Volleyball Team Gears Up for 2001 Season
Aug. 6, 2001
Last season, the coaching staff was forced to rebuild once again, due to graduation, injuries and player attrition. Unfortunately, the team won just six games - none in conference - but the coach remains entirely optimistic about that season.
"Although our record didn't reflect a very successful season, last year was one of the most successful when it comes to team development," said Lucas-White. "The players always thought they were going to win and so we are right where we need to be mentally."
2000 co-captains Jamie Rempel and Ana-Maria Ortega, the only seniors on the last year's squad, did a solid job leading the team. They had the unenviable job of encouraging and cultivating the talents of 11 inexperienced underclassmen, including eight C4Cs (freshmen).
"Jamie and Ana did a wonderful job in nurturing the younger players, challenging them and helping them reach their personal goals," Lucas-White said. "We will definitely miss their leadership in teaching our players how to focus on the growth process."
The influence of Rempel and Ortega will be felt this season, as the camaraderie and team unity they helped create last season may be what most helps the team find success in the 2001 campaign. According to Lucas-White, despite the losing record, there were "no internal conflicts among the teammates."
"Last year's team was really a family," Lucas-White said. "That is what took us through the trials and struggles. That family is what helped us achieve many of our goals."
The team will look to the young group of returning players to prove to the volleyball world that the 1999 season was no aberration. The 2001 squad has just one senior, Gina Marino. Marino will take the leadership role of team captain after spending last season on the sidelines, she was forced to sit out the season due to NCAA transfer regulations.
The challenge will be great for Marino, who will helm a team of seven C3Cs (sophomores) and seven C4Cs. But the nucleus of the C3Cs were on the team last year, including three that started and made an immediate impact for the Falcons.
"Huitt is our energy booster," Lucas-White said. "She is always very positive and is bursting with enthusiasm. I expect to see even greater things this year in running a quicker offense for us."
C3C Katie Dildy will share time at the setter position. The coaching staff expects great things from Dildy, who they describe as "a leader both on and off the court." Dildy had a solid freshman season, and is expected to pick up where she left off.
Newcomer C4C Jenalee Burke, a standout setter at Stockdale High School in Bakersfield, Calif., will challenge for playing time. C3C Abby Martinson also hopes to earn some playing time, after missing much of the 2000 campaign due to an ankle injury.
The Outside Hitters
"Diaz carried us last season," Lucas-White said. "She is so strong physically. She is our most powerful player. I look forward to seeing her be able to do even more things this season because she'll have more help."
Help for Diaz will come primarily from returning starter C3C Brittany Edmonds. Edmonds had a solid season in 2000, and was even named most valuable player for the Falcon Invitational. Her spring workouts thoroughly impressed the coaching staff, who say that she "improved tremendously" and "blossomed."
Marino will vie for playing time, but she will have stiff competition from newcomers Kaitlin McEwen and Molly White. McEwen, who is the tallest player on the Falcons' roster at 6-foot-2, played for a season at Notre Dame University, but took this past season off to play basketball in Belgium. White was a highly recruited player out of Lafayette High School in Louisiana. Both players could have an immediate impact for the Falcons.
"White was a strong player in high school. She will give us a big right side, which is needed in the Mountain West, where so many teams have powerful outside hitters," Lucas-White said. "McEwen played for Notre Dame, and experience at a program of that caliber will certainly help us. She has been off a year and will need to get her rhythm back but that won't take long."
The 2001 squad is loaded with talent at the middle hitter position. Most notable are newcomers Lamecca Jefferson and Tiffany Bishop, who just finished standout volleyball seasons at the Academy's prep school.
"Jefferson will be a driving force for us. She is one of the more well-rounded players I have seen and will step in immediately and impact the program," Lucas-White said. "Bishop is another phenomenal athlete who will come in and impact the program. Her jumping ability is incredible. I see her as a force on the front line for us."
C4C Lauren Baize, who stands at six-foot-one, is another newcomer who played for the AFA prep school. She will also challenge for playing time as a freshman.
