Tuesday, August 06, 2002
» 2002 Quick Facts
Looking to continue a wave of success that has carried the Alabama volleyball squad to three consecutive winning seasons including back-to-back 20+ win campaigns, seventh-year head coach Judy Green and the 2002 Crimson Tide appear to have all the pieces in place to keep raising the bar for the program.
This year’s squad boasts a variety of strong points including a high level of experience thanks to the return of all seven players that comprised the group of starters last year. It is the third time in the last four seasons that Bama has returned all its starters.
“Definitely one of our top strengths this year is our experience,” said Green. “Almost all of our freshmen got a chance to play in a lot of high level matches for us last year. I feel like that the opportunity for them to see first hand the level of play in college was the best teacher. They are coming into this season with more awareness and with their eyes wide open for what to expect. Last season also gave some of the upperclassmen the chance to move into new roles and develop a comfort level in those positions. Another positive about our experience is that it allows us to have good solid leadership from a group of players.”
Alabama finished last season ranked second in the SEC for service aces including three returnees who were listed among the Top 10 in the league for aces. Their aggressiveness from the service line also enabled the Tide’s defensive front to improve immensely.
“We were a very good serving team last year and we definitely want to continue that this year,” Green added. “Developing an even more aggressive service game was one of our main focuses this spring and I feel like we’ve done that. We now have at least four players that jump serve on a consistent basis which is a tremendous weapon to have. With the type of game being played at the college level these days, being able to score easy points with your serve is a nice luxury. In addition, even if we don’t record an ace with a serve, just serving tough can force an opponent into a limited offensive set and that’s to our advantage too.”
Another trade mark for the Tide over the past few seasons has been the ability of the offense to finish a point and that tradition continues this year as Alabama welcomes back a pair of players ranked among the SEC’s best a year ago.
“This team is very solid and deep on the outside,” said Green. “There is no question that our hitters have shown the ability to bring the heat. We need to continue to prove that we are not a one-dimensional team nor can we be easily stopped.”
One final positive attribute for this year’s Crimson Tide is not so much physical as it is mental.
“The one thing I really, really like about this team is their grittiness,” Green admitted. “They are a very mentally tough and competitive group. Not just individually but also collectively. I think that is an important element for success.”
While the Tide seems to have things in order for another successful season, there are still a few question marks heading into the 2002 campaign.
“As with all teams staying healthy will be important for this group,” said Green, “Especially in the middle where we have talent and experience but very little depth. We will also need to continue improving consistency in the areas of ball-control and passing. I have always believed that the top teams get to that point because of their defense and passing.”
A Closer Look...
Like the quarterback in football, the setter in volleyball is at the center of everything offensively. That bodes well for the Tide this season as senior starter Bridget Studnicka and sophomore Kenna Milner both return for 2002.
Studnicka, who ranks fourth all-time at Alabama in assists despite splitting time at setter her first two seasons, is an experienced veteran that brings a strong offensive approach to the team. As a taller setter (5’11), she also provides an added defensive dimension for the Tide on the front row.
Milner, who spent most of her time last season as the defensive specialist, is a talented player with a wealth of talent. She is extremely competitive and possesses an innate knowledge of the game.
“It is good to have a pair of competitive setters,” said Green. “Bridget is truly a leader for this team on and off the court. She has learned how to motivate each of her teammates and her game strategy knowledge has improved dramatically. Bridget is an offensive threat that we hope to utilize more this year. Kenna just seems to make things happen on the floor. She plays all out. I sense a renewed commitment to volleyball in her and I definitely feel that she’s going to challenge for the setting position on a daily basis.”
Jennifer Bibber and Erin Heffner were both All-SEC performers last season and both return with plans on continuing their dominating play this year. Erin Price, the only player to play and start in every game of every match last season, also returns with her sights set on joining her hitting partners as one of the league’s elite attackers.
“I’ve nicknamed this group the ‘Bomb Squad’,” said Green. “From pin-to-pin I feel like this group is as good as anybody. Each of them just seems to have the ability to terminate a point with one swing.
