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West Coast Countdown: Gaels Experience Increased Expectations with Talented Returners

Aug. 26, 2009

Expectations run high at McKeon Pavilion for 2009, as the Gaels return eight letterwinners, including five starters, from a 2008 team that finished tied with the second-best record in program history with 20 wins, and also reached the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in six years. In his fifth year at the helm, head coach Rob Browning believes this is a team built for a strong season, saying, "We can confidently say this year that we have experience and depth. In past years, we have been getting by with a young, but talented core of players. This season however, we have the experience to match our talent."

Junior Kapua Kamana'o returns after a spectacular sophomore campaign in which she was named to the 2008 All-West Coast Conference Team, in her two years as a Gael she already ranks as one of the all-time greats, notching 2,216 career assists which ranks sixth all-time. Last season, Kamana'o notched 1,170 assists (11.47 assists per game) and will be counted on to pave the way for the Gaels attack. Missy White starts her career after redshirting last season, and is competing very well at the setter position to provide the Gaels with depth.

At the attacking unit, the Gaels boast an equal balance of seasoned experience and young talent. Returning for Saint Mary's is talented junior Megan York who led the team for the second straight year with 3.49 kills per game last year. York also added 3.23 digs per game which was second on the club. Senior Lauren Jaeckel also provides Saint Mary's with experience, in her 58 career matches she has notched 1.71 kills per game, and has worked extremely hard making herself a scoring threat at opposite. Sophomore Chanteal Satele was named to the 2008 All-WCC Freshman team following a breakout season in which she notched 201 kills (2.39 kills per game). Lastly, the Gaels expect to see great things from freshman Lauren Corp, who joins the team from Villa Park, CA. Corp was named the 2008 Gatorade California Player of the Year. "Lauren is a dynamic and skilled player and looks to contribute immediately," said coach Browning.

Up the middle, the Gaels once again will be led by senior Megan Burton a two-time all-conference honoree. As a junior, Burton notched 21 solo blocks which led the team, and was third in conference. Burton finished fifth in conference with a 1.02 blocks per game average. Also returning for the Gaels is 2008 All-West Coast Conference Honoree, junior Shannon Lowell. Lowell finished third in the conference and first on the team with 1.07 blocks per game; her 102 blocks led both the team and the conference. Lowell also tallied 2.92 kills per game. Joining Burton and Lowell in the middle is talented freshman Gabby Jolly, who hails from San Francisco, CA. Coach Browning believes Jolly will become an exceptional attacker, saying, "She can do lots of damage and makes it look effortless. She has all the athleticism and talent to become a dominant net player in the WCC." This group of blockers have the type of talent that will excel in protecting the net for Saint Mary's.

Senior Alita Fisher headlines a group of talented liberos at Saint Mary's. The senior had another strong season in which she recorded 353 digs (3.76 digs per game). Fisher's 3.76 digs per game ranked fourth in conference. The seasoned libero will also be joined by junior Kelly Huston who will give the Gaels plenty of stability in the back row and freshman Anna Schroeder. As a sophomore, Huston notched 128 digs in 54 games for a 2.37 digs per game average which ranked third on the team. Schroeder, who joins the Gaels from nearby Walnut Creek, CA, is a terrific athlete who will have a very promising career ahead of her. The trio will ensure that the defensive phase of the game is poised to be a position of strength for the Gaels.

Once again under coach Browning, the Gaels have scheduled a difficult pre-season schedule to prepare SMC for West Coast Conference play. Saint Mary's plays four teams in the AVCA Pre-season Top-25 poll, and seven teams that are currently receiving votes. The Gaels begin their 2009 campaign in Reno, NV taking part in the Marriott Courtyard/Fairfield Invitational, August 28-30. SMC opens up play against Big-East foe, Connecticut, and follows that up with a match against No. 6 California. The Gaels wrap up the tournament playing host Nevada on August 30. Saint Mary's then returns home for a four game home stand beginning with the home opener on September 5 against Texas A&M. The Aggies currently received 43 votes in the AVCA rankings. Saint Mary's then plays San Diego State, San Jose State and Eastern Washington over the span of three days, from September 7-10. On September 13, the Gaels head back out on the road traveling first to San Diego State to play the Aztecs for the second time this year. Saint Mary's then play back to back matches against Bay Area foes, at California on September 18 and at No. 5 Stanford on September 19. SMC will host CSU Bakersfield for their final non-conference game on September 25. In the first week of October, the Gaels travel down south to play Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount. On October 8, the Gaels play No. 25 Santa Clara, and host rival San Francisco on October 10. The Gaels will wrap up their season with a tough stretch of matches starting with last year's WCC champions San Diego on November 14, following that up with matches against Gonzaga and Portland. The Gaels will play their last regular season match of the year on November 28 when they host the Cougars of BYU.

"As usual we scheduled a tough pre-season," said coach Browning. "The purpose is to prepare us for WCC competition. This year, the WCC promises to be as tough as last year for the conference championship with five teams coming off NCAA tournament appearances in 2008."