Aug. 14, 2002
As Allison Keeley begins her second season at the helm of the Villanova volleyball program, she will continue to mold together a diverse group of upperclassmen and several talented newcomers who together will immediately be put to the test. Since becoming the head coach of the Wildcats in 2001, Keeley has seen her squad make great strides. As the 2002 season begins to shape up, the opportunity for continued improvement looks encouraging. The Wildcats have lost three key players to graduation but will look to rebuild with nine letter-winners returning to the line-up. Added to the mix is Keeley's first-ever recruiting class including three exciting freshmen that will aid in the 'Cats efforts to tally one of their best seasons in recent years.
The Wildcats will look to get back to their winning ways with an experienced group of upperclassmen. Seniors Leah Mathews and Erin Birunas are the 'Cats two key offensive threats who will be called upon to lead the attack.
A four-year starting senior and tri-captain, Mathews led the team in kills per game (2.92) and digs per game (3.20) in 2001, and will be called upon to carry a large portion of the offensive load in the upcoming season as well. "Leah is our most experienced and consistent returner," Keeley said. "For us to succeed, she will need to lead by example and be a motivating force throughout the season." Mathews currently ranks sixth all-time in Villanova career digs with 899 heading into her final season. Last year, she led the team in digs in 14 of the 27 matches while recording 10 double-doubles during the season.
Birunas saw action in more than half of the matches for Villanova last season and this season will give the Wildcats an offensive threat from the left side. "Erin had a terrific off-season and if she can stay healthy, will be a big key to our success in 2002," said Keeley.
Junior Kate Tucker and rookies Dana Kabashima and Celine Nguyen will also vie for playing time at outside hitter. Tucker brings game experience playing in 63 games over the last two seasons while contributing 71 kills and 68 digs. Kabashima and Nguyen, both members of the All-Bay area first team in 2001, will give the 'Cats terrific depth at the outside hitting position.
Also adding depth will be senior Sylvia Taggart and sophomore Megan Walsh. Taggart will provide the Wildcats with a great deal of athleticism while Walsh will battle for time at the rightside hitter position.
The major loss from last season comes at the middle blocker position where the Wildcats must find a way to replace the graduated Libby Sybilrud and Jackie Fugiel. One player that can fill that void is sophomore Kerri Sullivan who came on strong for the 'Cats down the stretch of the 2001 season. Sullivan, in 69 games, was third on the team in kills with 172 and blocks with 36. She will be looked upon for more of the same in 2002. "Kerri gained a lot of experience starting as a freshman and has the size, speed and agility to take her game to the next level," Keeley said. "If she can stay healthy, the talent is there for her to become one of the more effective middle blockers in the Big East conference."
Sophomore Katie Lanting and freshman Megan Abbott bring a lot of untapped potential and will give Keeley's team more options in the middle. One year ago, Lanting contributed 52 kills and 17 blocks in 42 games. Abbott, one of the tallest players to ever wear a Villanova uniform, will give the Wildcats an immediate threat at 6'4.
At the center of the team will be tri-captains Jennifer Edwards and Jenny-Badran Grycan who will split time at the setter position. Edwards, entering her third season as a Wildcat, tallied 446 assists and 205 digs in her sophomore campaign. Badran-Grycan had an excellent rookie season leading the team in assists with 450 in addition to 192 digs and 24 service aces. "Jenny has excellent serving skills and is a very strong defensive player", said Keeley. "Between the two, both setters give the team great stability at such a key position."
Thirteen regular season games and the conference tournament, which will be held at the University of Pittsburgh's Fitzgerald Fieldhouse, highlight the 2002 season. The Wildcats will open up the season in a tournament at George Mason on Aug. 30-31 before traveling to Cullowhee, N.C. for the Western Carolina Tournament. One week later, the 'Cats will hit the road once again heading to State College, Pa. to take part in the Penn State Tournament for the second straight season. Another tough feat awaits the Wildcats at home when they host the Wildcat Classic on Sept. 20-21 with a field that includes Duquesne, Radford and Siena. Villanova will round out the schedule with matches against cross-town rivals Temple, La Salle and Pennsylvania in addition to Towson, Delaware, Princeton, St. Peter's and Manhattan.