Women's Volleyball Returns Experience and Talent
Coming off of their best season since 1996, Air Force returns a wealth of talent and experience as they set their sights on another winning season and a Mountain West Conference Championship.
Expectations are still high for a team who had the majority of its talented starters graduate.
The 2000 Falcon Volleyball team will be a much younger squad from a year ago, with the loss of seven significant players from a team who went 17-12 overall and 5-9 in the MWC, finishing in a tie for fourth place.
Heading into her fifth season at Air Force, head coach Penny Lucas-White welcomes back one starter and five letterwinners from last season's varsity team.
The 2000 squad will be made up of three seniors, one junior, two sophomores, and nine freshmen.
But despite the squad's youth, Lucas-White envisions a group of players who will eventually develop into a very formidable team. The question remains, how will she replace the seven experienced seniors who graduated this spring?
"It's going to be a tough challenge for any coach who tries to replace five starters," said Lucas White. "But the exciting part is that the four degrees [freshman] we have coming in are such great athletes, that it's going to be fun deciding on what type of system to run."
"Because of their athletic ability, we have the potential to be very good this season," said Lucas-White.
"We will have a variety of options, both offensively and defensively as long as we pass well and get key contributions from some of our key people."
For the Falcons to be as successful in 2000 as they were in 1999, the newcomers will need to step in immediately and contribute to the team.
"Our younger players, while unproven in the collegiate Division I arena, still bring with them a wealth of high school and club experience to the court," Lucas-White said. "Hopefully their club experience will carry over into their game."
Lucas-White will look to several people to accept leadership roles this season, particularly her team co-captains Ana-Maria Ortega and Jamie Rempel along with returning starter, senior middle blocker Shaylor Billings.
In the off-season the Falcons brought in nine freshman from the high school level. Lucas-White thinks the addition of these talented newcomers will provide her team with more depth entering the 2000 campaign.
Newcomers who are ready to make an immediate impact for the team include high school standouts Delavane Diaz, Brittany Edmonds, Kristin Huitt, and Katie Dildy.
California native Kristin Huitt could also be a natural choice to fill the setter vacancy left by the graduation of Tharommony In.
According to Lucas-White, Huitt is a "firecracker of a player" who was a four-year starter as a setter at Bullard High School. She is a former ARCO Scholar Athlete and served as captain of both her high school and club teams.
"She is very intense as a player and gives 100 percent everyday--all day, whether it be on the court or in the classroom," said Lucas-White. On the Outside
The loss of record setters Brooke Effland, Tracy Wilkerson, and Robyn Duncan leaves large shoes to fill on the outside positions, but Lucas-White sees hitting as one of the Falcon's strong suits with the addition of six freshmen standouts.
Team co-captain Ana-Maria Ortega, and returning sophomore, Sarah Kotte will test their skills against a variety of talented newcomers.
Delavane Diaz, a 5-11 outside hitter from Tampa, Fla., is an extremely talented player who is set to force her way into the Falcon starting lineup. A 1999 Gatorade Circle of Champions High School Volleyball Player of the Year and also a presidential scholar, Diaz, is set to make an impact at one of the outside positions.
Or competition could come from Brittany Edmonds, a 5-11 outside hitter from Grand Junction, Colo., and a versatile athlete who should have no trouble excelling at the collegiate level. She joins teammate Ortega as a two-sport athlete playing both volleyball and competing in track. Edmonds lettered in volleyball three times, four times in track and field and twice in basketball at Central High School.
Ready to test their skills on the outside are Brandi Raifsnider and Shelly Wesley. Raifsnider, a 5-9 outside hitter from Greencastle, Pa., was all-conference for two years and gained additional experience as a member of the York Jrs. club team. Wesley, a 5-11 outside hitter from Palisade, Colo., brings experience learned while playing volleyball for Hasting's college. Wesley was a standout in high school, lettering three years in volleyball and playing club ball.
"She brings great leadership on the court," said Lucas-White. "She poses a threat in the middle every night and in every match."
Also staking a claim in the middle will be co-captain Jamie Rempel, a tough blocker at the net and a solid server and defensive player who had a solid season playing in 49 games.
Newcomers Stephanie Cole from Palisade, Colo., and Christina Nigro, a sophomore who played tennis for the Falcons last season, after gaining a little experience, have the potential to earn key spots in the Falcon lineup.
"Martinson comes from a very good Texas programl," Lucas-White said. "She should bring solid skills to the court and will be a great stabilizing force for the team."
Over the years Lucas-White has established a consistent style of play, both offensively and defensively, but says there are always some slight changes every year. This season she feels her overall coaching philosophy hasn't changed very much, but this year she plans to focus on the training aspect.
"This season, if we get into the five-game matches like we did last year, I want to be a step ahead of the match, said Lucas-White. "We took five matches to five games last season and we only won one."
"I think our lack of experience in five-game matches was the main reason for only winning one," explained Lucas-White.
Part of Lucas-WHite's strategy includes spending even more time studying the competition.
"I plan to study the competition's game tapes more and in practice I would like to create more five-game scenarios so the team will be able to determine their own outcome," Lucas-White said. "Our biggest weakness is that we're young. The only thing that overcomes youth is experience."
The Home Court
Air Force starts their season at home Sept. 3-4, as they host the Air Force Invitational Tournament, facing Jacksonville State, Lehigh and Mississippi State. The Falcon's first road trip will be to compete against Kansas State, Virginia Tech, and Bradley University Sept. 8-9., Colorado Sept. 11 and Wisconsin on Sept 13, before returning home to host the Air Force Classic Sept. 15-16. Competing in the classic will be teams from Prairie View, Army, and Winthrop.
The Falcons will then begin their MWC match-ups, with New Mexico, UNLV, San Diego State., Colorado State, Utah, Wyoming, and Brigham Young. A non-conference match is also scheduled with Denver.
The conference championship will be held this year in Fort Collins, Colo. Each team in the conference will qualify for the tournament, which begins on Nov. 16 and runs through Nov. 18.
"There will be opportunities for a lot of people to play and I think that will help team morale. They can push each other and earn an opportunity to play."