Air Force Volleyball Gears Up For An Exciting Season - 2005 Preview
The Air Force volleyball team is ready for an exciting season in 2005, as they plan to seize the opportunity for greatness. Under the direction of head coach Penny Lucas-White, who is in her 10th season as the Falcons' mentor, Air Force is training hard and expects to have a strong and victorious season.
Although the 2004 season did not produce the win-loss results that the team would have liked, the returning Falcons gained valuable experience and will use that knowledge to strive for a successful future.
The Falcons return much of the power from last year's young squad, including five of its consistent and capable starters. But without a dominating well-known force at the outside hitter position, Lucas White and the Falcons are designing new rotations and schemes that will highlight this team's numerous strengths.
"I'm very excited about this season," she said, while discussing the new designs that with feature the height advantage that the team has not had in quite some time. "We're planning to implement a new offense, so I'm really looking forward to what will happen. We are creating an offense where we can fit everyone in and exploit their assets. This will put us at a level where I know we're going to be competitive."
The New-Look Offense
Team captain Kristin Hamlett, the program's MVP in 2004, returns for her senior campaign as the frontrunner to direct the Falcons' new-look offense. The only Falcon to play in every game last season, Hamlett led the team in kills (298), kills per game (3.24) and all four of the blocking categories: solo (21), assisted (59) and total (80) blocks, as well as blocks per game (0.87).
Hamlett leads a strong corps of Air Force middle blockers onto the floor this season. She will be joined by sophomore Brooke Akers, who had a stellar freshman season, despite being hampered by an injury during mid-season that kept her out of 20 games. The team's tallest player, Akers recorded a team-best .206 hitting percentage, while averaging 1.78 kills per game and 0.78 blocks per game.
Senior Rebecca Gallegos will be another of the featured players in the Falcons' new offense. Gallegos, who started every match and played in all but one game as a junior, averaged 1.96 digs per game - the most of any returning athlete. She also added 1.44 kills per game and a team-best 24 service aces. Gallegos also posted 15 assists for the team in 2004, which was the most of any non-setter.
The Air Force mentor sees the middle blockers as the team's "bread-and-butter" when it comes to their success this season. The speed and quickness that they individually bring to the court will allow the Falcons to use that in their new offense. This trio will also assist the team on the defensive side of the ball, as Air Force enters the season without a designated libero.
"Hamlett, Brooke and Becca are going to be great," Lucas-White stated of the trio. "They understand how quick I would like to see the ball being pushed and how vital they are to our offense. That said ... they are also our strongest defenders. They are all extremely well-rounded and excellent back-court players."
In the transition, the Falcons can also look upon returning sophomores Elizabeth Arrington and Rebecca Gerton. An excellent jumper, Arrington saw time in the starting rotation last season. And while Gerton did not see any game action as a freshman, she shows tremendous promise as an up-and-coming athlete who could step in to the libero position.
After entering last season with a big question mark at the setter's position following the graduation of a record-setting, four-year starter, Lucas-White is extremely confident with the capabilities of both returning setters entering this year. Senior Carly Siefken guided the team for much of the 2004 season until an injury pulled her from the rotation and sent sophomore Kim Kallabis into the starting slot.
Siefken averaged 10.59 assists during the Falcons' first 76 games - a mark that moved the first-year setter into fourth-place on the team's Division I single-season list. With 805 total assists, Siefken also took over the four-spot on the single-season assist lists - separating herself from the fifth-place spot by over 100 assists.
When Siefken sustained a season-ending back injury during a pre-match practice, Kallabis was thrust into the starting line in one of the league's most formidable venues.
After taking over the setter's job at Utah, Kallabis accumulated 9.69 assists per game (155 total helpers). In addition, three of the five matches she started were away from the safety of the Cadet Gym, giving Kallabis priceless knowledge that will undoubtedly help her in the future.
Like last season, the Air Force coaching staff sees Siefken as the designated leader on the floor.
"Carly is our stabilizer," Lucas-White said. "She is our leader on the court and understands the type of offense that we need to run. More than anything else, she understands the game. I expect big things from her. I think it's a good thing that Kim will be her understudy throughout the year. That will make her more than ready when Carly does hand over the reigns of the team."
The Falcons' mentor also sees the option of using Kallabis in a variety of options, aside from setter. At just 5-5, Kallabis has a unique speed that Lucas-White could also see being put to use at the libero position.
Air Force boasts a strong contingent of newcomers this season, including three who have at least one year of Academy life under their belts. Senior Briana Thomas and junior Tara Dunn are joining the volleyball program after spending several seasons on the Air Force women's basketball team, while sophomore Morgan Dolan originally entered the Academy as a pole vaulter in the track and field program.
