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2013 VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW PART 1: OUTSIDE HITTERS

Kellie Culbertson leads the way for the outside hitters for the Golden Hurricanes
Kellie Culbertson leads the way for the outside hitters for the Golden Hurricanes
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Aug 20, 2013

Tulsa, Okla. - The University of Tulsa volleyball team returns four outside hitters and adds two newcomers for 2013 season.

Senior Kellie Culbertson, one of two seniors on the team, was second on the team last season with 339 kills, 2.59 kills per set, and with 448 digs, 3.42 digs per set. The Long Beach, Calif., native was fourth on the team with 47 total blocks.

"Culberson has been one of our six rotation outside hitters the past two years," TU head coach Steven McRoberts said. "She's having a nice preseason. She's always been a great passer and defender on the back row.

"This year, we are seeing her grow a lot in her back row attack and it looks like she's taken her front row game to a new level offensively."

Culbertson led the team with 51 service aces and a 0.39 service aces per set, which ranked second in the Conference USA and 34th in the NCAA.

"She was one of the tops in the nation last year with her jump serves," McRoberts said. "Not only does she find ways to score for us in the offense, but her jump serve is an offensive weapon."

The other three returning outside hitters are sophomores, Maura McGivern, Paige Panfil and Alexis Mitchell.

McGivern played in 21 of the 35 matches, including one start, and played in 55 sets. The Wichita, Kan., native had 51 kills and 15 total blocks in her first season with the Golden Hurricane.

"McGivern is a player who brings a lot of power at the net," McRoberts said. "The one thing we've been working on with her is cutting down on her errors. I think she can be somebody, who can get us big kills for us in big situations. We need her to steady out and be a little more consistent player for us."

 

 

Paige Panfil played in 27 matches and 72 sets last season. The Fort Worth, Texas native had 86 kills, 23 total blocks and 98.0 points.

"Panfil had a solid camp," McRoberts said. "She's somebody that we see along with Maura that will be in and out of the starting lineup. Paige is really consistent and the one thing we've got to keep working with her on is consistently putting the ball away.

"Paige also does a good job on the back row defensively. That's can be a roll that she can play somewhere in the season for us as well."

The final returning outside hitter is Alexis Mitchell. Mitchell did not play much last season, as she appeared in two matches, but has had a really great offseason.

"Mitchell is probably the most improved player on the team," McRoberts said. "When she came in last year, there were times we almost couldn't put her in drills because she wasn't at that level yet.

"She's somebody that has worked really, really hard, not only last season, but in the offseason, in the summer. Now she's reaping the benefits of that. She's coming in and being a really competitive player for us on the right side."

The volleyball team welcomes two newcomers to the program, Valerie El Houssine and Erica Bohannon.

El Houssine is a two-year transfer from the University of South Florida. She totaled 621 kills, 76 total blocks, 515 digs and 77 service aces in 53 matches for the Bulls.

"Valerie is doing a great job in ball control and defense," McRoberts said. "Her offensive game is starting to come along the last two or three days. We're starting to see some big improvements.

"This is a player that hasn't played competitively since early last November. It's been a long time to be off the court and to try to come back and play at a high level. She was struggling the first five or six days of our preseason camp and has really come on and done really well the last two days."

Bohannon is the other newcomer as a freshman. The Dallas, Texas native was a four-year letterwinner at Coppell High School, where she led the team to two consecutive Texas 5A state championship.

Bohannon was named the 5A state volleyball tournament most valuable player in her senior season. During her senior season, Bohannon had 461 kills, 410 digs and 65 total blocks.

"She's going to bring in a lot of power from the right side, good blocking presences. Played on a really strong high school program and club program in Texas. She already has played against some elite competition.

"She's had some days where she's dominated at the net and she's had some days where she looks like a freshman."

Overall, McRoberts is impressed with the outside hitters on the team this season.

"I think it's a group that we are going to see a lot of growth in as the season goes on. We are going to have to rely on our ball control. We're going to have to rely on extending rallies and we've got a group that is motivated and well equipped to do that."

Three-time AVCA Second Team and three-time Conference USA Player of the Year Tyler Henderson and Diana Silva finish their eligibility last season. Henderson led the team with a 668 kills, 5.22 kills per set, a .323 hitting percentage and third on the team with 72 total blocks.

Silva was third on the team with 289 kills, 2.21 kills per set, and third on the team with 438 digs, 3.34 digs per set.

"Both of them are going to be sorely missed as far as outside hitters is concerned," McRoberts said. "We are a whole lot further along at this point in practice than I thought we would be. That's very encouraging. Had a very good practice today and our outside hitter did a good job.

"They're learning from the errors and their mistakes and getting better from that. We're definitely going to need to be mentally and physically ready to go next Friday night when we go to Dayton."

Before the regular season gets underway, the Golden Hurricane has an intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday at 4 p.m.

The Hurricane starts the 2013 regular season on the road in the Dayton Invitational in Dayton, Ohio. TU plays the host No. 22 Flyers on Friday, Aug. 30 at 6 p.m., followed by a doubleheader on Saturday against Missouri State at 9 a.m. and Northeastern at 4:30 p.m.

Tulsa opens the 2013 home campaign in a midweek match against cross-town rival Oral Roberts on Tuesday, Sept. 3 at 7 p.m. in the Donald W. Reynolds Center.

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).