Aug 28, 2013
VILLANOVA, Pa.- The Villanova women's volleyball squad will travel to Rochester, Mich. this weekend for the Golden Grizzlies Invitational to open the 2013 season. The Wildcats will take on Oregon State Friday (Aug. 30) at 4:30 p.m. The Beavers finished 14-18 a year ago in a loaded Pac-12 conference that included five schools in the top-25.
The following day, Villanova will play a double header against host Oakland (Noon) and conclude the tournament with Central Michigan (4:30 p.m.). A team that tied for third in the Summit League last season, Oakland returns 10 letterwinners after a 16-13 season. The Chippewas also ended last season with a winning record, finishing 16-14 in the Mid-American Conference (MAC).
Keep reading for more on the Wildcats and a preview of what to expect this upcoming season.
A roster mixed with youth and experience, the Villanova volleyball team has much to look forward to for the upcoming 2013 season. Thirteen players return from a year ago, including leading scorer Lauren Carpenter, which gives this team plenty to be excited about in the new look BIG EAST.
"The roster is deeper than years' past," Wildcats Head Coach Josh Steinbach said. "It's as large as we've ever had and makes it more competitive for us on a daily basis."
Last season the Wildcats finished with an 11-19 record. However, Villanova was shaken with several key injuries down the stretch and finished just one match short of the BIG EAST Championship. With the bulk of the squad consisting of underclassmen, the Wildcats will be young once again, but hope that last years' experience will give them the knowledge and understanding to push forward and make this a special year in the inaugural season of the new BIG EAST.
"We're still a young squad overall, but the fact that we gained some experience from last year will help a lot,"Steinbach added.
Steinbach will begin his seventh season as the man in charge for the Wildcats and is in striking distance to reach historic individual milestones. The former BIG EAST Coach of the Year needs only two wins to reach 100 career victories and 13 to break the all-time Villanova record of 110 wins held by Dennis McGinnis (1983-87).
"That's a cool thing but it's a number," Steinbach said. "I'm not ready to talk about it and it's something I haven't focused on as an item for the season."
While the team is still young, Steinbach looks to seniors Mariah Henley, Carly Edwards and Julie Joyce for leadership. Henley is one of two players to play in all 111 sets last season and will return as the team's libero. Edwards is a 6'5 outside hitter that is recovering from an ACL tear that sidelined her down the stretch. Joyce is a defensive specialist that has played in 41 career matches.
"Mariah, Carly and Julie are seniors that understand what the program is about and they're doing a good job," Steinbach added. "Mariah's the clear-cut captain. She has an edge about her and leadership qualities that we like. She's not afraid to say things that are tough to hear but at the same time she plays extremely hard and leads by example. Carly and Julie are also leaders and are both great listeners and mentors for their teammates. We believe we have a great senior class that is doing a tremendous job leading for us."
One area of strength on the roster appears to be the depth. In years' past, it was difficult having players step up off the bench and contribute immediately. Many players are battling it out for the starting slots, reflecting on how deep the rotational players can be. A lot of players should see time early as the Wildcats try to see which group works best together.
"We want four or five people who could put the ball away and score. We want a physical team where everyone can block a little bit, not just one or two spots," Steinbach said. "Last year we didn't have the depth that makes it as competitive as it is now. This year we have somebody at each attacking position that could come in and play behind each starter and do a really good job. That's definitely a pleasant thing for us."
The squad looks to improve on its balance as a team and seek an identity. The Wildcats are hoping for a worthy offensive and defensive balance with a team that can do a bit of everything. The team is transitioning from a defensive juggernaut to a better-rounded physical team that can do an efficient job blocking balls. When asked who needs to step up and play a prominent role this year, Steinbach highlighted that everyone needs to do their part in ensuring the team's success.
"Carpenter has to be an outside hitter that takes the leadership role as far as offense goes. She has to be efficient attacking and able to get us out of trouble when we're in trouble. Gabby Pethokoukis has to be great for us defensively as well. Those two sophomores have to be big for us. Carly on the right has to stay healthy in her senior year and do a great job blocking for us as she did before her injury last season and be offensively productive as well. I think if those three do what they need to do, then we're going to be pretty successful," Steinbach added.
"Mariah is going to be great defensively. I have no doubt of that and our expectations for her are really high," Steinbach said. "Our top two defensive specialists, Michelle Adams and Ally Moskitis, have to continue to be good. Everybody just has to do their part and improve."