“Jennifer Bibber comes into the season in the best physical shape of her career. She has a strong arm but she needs to diversify her shot selection this year to take the next step. Bibber will be a key component in our back-row offensive plans. Erin Heffner is one of the cores of our team. She has improved every aspect of her game and she was already one of our best all-around players. I think ‘Heff’ is a huge factor in how successful this team will be,” added Green.
“Erin Price is exuding a higher level of confidence than at any other time in her career,” Green said. “She is solid in her fundamentals, abilities and game knowledge. She is primed to have a great year.”
A pair of newcomers also have plans to toss their hats into the ring for playing time on the outside as junior college standout Denée Ezerins and freshman Kelley Potter join sophomore Kory Tull on the list of outside hitter candidates for Alabama.
“Denée comes into this program knowing one speed and one speed only... hard,” said Green. “She brings a winning attitude having been a success at every stop along her career. Her wealth of experience and highly competitive nature are going to make it hard to keep her off the court. Kelley is one terrific athlete. She needs some time to make the transition from high school to college volleyball but she can develop into a tremendous player for us.
“Kory brings a different style of outside hitter to the mix,” added Green. “She is more of a smaller, quicker swing style attacker. Along with being a good hitter she is also our most instinctive blocker and one of the team’s best passers. She is a player we can utilize at a variety of positions.”
This group features good experience and strong talent with senior Shelly Adamcik and sophomore Julie Farley both returning as starters from a year ago. Adamcik, the only three-year starter on the squad, is already the career leader in block assists at Alabama and is one pace to own every UA blocking record. Farley, who garnered the team’s Most Improved award last year, returns following an impressive rookie debut.
“Our middles have the experience and skills to be an asset for this team,” said Green. “Shelly is a very determined competitor. I look for her to have a great senior season. The key for her to be most successful will be her ability to stay focused and consistent. Julie Farley is completely new and improved from last year. She is now a solid offensive presence in the middle and is playing with a great deal of confidence. Julie has gotten stronger and quicker over the summer and the playing experience she got last season was the best thing that could have happened for her.
The duo will need to stay healthy for the Tide as depth is an issue with redshirt freshman Jennifer Cusimano, the only other middle on the roster, set to spend her second straight season on the sideline after re-injuring her knee during a summer pick-up game. Cusimano suffered a season-ending knee injury in the opening match last season.
“This is a very unfortunate thing for both Jennifer and the team,” said Green. “It is going to be tough for her but I have complete confidence that she will get through this challenge. I believe that tough times don’t last but tough people do and Jennifer is tough.”
A new position for college volleyball this season is the libero. A defensive position that has been used in international play for several years, the libero is a permanent back row position that is prohibited from serving or attacking a ball above the top of the net. The libero also wears a different color jersey from her teammates to make the distinction for the officials easier. By comparison, the defensive specialist is a player that possesses strength in a particular area of defense like blocking, digging or serve receiving.
In addition to Milner and Tull, Tide walk-on Mary Beth Moore also falls into the mix for these important roles.
“We definitely plan to utilize the libero position this year,” said Green. “Kory and Kenna are both very qualified to play that role. Kory’s strong serving skills sort of point her towards the specialist role but I would feel confident playing either of these two players in that position.
“Our plan is to redshirt Mary Beth this year to give her the opportunity to work on her ball-handling and serving. I do feel like she is the perfect walk-on for this program because she has a total love for the University of Alabama and she is a great athlete with a willingness to learn and get better.”
With an annual goal of winning championships and participating in the NCAA Tournament, the Crimson Tide’s 2002 ledger provides the squad with a variety of challenges and opportunities to reach those goals. Alabama will square off against teams from most of the top volleyball conferences in the country in addition to playing its slate of always competitive SEC tilts. One of the season’s highlights will be participating in a tournament in Lincoln, Neb., with a field that includes perennial final four participant Nebraska.
Of UA’s 26 opponents this season, 16 had winning records a year ago including 8 with 20 or more wins. Five teams captured their conference championships. Eight teams on the Tide’s schedule made the NCAA tournament field.
“We have reached a point where we needed to step up the level of our schedule and that’s what we did,” said Green. “I feel like this year’s schedule is a very competitive blend. The matches we have against NCAA Tournament experienced squads our great opportunities for us. The schedule affords us chances to ‘ring up’ some of those quality wins that the NCAA Tournament committee is always looking for at selection time.”