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2012 Volleyball Preview Part 1: Outside Hitters

Kellie Culbertson is one of three returning outside hitters this fall.
Kellie Culbertson is one of three returning outside hitters this fall.
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Aug. 14, 2012

TULSA, Okla. -

The University of Tulsa volleyball team returns the nucleus of its squad that won the 2011 Conference USA Championship, including a majority of the outside hitters.

Two-time second team AVCA All-American Tyler Henderson is joined by fellow senior Diana Silva and junior Kellie Culbertson as the returners for the unit that lost senior Kelsey Hancock from last year's squad. Joining the outside hitter ranks are freshmen Maura McGivern and Paige Panfil.



"We have the full gamete with experienced and inexperienced players" commented Head Coach Steven McRoberts. "The experienced side with Tyler, Diana and Kellie is huge for us. They have a lot of games under their belt."

Henderson, who has also earned Conference USA Player of the Year awards in 2010 and 2011, was fifth in the NCAA in kills per set in 2011 with 4.86. She also ranked 13th in the nation in points per set with 5.11. Henderson, a native of Oklahoma City, is the career leader at TU in kills with 1,857 kills, which ranks seventh in C-USA history. In addition, Henderson set the single season NCAA record for kills in the 25-point scoring era with 710 kills back in 2010.

"She has looked great in camp so far," said McRoberts. "It seems like she is more confident this year. She is playing at a high level for us, which is exciting to see. I don't think she is satisfied with being a two-time second team All-American. I think her goals this year are to be a first-time All-American, to win conference again and to get us back to the NCAA Tournament."

Silva, a 2011 first-team all-Conference USA honoree, is a versatile piece of the Tulsa squad as she tallied 348 kills and 393 digs last year for the Golden Hurricane. Additionally, her 3.17 kills per set and her 3.39 digs per set ranked in the top-15 in the conference. Silva, who hails from Niteroi, Brazil, had 13 double-double performances of kills and digs and had double-digit kills in 29 matches.

"She is an integral part of our offense and defense, and she is one of those players that can do it all," said McRoberts. "There were a couple of coaches in our league that felt that she could have been our MVP last season. Diana is a special player. She is a player that is sometimes more effective hitting out of the back row instead of the front row, which makes our offense a whole lot more diverse and gives our opponents a lot of problems when they have to worry about multiple attackers all the time."

Culbertson, a native of Long Beach, Calif., garnered second-team all-Conference USA honors a year ago as she averaged 2.64 kills per set, a .220 attack percentage and 3.31 digs per set. Culbertson averaged 0.26 service aces per set to pace the Hurricane and rank fifth in the conference.

"Kellie is one of our most competitive players on the squad," McRoberts stated. "When we were playing in Los Angeles last year in the NCAA Tournament she wanted to play very well in front a lot of her friends and family that were able to watch her. She had great matches there and in the last month overall. She is one of our best passers and she has a great nose for the ball on the defensive end. She has the ability to score and she is one of those sneaky players that at the end of the game you look at the stat sheet and you see she fills it up. When it's all said and done, she is one of those utility players that brings the team together."

Incoming freshmen McGivern and Panfil will compete for playing time this season for the Hurricane.

McGivern hails from Wichita, Kan., where she was a four-year letterwinner at Hayden High School. She totaled 421 kills, 62 blocks and 77 digs. She was a two-time Class 4A Kansas all-state selection.

Panfil, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, was a four-year letterwinner at North Crowley High School. She compiled 1,423 kills and 1,030 digs in her career, playing six rotations in all four years of high school. As a senior in 2011, she totaled 561 kills and 466 digs, and was named the Most Valuable Player of District 4-5A.

"The newcomers are competing very well," commented McRoberts. "Maura is a terminator at both pins and she is hitting the ball very well at practice. Paige has come in and passed very well and has been very consistent on the offensive end. I think those players will be players that will grow with the competition that they have with the upperclassmen and they are players that our fans are going to see in the future as big parts of the program."

TU begins its quest for a third consecutive NCAA Tournament berth at the Nike Invitational August 24-25 in Norman, Okla. The Hurricane will face off against Western Michigan, Missouri State and Oklahoma during the two-day affair. After a road trip to Arkansas to face the Razorbacks on August 28, the Hurricane will make its way up to Lawrence, Kan., to take part in the Kansas Volleyball Invitational on August 31 and September 1. TU will have contests against Arkansas State, Kansas and Nebraska-Omaha.

A cross-town rivalry game at Oral Roberts on September 4 marks the team's return to the state before they play in their final road tournament in the Northern Colorado Tournament. TU will face Northern Colorado, Creighton and Ball State on September 7 and 8 in Greely, Colo.

Tulsa will play its first home games of the season September 13-15 with the Tulsa Classic. The classic features four NCAA Tournament squads from a year ago in Tulsa, Kansas State, Dayton and Minnesota. The Golden Hurricane kick of its conference slate a week later on September 19 when it hosts SMU, the only C-USA squad to beat TU a season ago. All Tulsa regular season games are free to the public.

TU will host the Conference USA Championship Nov. 16-18 in the Reynolds Center. This marks the first conference tournament since the 2009 campaign.

For all Tulsa volleyball news and information, visit www.TulsaHurricane.com. Follow Tulsa Athletics on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/TulsaHurricane and Facebook at www.facebook.com/TulsaHurricane. Follow Tulsa Volleyball on Twitter (www.twitter.com/TulsaVolleyball) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/TulsaVolleyball).