Coach Steinbach talked about how last season's incoming freshmen have the potential to be his best group yet at Villanova. He believes that group along with the incoming freshmen will be the cornerstone of the program heading forward and will be the reason this group competes for conference championships year in and year out.
While the long term direction of the program seems very bright, Steinbach feels that this team can make some noise in a conference that has a new look. Nine schools will compete for four spots with a shot at the BIG EAST Championship, different from last season where 14 teams vied for eight slots.
"We're going to add Butler, Creighton and Xavier who have well established programs. I'm not sure what to expect from all those teams but we're going to have to figure it out," Steinbach added. "The league will be good and exciting every week. I think everyone is better, especially the bottom half. I don't think anybody is a sure shot to finish last which speaks measures of the depth."
The top returning hitters for the Wildcats are Carpenter and Edwards. After a phenomenal freshman season, Carpenter returns to the front line hoping to build upon last season's success as the Wildcats leading attacker. The Colorado native led the team with 346.5 points, 308 kills and 2.77 kills per set. Edwards is a 6'5 outside hitter that played in only 67 sets before the injury. Despite missing the final 12 matches, she still finished third on the team with 55 total blocks. The Michigan native tallied 162 points, registering 130 kills with only 33 errors and a .212 hitting percentage.
"Lauren is the most well rounded. She is a good defensive player and blocker as well as a quality attacker. She sees the game very well and has to be very good for us this year in order to be successful," Steinbach said. "Carly in her senior year has recovered from her injury by really working hard rehabbing to come back at full strength. She's doing things in practice we're really excited about."
Sophomore Colleen Hickey and junior Molly O'Neil will provide great depth for the Villanova attackers. Hickey appeared in 23 matches during her freshman season, totaling 79 kills and 21 blocks, while O'Neil has played in nine matches. Freshman Claire Crutchfield has impressed in practice and could see some playing time early on after a prestigious high school career in Virginia where she was named an Under Armour All-American. Jackie Greenberg is a freshman outside hitter who will also assist as a defensive specialist. In high school, she earned All-State accolades as a senior from the CIAC and the Hartford Courant in Connecticut.
"The other outside hitter spot is up in the air with Claire Crutchfield and Colleen Hickey battling it out. Both those kids are hitting the ball very well and offensively they're going to be good, Steinbach added. "Claire is passing better and Colleen is blocking better, so that might be a game to game situation. Jackie has given us a really well rounded effort and has an excellent understanding of the game. Molly has given us exceptional effort and played well this preseason."
The Wildcats have a void to fill with the departure of CeCe Twitty, who was second on the team a year ago with 77 blocks. However, Gabby Pethokoukis returns as the team's leading blocker and will look to improve on a phenomenal freshman season. Despite missing the final nine matches to illness, Pethokoukis led the team with 82 blocks and had emerged as one of the BIG EAST leaders in total blocks for the matches she appeared in with 1.11 blocks per set. The Illinois native tallied 137 kills and averaged 1.85 kills per set with a team-best .232 attack percentage.
"Gabby is clearly our best player in that position and someone we need to excel for us. She has to block balls and play well offensively," Steinbach added.
Brittany Rembert appeared in 26 matches as a freshman and will look to play a similar role this season. The 6'0 middle blocker registered 84 kills, 31 total blocks, and 17 digs a year ago with the majority coming in the last nine matches of the season. Incoming freshman Michaela Berendtwill battle with Rembert to fill the void left by Twitty. The Washington native had an impressive career in high school, earning numerous accolades, including a 4A state championship as a junior and named to the Seattle Times All-State team as a senior.
"Michaela is doing a nice job this preseason. She plays really hard and gives tremendous effort. She has a high motor that will be on going. Brittany Rembert has been really good offensively and might be our best slide attacker. That will be an ongoing battle," Steinbach said.
Both setters from a year ago are back to assist the Wildcats attack on offense. Emma Pettit emerged as the top setter on the team, playing in 26 matches as a freshman. The Colorado native totaled a team high 686 assists with an average of 8.07 assists per set, adding 192 digs in the process. Allie DiBernardo played in 27 matches last season, seeing time as both a setter and defensive specialist. The junior tallied 319 assists, averaging 3.58 assists per set and ranked second on the team by averaging 2.37 digs per set with 211 total digs.