Lucas-White sees the opportunity to use Thomas, whose sister is a member of the U.S. national volleyball team, right from the start. Thomas' ability to hit the slide offers the coaching staff the ability to find a place in the offense to utilize that. And while the other two are young and will need some time to develop, Lucas-White sees the potential they have to become great players.
The Air Force coaching staff is tremendously excited about the three freshmen that will be stepping onto the court for the Blue and Silver this fall. The staff feels that its first-year players have the chance to make an immediate impact for the team.
A graduate of the Academy's prep school, Jasamine Pettie adds to the height of the Falcons' squad with her 6-1, left-handed, frame. Like Pettie, Lucas-White sees the other freshmen, Kristina Stewart and prep school graduate Ellen Bina, as solid stabilizers for the team. She is excited to see Stewart at the outside hitter position and comments that Bina, another strong all-around athlete, could fill the void at libero.
"They are all great role players," Lucas-White commented on her newest arrivals. "They are the kind of athletes that can only help your team. I am definitely thinking about trying to plug them into some spots."
Lucas-White expects great things from the leaders of this Air Force team. While Hamlett holds the title of 'team captain', Gallegos and Siefken will also be looked upon to guide this team in the new direction that they are taking. The different qualities that the three seniors possess will compliment each other both on- and off-the-court and help solidify the team.
"I'm very excited about Hamlett, Carly and Becca leading this group to a great year," Lucas-White said. "Their leadership is very good. They do what needs to be done. They're not just talking the talk, but they're doing all of the extra stuff outside of the gym."
The Falcons boast an ambitious slate of matches this season, beginning with the Battle at the Beach Tournament in Wilmington, N.C. on Aug. 26-27. In Wilmington, N.C., Air Force will face a trio of first-time opponents in Xavier, UNC-Wilmington and South Carolina State.
Air Force then returns to the Academy to host the Falcon Invitational on Sept. 2-3. Three schools - San Jose State, Weber State and Wisconsin - will compete at Clune Arena, while Air Force will take on Southeast Missouri State and Butler at the Cadet East Gym during Friday's action. Saturday will see all six teams converge on Clune Arena for the championship round, as the first-, second- and third-ranked teams from each section battle it out for the title.
The Falcons head out on the road for the Weber State Tournament in Ogden, Utah, on Sept. 9-10. There, Air Force will compete against host Weber State, Utah Valley State and Northwestern State.
Following a Sept. 13 trip to Greeley, Colo., for a meeting against Northern Colorado, Air Force returns to the Academy to host the second-annual All-Armed Forces Tournament at Clune Arena. The Falcons will look to defend their title against teams from Army, Navy and The Citadel.
Six straight home matches await the Falcons following the All-Armed Forces Tournament, including the Mountain West Conference opener with defending co-champ Utah. Air Force will host a Sept. 22 non-conference match with South Dakota State, before hosting Utah and BYU over the next two nights. The Falcons will then welcome San Diego State and UNLV on Sept. 30-Oct. 1.
Air Force will play its first road contest in nearly a month when it travels to Albuquerque, N.M., to compete against New Mexico on Oct. 5, before heading to Fort Worth, Texas, to face MWC-newcomer TCU on Oct. 7.
The Falcons then hit the road once more for a conference weekend series (Oct. 14-15) at BYU and Utah.
The Falcons host a trio of local rivals during the third week of October. Following a home contest with Intrerstate-25 rival Denver on Oct. 19, the Falcons wrap up the first rounds of competition with conference foes by hosting Colorado State and Wyoming on Oct. 21-22.
Following a road trip to UNLV (Oct. 27) and San Diego State (Oct. 29), Air Force wraps up the home slate with another trio of matches. The Falcons will host North Dakota State (Nov. 4) for the first time in over a decade, before closing out the Cadet East Gym with TCU (Nov. 6) and New Mexico (Nov. 11).
Air Force concludes the regular season at Wyoming and Colorado State on Nov. 18-19, before returning to Las Vegas, Nev., for the 2005 Mountain West Conference Championships, which will be held Nov. 22-26.
The Final Word
Lucas-White and the Air Force coaching staff of Verna Julaton and Lt Col Scott Nelson are all very excited about the upcoming season, based on the team's spring training and their thirst for victory.
"The spring is always an indicator," the 10th-year head coach said. "It's pretty indicative of what to expect in the fall and we had a very good spring."
"Our new offense will put us at a level where I know we are going to be competitive," she continued. "We have much more well-rounded, all-around players than we've had in quite awhile. My expectations for this team are much higher than they have been in the past."
The 2005 Air Force volleyball team is full of experienced returners and talented newcomers. It is a team that is anxious to make their mark on the program and the Mountain West Conference. It is a team that is quite confident about the prospect for success this upcoming season.