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SEASON OUTLOOK: Lions Look for Fourth Trip to NCAAs in Five Years

Aug. 22, 2007

After a 2006 season that saw Head Coach Steve Stratos coach his 500th careermatch and Heather Hughes earn All-West Coast Conference honors for the thirdstraight year, the Loyola Marymount University volleyball team will look toreturn to the top of the West Coast Conference in 2007.

2006 Review

With an overall record of 19-12, the 2006 Lions posted their 17thconsecutive winning season under Stratos. The Lions got off to an impressivestart to their 2006 campaign, winning 12 of their first 15 matches,including a road victory over then-12th-ranked Santa Clara and a 10-matchwinning streak that lasted throughout most of September.

LMU then hit some roadblocks during conference play in the highlycompetitive WCC, losing five matches to nationally-ranked opponents. Despitea 5-9 conference record, they were rewarded for some impressive individualperformances. Three times in 2006, the Lions were awarded WCC Player of theWeek honors, as Emily Day received the award on November 27, and HeatherHughes earned it twice, on September 11 and October 23. Hughes and fellowjunior Christianna Reneau both earned further WCC accolades, when they werenamed first-team and honorable mention selections respectively.

Head Coach Steve Stratos

Stratos completed his 17th season at the helm of the program with a 17thstraight winning season, coaching his 500th career match in the process. Inhis tenure at LMU, Stratos has led the Lions to nine 20-win seasons and 11postseason appearances. He has posted a career record of 343-165, the mostvictories in LMU volleyball history and second among current WCC coaches.His .675 winning percentage also places him among the top-50 active DivisionI coaches. In conference play, he has accumulated 162 wins, which againranks him second among active WCC coaches.

Class of 2006

With the departure of graduated seniors Sandy Krone and Cat Svorinich, theLions will have some major shoes to fill in 2007. Most notably, the Lionswill be without the leadership of Krone, the 2006 co-captain. Krone had thebest season of her LMU career in 2006, starting 30 matches and postingcareer-highs in nearly every statistical category. She was also named theLMU Female Strength Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive year.Svorinich also had her most productive season for the Lions, playing in allbut two matches seeing time at both setter and libero.

The 2007 LMU Lions

This year, led by a group of experienced and talented returners and a fewhighly-touted newcomers, the Lions will try to improve upon a sixth placefinish in the WCC and return to the NCAA tournament. LMU will look toseniors and All-WCC selections Hughes and Reneau to continue the legacy of17 consecutive winning seasons and get the Lions into the NCAA tournamentfor the fourth time in five seasons. Hughes and Reneau, the team leaders indigs and kills in 2006, highlight a veteran squad that also features seniorsAshley Dutro and Jania Motton, and juniors Day and Lauren Kirk, all of whomfigure to be major contributors in 2007.

Newcomers

Coach Stratos and his staff have put together a roster that includes threenew options for the Lions in freshmen Whitney Leonard, Renee Horton, andLiberty McEntee. Leonard comes to the program from Archbishop Mitty HighSchool, where she won a state championship in 2004. Leonard was an All-WCALand All-American libero last season, and will likely compete for thestarting job.

"We have been recruiting Whitney for many years knowing that she's one ofthe very best liberos in the nation in her class," Stratos said. "She hasdone nothing but win for the last three years, both at Archbishop Mitty andwith her volleyball club. We are happy that she's bringing that experiencewith her into our program."

Horton is a setter from Wildomar, Calif., and will also likely compete for astarting position in 2007. She was a four-year varsity starter, a two-timeAll-Sunbelt League selection, and a first-team All-CIF selection.

"Renee, as an incoming freshman, may be the best pure setter that we've everhad come into LMU," Stratos said. "We've had a number of great setters inour program, and we feel that Renee is going to end up being one of the topsetters by the time she leaves, in terms of her accomplishments."

Liberty McEntee also joins the Lions after an impressive high school career.A defensive specialist, McEntee started for three years at Rosary HighSchool and was twice named All-Serra League.

"Like Whitney and Renee, Liberty has a bright future in our program,"Stratos said.

The 2007 LMU Lineup

The three newcomers join a program that returns six starters plus thelibero, losing just one starter to graduation in Krone. Although the 2007Lions were picked to finish fourth in the WCC standings, this year's lineupgives them impressive depth at several positions and allows the coaches toconsistently have veteran players on the court.

Outside Hitter

Familiar faces return to the Lions this year at outside hitter. Led byAll-WCC honorable mention pick Reneau and WCC All-Academic selection Day,the returners give the coaches strong options outside. Reneau recordeddouble-digit kills in 28 of LMU's 31 matches last year and posted 13statistical double-doubles. Meanwhile, Day reached the double-digit killmark in 19 matches. Sophomore Morgan Kelly played in 10 matches last yearand is another option outside for the Lions in 2007.

Opposite

The 2007 season will mark Hughes' fourth year as a starter for the Lions,and she will once again play opposite the setter. She led the team in kills,digs, and service aces in 2007. Hughes posted a team-high 20 double-doubles,and recorded double-digit kills in 24 consecutive matches. The first teamAll-WCC selection is the Lions' sparkplug and team leader on the floor.

Setter

LMU fans will be able to enjoy the battle for the starting setter positionin 2007, because the Lions have two talented options in the senior Dutro andfreshman Horton. Dutro took over the primary setting duties last season andwent on to lead the team in assists. She had double-digit assists in everymatch, and eclipsed the 40-assist mark 10 times.

Horton comes in to the program highly-touted, and the coaches feel that sheis a very gifted setter who will have an immediate impact on the program.

Defensive Specialist/Libero

The Lions find themselves with an impressive amount of depth at thedefensive specialist position this year. Lauren Kirk was the primary liberoin 2006 and enters this season as the favorite for the starting job. Shetallied double-digit digs in 11 matches. Kirk will compete with a talentedcrop of young players that includes newcomers Leonard and McEntee. Returningsophomore Tina Moger will also likely see time as a defensive specialist.

Middle Blocker

The Lions have several veteran options at middle blocker this season. SeniorJania Motton and sophomore Megan Nash both saw substantial time starting inthe middle in 2006. Motton was second among the Lions in blocks and Nash wassecond in attack percentage in 2006. They will likely be joined in themiddle by returners Erin Downey, Lindsay Banas, and Becky Stehling, in whatshould be a deep position for the Lions in 2007.

2007 Schedule

Lion fans always see an impressive schedule for LMU volleyball, and thisyear will be no different. The Lions will play eight matches against teamsranked in the 2007 AVCA Preseason Top-25 poll, and 12 matches against teamsthat qualified for last year's NCAA tournament. An additional five matcheswill come against teams earning votes in the preseason poll.

The Lions will play in four tournaments again this season, two of which theywill host at Gersten Pavilion, where the Lions posted a 12-5 record in 2006.LMU will also travel to USC and Pacific for tournaments against some of thenation's top teams. The tournament setting has proved a lucrative one forthe Lions recently, as LMU has racked up a 9-0 record on neutral floorssince 2004.

And as always, the Lions will also have to contend with a tough schedule inthe extremely competitive West Coast Conference. For four straight seasons,at least three WCC programs have qualified for the NCAA tournament. In 2007,LMU will look to be among that group as they begin their quest for a fifthWCC crown.

-GO LIONS-