"The setting is going to be a tight competition this year and next year as well. The battle between the two is very close. Allie is really fast, athletic, great in scramble mode and defends well," Steinbach said. "Emma set for us most of last year and has been setting for a long time. She has a good feel for the game and competes really hard. This will be a great battle throughout."
The Wildcats won't miss a beat on the defensive side with the entire cast of defensive specialists returning from a year ago. Henley leads the way and emerged as one of the BIG EAST's best liberos a year ago. She is the team captain and led the team with 632 digs, an average of 5.69 per set. She has been a consistent, reliable contributor for Villanova since her sophomore year playing in an average of 109 sets.
Behind Henley are a solid group of defensive specialists with plenty of experience to aid the team. Michelle Adams was a regular member of the Wildcats rotation, appearing in all 30 matches during her freshman season. The 5'9 defensive specialist tallied 206 digs, an average of 1.93 digs per set. Junior Ally Moskitis has played in 57 matches and 176 total sets during her career at Villanova. She had the second most digs on the team a year ago with 230. Joyce is a senior who saw time in 24 matches last season and tallied 26 digs, six aces, two assists and two kills. Anna Dwyer is a sophomore who saw playing time in 13 matches as a freshman, recording 14 digs and one assist. Makenzie Northrup is a freshman that was a California All-County selection and All-South Coast 1AA first-team all-league choice as a senior in high school.
"Mariah will start at libero; there is no doubt about that. She has established herself as one of the top liberos in the league and does a really good job. Julie has stepped up late in preseason, serving the ball and passing very well. She is a senior in our program that plays super hard."
"Ally Moskitis and Michelle are both kids now with some experience. Both receive the ball very well and get at it defensively so we like having those two available for us. Anna got time last year and is improving this preseason," Steinbach said. "Makenzie is getting accustomed to the program and gaining a feel for the college game. If we make the move, Jackie is serve-receiving the ball well and could see some time in a defensive role."
With the new look BIG EAST, Villanova's schedule has shaped to be up a little different than years' past. Two nationally ranked squads appear on the list, No. 10 Nebraska and Big East preseason favorite No. 25 Creighton. Unlike last season, the Wildcats will begin the year away from home with a nine match road stint in four different cities.
The season kicks off August 30 at the Golden Grizzlies Invitational in Rochester, Mich. against Oregon State. Villanova will then take on Oakland and Central Michigan the next afternoon. Following the team's first tournament, the Wildcats will travel to Lincoln, Neb. to play in front of 8,000 plus fans when they face off with perennial powerhouse No. 10 Nebraska (Sept. 10). On that night, the Cornhuskers will name their court, Pettit Court, after legendary coach Terry Pettit, father of sophomore setter Emma Pettit.
"It will be fun. It's something we don't do very often and our team is looking forward to it, Steinbach added. "This should be a good experience for our players. We like to see what the best teams in the country are doing and what it takes for us to be better and Nebraska has shown the consistency to prove that they're a top program. It's going to be a sold-out night and Emma's dad will be honored so it'll be great for her and the team as well."
After matches with Southern Miss and Lehigh, Villanova will travel to College Park for the Maryland Invitational Sept. 13-14 where they will battle George Mason, New Hampshire and host Maryland. After nine contests on the road, Villanova will make their home debut Sept. 17 versus Delaware. The Wildcats will then host the annual Villanova Classic. Sacred Heart, Norfolk State and Penn will make appearances at the Jake Nevin Field House Sept. 20-21 for the tournament.
Following the classic, Villanova will hit the bulk of their schedule and begin BIG EAST conference play Sept. 28 with three home matches against Georgetown, DePaul and Marquette. The Wildcats will challenge each of their eight conference mates to home and away matches with the last regular season contest on the road at Creighton (Nov. 24).
In addition to Georgetown (Sept. 28), DePaul (Oct. 4) and Marquette (Oct. 5), the other league opponents that will come to the Field House are St. Johns (Oct. 18), Seton Hall (Oct. 19), Creighton (Nov. 8), Butler (Nov. 9) and Xavier (Nov. 10).
Other than Creighton at the end of the season, the Wildcats travel to Seton Hall (Oct. 11), St. Johns (Oct. 12), Marquette (Oct. 26), DePaul (Oct. 27), Georgetown (Nov. 2), Xavier (Nov. 15) and Butler (Nov. 16).
The top-four teams in the conference will travel to Omaha, Neb. Nov. 29-30 for the BIG EAST Championship hosted by Creighton.