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A Look into the Volleyball Positions: Tulsa's Outside Hitters and Middle Blockers

Senior middle blocker Julia Kenaly
Senior middle blocker Julia Kenaly
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Donald W. Reynolds Center

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Aug. 23, 2009

TULSA, Okla. - When it comes to experienced units, none of the four on the court for The University of Tulsa volleyball team can match the middle blockers, and in terms of potential and potential growth, the young outside hitters have plenty of it.

In outside hitters, Tulsa has senior Jennifer Eichler on one side of the court, and a sophomore - Kelsey Hancock - and two freshmen - Dianna Craine and Tyler Henderson - on the other side. Eichler, last season's Conference USA Newcomer of the Year and a preseason All-C-USA pick, led the team last season in kills with 403 and tied for the second-most blocks with 93. She also led the squad with 460.0 points.

"Jen Eichler is an extremely efficient hitter and has the ability to dominate games," Tulsa Head Coach Ed Allen said. "She's developing very nicely as a blocker, and becoming even more efficient as an attacker, particularly out of the back row. She's going to be a six-rotation player that we are looking to utilize very frequently."

Hancock started 16 matches last season, and played in 95 sets, compiling 196 kills and 37 total blocks in her time on the court. She joins Craine and Henderson, who are two freshmen with plenty of talent and lots of room to grow as collegiate volleyball players. Henderson was ranked as the No. 21 volleyball prospect nationally by PrepVolleyball.com. With the sophomore and two freshmen, outside hitter is one of the youngest positions on the team.

"I think that our freshman kids as well as Kelsey are getting a better understanding of how difficult that position is to play at this level, especially with the fact that a defense has time to set up on you" said Allen. "I think they're working on developing shots. They're working on being very efficient with the swings that they have. We see growth, mentally and physically, to the approach that they take each day. We expect all three to make solid contributions through the course of the season."



Thus far in preseason camp, the outside hitters are working to improve their defense as well as their ability to put the ball away in the first or second opportunity, thus taking pressure off the back court defenders and the rest of the team defense.

"Whether it be the left sides or the right sides, we are really stressing the ability to first- or second-ball terminate" Allen said. "We're looking to see them terminate on a much more regular basis, first-ball opportunities and to be very consistent with second- and third-ball opportunities when they come."

As for the middle blockers, senior Julia Kenealy and juniors Hannah Stout and Shaylin Werner, bring solid blocking ability and efficient hitting to the court for the Hurricane, not to mention two and three years of experience playing at the collegiate level.

"That is the most experienced position that we have on the floor," said Allen. "We are starting a junior and a senior in that position, with a junior able to back them up as well. It is a position where we are hitting extremely efficiently, and doing a great job of being defenders out of that position as well, of blocking and touching balls. We're pleased with the leadership that we are getting from them and we're pleased with the performances that we're getting from them on the floor."

Kenealy led the team with 130 total blocks last season, while Stout tied Eichler with 93 blocks, and Werner assisted on 13 blocks. Kenealy also scored 202 kills and 279.5 points while hitting a .263 percentage. Stout led the team with a .288 hitting percentage, tallied 272 kills and scored 323 points.

"I think (Kenealy and Stout) have gotten better as defenders in the course of last spring and in two weeks of preseason," Allen said. "We expect them both to push one another, and we expect Shay (Werner) to challenge both of those players for a starting position through the course of the year."

The Golden Hurricane opens the season at the Boise State Tournament on Aug. 28-29, with matches against Cal-State Northridge, Boise State and Northern Arizona. TU's first home match will be Tuesday, Sept. 8 against Arkansas. It plays host to the Radisson Tulsa Airport Invitational on Sept. 11-12.

For all Tulsa volleyball news and information, visit www.TulsaHurricane.com. Follow Tulsa Athletics on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/TulsaHurricane. Become a fan of the Tulsa Golden Hurricane page on Facebook - search "Tulsa Golden Hurricane."