Middle Blockers and Defensive Specialists
"It will be nice looking at players with my head slanting upward instead of downward," said Lucas-White, who is six feet tall.
C2C (Jr.) Christine Nigro, a middle hitter, could lead the team in blocks this season. Nigro was the second leading blocker on the team last year, behind Rempel. She notched a team-high nine total blocks against UNLV, including two block solos. Nigro's physical talents will help the team.
Returning letterwinners C3C Jaime Beatty and C3C Brandi Raifsnider will fill the roles of defensive specialist. Their positive attitudes both on and off the court will help the Falcons stay competitive.
"Our non-conference games will be great warm ups for us," Lucas-White said. "As we progress, each tournament gets tougher. We hope to build confidence in the first weekend then start looking for our key players and leaders to emerge. By our third tournament, we should know what to expect and where we are going."
One key non-conference game will be Sept. 11, when the team travels to West Point to take on Army. The Falcons defeated the Knights in three games last season in Colorado Springs, drawing a record crowd of 1,210 fans.
The conference schedule begins Sept. 20, when the team hosts San Diego State. This will be a crucial game for the Falcons in gaining momentum for their 14-game MWC schedule.
"I really expect to win this year," Lucas-White said. "The good thing about it is that every player coming in expects the same thing. The attitude is right, the timing is right."
Head coach Penny Lucas-White (bio)
Lucas-White helped guide the Falcons to an outstanding 17-12 season in 1999. The loss of numerous players hurt the program, and last year the team finished the season with a disappointing 6-21 record. This year, Lucas-White has the task of coaching 14 underclassmen and developing the team into the competitor it was just two seasons ago.
Lucas -White joined the Academy staff from the University of Memphis, where she compiled a 95-80 record in five seasons of action. She guided the team to a 27-8 record in 1994, leading the team to its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament. That team, perfect in conference play, also picked up its second Great Midwest conference title, after the Tigers also nabbed the title in 1993 with an 11-1 record. Lucas-White earned conference coach of the year honors in 1993 and 1994 for her spectacular seasons.
The Falcons' coach draws her coaching expertise from an impressive playing career at the collegiate, national and international levels. Lucas-White earned first team all-Southeastern Conference honors, as well as the most valuable player award, in her first season playing at Louisiana State University. After an outstanding three-year career, she opted to leave the collegiate ranks to play on a higher level in the German Professional League.
Two years later, the United States National team came knocking at her door, and the middle hitter was chosen to play with America's best in the NORCECA tournament and the 1985 Pan-American Games.
She then spent two years playing professionally in the United States with the Dallas Belles and Chicago Breeze, where she received awards for both blocking and spiking efficiency. Overseas play called again as she departed the States to join ranks in the Italian Professional League in Matera. For the 1988-89 season, she moved to the Argrigento, Italy, team in the same league and was named to all-tournament teams twice in three years. She also acted as player-coach for the 1989-90 season. While competing professionally in the United States and Europe, Lucas-White remained active during the collegiate season as an assistant coach with the Auburn University women's program from 1987-89. The Auburn team boasted a 63-47 record in her tenure, achieving back-to-back 20-win seasons in Ô88 and Ô89.
When her tour with the Italian League ended in 1991, Lucas-White accepted the position of head coach at Memphis. While there, she combined skill on the court with skill in the classroom, as Tiger players maintained an average GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
As a player, she continued to hone her skills, earning Rookie and Player of the Year honors for her United States Volleyball Association Open team in the summer of 1993. She also finished her education at Memphis, earning a bachelor's degree in physical education in 1993.
Lucas-White continued her professional play during the 1997 season with the Colorado Thunder. The Thunder voted her the league's most valuable player and it's number one pick in the National Volleyball Associations' (NVA) inaugural draft. While Lucas-White has no immediate plans to return to professional play, she doesn't rule it out in the future because she loves the game.
Lucas-White has two sons, Kyle and Keefe, and a daughter, Kayla.