Aug. 9, 2004
Tulsa, Okla. -
Four years ago, Tulsa had one of the best recruiting classes in the country. Four years later, those four rookies are seniors and have the opportunity to help TU achieve the most wins over a four-year span since 1980-83. The Golden Hurricane returns five seniors for 2004, including four starters.
"We will have a lot of experience on the court this season," said TU head coach Matt Sonnichsen. "Our seniors have done a great job of including the younger players in everything. With five starters returning, we should have a good balance on the floor between youth and experience."
The outside hitter position will be the most competitive position on the floor for the Hurricane, with six players vying for playing time. Senior Kristin Bailey returns as a four-year starter, along with sophomore Brie Penaluna, who earned a starting job last season.
Bailey led the team in kills (286), attacks (882) and kills per game (3.14) in 2003. She posted double-figures in kills 16 times last season, including a season-best 22 kills against Texas-Pan American. Penaluna earned a starting role after posting 17 kills against Stony Brook in the third match of the season. She ranked third on the team in kills (256) and second on the squad in kills per game (2.94).
Sophomore Amy Meyer returns to the position as well. The Buda, Texas native finished the 2003 campaign fourth on the team in total attacks (545) and fifth on the squad in kills (162) as a freshman. She recorded eight kills in one game against No.2-ranked Hawai`i at the WAC Tournament. Freshman Kassiana Urnau also returns after red-shirting in 2003 after suffering a knee injury in preseason workouts.
A pair of newcomers will look to add an immediate impact to the Hurricane. Transfer Joyce Silva was an NAIA All-American at Martin Methodist College in 2003. She led the NAIA in kills per game (6.43) and ranked second for kills (842). Her hitting percentage of .372 also ranked 15th nationally. Junior college transfer Ivana Krejcirova comes to TU from Frank Phillips Junior College. She posted 22 double-figure kill performances as a freshman, while posting 780 kills, 302 digs, 277 blocks in her two seasons for the Lady Plainsmen. Krejcirova earned a spot on all-region and all-conference teams for 2002 and 2003, as well.
"We are returning all but one of our outside hitters from last year and with the addition of our two new attackers, we hope this position becomes one of our team strengths," said Sonnichsen. "We have developed our offense and each player during the course of the season will have the opportunity to contribute."
The middle will be the most experienced position on the court for the Hurricane as seniors Dana Weddle and Lindsay Eaves have been starters their three previous seasons. Junior Sam Rutherford has also filled in the starting line-up over her two years at TU.
Eaves started 27 matches for the Hurricane in 2003, leading the team in total blocks (72), block assists (60) and points per game (3.61). Her 43 service aces last season also topped the squad. She earned WAC Player of the Week honors for the week of Sept. 15, becoming the first TU player to earn the honor in three seasons.
Weddle started 17 matches in 2003, missing 10 matches with a shoulder injury. She recorded 17 kills to lead the team against UTEP and Louisiana Tech. Weddle finished third on the team in kills per game with a 2.77 average. Rutherford played 59 games over 23 matches, including 12 starts. She finished second on the team in hitting percentage (.282) after flirting with a .300 average all season. She ranked sixth on the team in kills per game (2.00), including a season-best 16 kills against San Jose State.
Freshman Sara Repschlaeger will also compete for playing time in the middle.
"We are fortunate to have very good experience within this position," said Sonnichsen. "Dana and Lindsay are three-year starters and Sam did a great job last year stepping into the starting line-up late in the year. Our offense and defense is based upon this position and as such, these players are very important to our team's success."
Senior Vanessa Thon is a three-year starter at setter. She has set school records for the position, including becoming the school's all-time leader with 2,875 assists during her tenure. The Houston, Texas native also ranks second all-time at TU in service aces with 123. Junior Evyn Bandy has played the libero position the past two seasons, while backing up Thon at setter. Bandy has 697 digs over the past two seasons, ranking fifth all-time at TU. She also recorded 40+ assists four times in 2003.
"Vanessa and Evyn provide us such a luxury to have two upperclassmen players in this key position," said Sonnichsen. "We expanded our offense last spring and our setters responded by having a great off-season. We are looking at a few offensive options and each player will be expected to provide consistent play and leadership."
Senior Patricia Marques will also handle some of the libero duties this fall, after being an outside hitter the previous two seasons. She has 373 digs over the past two seasons to go along with a 2.36 digs per game average, as one of the top reserves off the Hurricane bench.
Freshman Lauren Studensky will also look for playing time at the libero position. Studensky earned all-district second team and Super Centex Regional Team honorable mention honors as a senior at Midway High School. As a co-captain last season, she also won the team's Defensive Player of the Year award.
"We have moved Patricia into the Libero slot, along with Lauren," said Sonnichsen. "This position continues to grow in importance, especially with the offense we wish to run, so it is nice to have such quality players to put on the floor."
The Golden Hurricane has qualified for the WAC Tournament two of the past three seasons and with five seniors, five returning starters and nine returning letterwinners expectations are high. Tulsa has beefed up the schedule as well, with matches against opponents from the Big 12 (Baylor), the SEC (Mississippi State) and the Mountain West (Air Force), in addition to tough WAC opponents like Hawai`i, Fresno State, Rice and SMU. Another addition to the TU schedule is a renewal of the city rivalry with Oral Roberts. The Hurricane will host the Golden Eagles in a regular season finale on Nov. 23rd, the first time since 1998.
"We have a nice balance to our season, the last as a member of the WAC," said Sonnichsen. "We will play teams from the Big 12, SEC, Mountain West and our crosstown rival. The WAC will be as tough as ever. Our goal is to leave the WAC as the best team in Tulsa history and take that momentum into Conference USA."