX. This year's recruiting class received "High Honorable Mention" from prepvolleyball.com and is expected to play a key role in the team's success.

FOUR PLAYERS EARN ALL-WCC HONORS IN 2006: Saint Mary's had four players earn All-West Coast Conference honors following its 11-14 overall record and 6-8 WCC mark in 2006. Seniors Mandy Bible and Christina Kirk were named to the First Team. Bible earned her third consecutive honor, while Kirk earned her second. Junior Missie Stidham was named to the All-WCC Honorable Mention Team and freshman Megan Burton was named to the All-Freshman Team.

BURTON RETURNS AS THE ONLY PLAYER TO RECEIVE WCC HONORS IN 2006: Megan Burton returns to the Gaels after a stellar freshman season. Burton was named to the WCC All-Freshmen team in 2006 and will continue to display her talents in 2007. In 2006 she ended the season with 115 kills (.233 hitting percentage), 93 total blocks, and 15 aces. Burton is not only valuable for her court skills, but is also highly praised by Browning for her leadership and work ethic.

BARKER ENDS 2006 SEASON WCC BLOCK LEADER: Junior Brittany Barker led the WCC in blocks per game with 1.59 in 2006. In only 80 conference games Barker accumulated 111 block assists and 16 solo blocks. Barker also led the team in blocks throughout the season, ending the year with 127 total blocks. This is the second straight year that a member of the Gaels led the conference in blocks; graduated senior Christina Kirk held the honor in 2005.

BARKER RANKS FIRST IN SAINT MARY'S RECORD BOOKS IN BLOCKS PER GAME: After the 2006 season, Brittany Barker ties Kara McKeown in career blocks per game. In 2005, following Barker's freshman season, she became second in the record books in blocks per game at 1.42. Following the 2006 season, Barker is now tied for first in blocks per game with 1.49. This statistic is accumulated throughout a players career at Saint Mary's College, Barker is now tied for first after just two seasons.

GAELS FINISH WCC AS LEADER IN BLOCKS FOR THE FIFTH CONSECUTIVE YEAR: Since the 2002 season, Saint Mary's volleyball has made it a habit to lead the WCC in blocks per game. Each year the numbers have improved. In 2002, the Gaels led with 2.86 blocks per game, while in 2003 and 2004 the Gaels ended with 3.12 and 3.30 respectively. In 2005 and 2006 the Gaels made a leap up to 3.67 and 3.82 blocks per game.

STIDHAM LEAVES SMC: Missie Stidham transferred to Sacramento State as a senior to finish her college career. Stidham played for the Gaels for three years, 2004-2006, where she earned three consecutive WCC honors.

COOK HIRED AS ASSISTANT COACH: Former student assistant Keegan Cook will replace Sydney Chute as an assistant coach for the 2007 season. Browning believes that Cook will play a crucial role in the Gaels success, stating, "I am pleased to announce that Keegan Cook will be hired as my second full-time assistant coach. He is hard-working and willing to do whatever it takes to help us get to the top of the WCC. I have always been proud to have Keegan associated with our team and I look forward to much success with him as a full-time member of our team. Cook's tasks will include coordinating travel, statistical gathering and analysis, and organization of summer camps.

WHAT'S NEXT FOR THE GAELS: Saint Mary's will return to California to compete against CSU Bakersfield and Fresno State. The Gaels will make the road trip to Bakersfield to face the Roadrunners on September 1 at 7:00 p.m. and continue travel to Fresno in a match up against the Bulldogs on September 2 at 2:00 p.m.