Volleyball season preview
Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference opponents have often referred to the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs as "the sleeping giant," confiding in hushed tones that if the Mountain Lions ever get on equal footing in terms of tradition and funding, they'll dominate. While it may be an overstatement to say that the 2005 version of UCCS volleyball is ready to reach giant status just yet, it would certainly be realistic to say that they're at least poised to take a giant leap.
Move over, Neil Armstrong.
That leap begins with what UCCS coach Jessica Wood hopes is a climb to the top of the RMAC Western Division standings.
"The West is very young this year," said Wood. "There's going to be a lot of new players and a few new coaches."
One of those teams with a new coach will be Mesa State, which lost RMAC icon Rusty Crick to retirement. Crick led the Mavericks to the RMAC West Division title in his final season.
"I think we're going to have quite a few battles with Mesa this year," said Wood. "We're going to be fighting with them to lead the West this year."
Wood has good reason for her confidence. The Mountain Lions return nearly every top player from last season's 15-14 squad that qualified for the RMAC playoffs for the first time since 2000. On top of that, Wood has also brought in what is arguably the best recruiting class in school history. That combination gives UCCS a deep talented squad that could shake up the RMAC old guard a bit.
The depth begins on the front line, where UCCS returns its top two hitters from 2004. Jill Wrenn was named second-team All-RMAC after leading the Mountain Lions with 384 kills. Andrea Weedman was All-RMAC honorable mention after slamming 334 kills and posting a team-best 369 digs in her sophomore season. Weedman was recruited by several Division I programs that wanted to use her advanced defensive skills at libero.
"Andrea and Jill are different types of player," said Wood. "Weedman is one of the best defenders in the RMAC. She's a good, strong hitter. She moves the ball well and has a lot of different shots.
"Wrenn is much taller and will get a lot of blocks. She jumps above most people and she has such a fast arm swing that she hits past people. She's definitely a power hitter."
The Mountain Lions would be formidable offensively with just Weedman and Wrenn on the front line. Those two, however, are just the beginning.
Wood added a pair of Division I transfers in Diane Sheldon (Navy) and Stephanie Laband (Stetson). Sheldon was nominated for Patriot League freshman of the year honors after finishing second on the Midshipmen with 2.58 kills per game.
"She's a powerhouse," said Wood of Sheldon. "She hits the ball with incredible speed and also brings a great understanding of the game."
Laband battled back problems in her freshman season and played little, but area volleyball fans will remember her as one of the stars of a Lewis-Palmer High School team that won two state championships.
"(Laband is) a very technically sound player with a great defensive game," said Wood. "She's got a beautiful arm swing, which allows her to see and hit around the block with accuracy and power."
Another weapon is Laureen Timmons, who redshirted in 2004. The 6-foot junior may be the most athletically gifted of the Mountain Lions, possessing both power and quickness. How quickly she refines those skills will determine how soon she begins to dominate.
Also in the mix are sophomore Lindsey Myers and freshman Marie Ottino. Myers is a smart, savvy player that saw action in 52 games for UCCS a year ago. Ottino is very athletic and should be a big contributor once she adjusts to the speed of the college game.
With outside hitter already being an embarrassment of riches, adding the middle blocker position will put them into a higher tax bracket. Kelley Angel led UCCS with 85 blocks this past season, while Caroline Ottino (Marie's big sister) added 82 blocks and led the team with a .256 hitting percentage.
"They are a great pair," said Wood. "Kelly Angel is very fast. She's going to get a lot of touches on the net. We'll be looking to her for a lot of the faster plays on offense.
"Caroline is so powerful and so steady. She puts up a massive block."
Brittany Ramsay provides a reliable alternative if either Angel or Ottino are unavailable.
The Mountain Lions' biggest question mark is at setter, where two talented freshmen are competing for the job. At 6-foot-1, Jocelyn Evans provides UCCS coaches with tremendous defensive flexibility. The Northglenn graduate was one of the most highly sought after players among RMAC coaches.
Jessica Stewart is a more conventionally-sized setter at 5-foot-8. She's also extremely quick, is a good defender and is skilled at jump setting.
"They're different types of setters," said Wood. "Jocelyn is big, aggressive and talkative and she can get to a lot of the balls that are passed to the top of the tape. Jessica is faster and brings a lot of defensive skill. In Jocelyn we've got a very big game on the net and in Jessica we've got the ability to move the ball very fast. We've got the best of both worlds."
How quickly the duo adjusts to the college game will go a long way in determining how big the Mountain Lions' leap will be.
"They both have the skill, but maybe not the knowledge and how to handle the tight situations of the match," said Wood. "
That's where they're going to need a little bit of mentoring. They know how to move the ball and their going to learn the strategy."
Laura Meeter returns as libero. The 5-foot-6 sophomore filled in admirably at setter late last season, but Wood is delighted to have her back anchoring the UCCS defense. Freshman Sarah Broerman will also see plenty of playing time as a defensive specialist.
"They're both very, very fast," said Wood. "They're going to get balls on defense that you'd never think anyone could touch."
The Mountain Lions will put their depth to the test early as they will host a tournament which will include South Central Region rivals Cameron, Angelo State and St. Mary's. The Sept 1-3 classic will be the first volleyball tournament hosted by UCCS in over a decade. The Mountain Lions will also face regional opponents in their season-opening tournament at San Angelo, Texas.
"We want to elevate our game," said Wood. "The only way to do that is to elevate the level of the opponents we play."
And for a change, those regional opponents will not be looking at UCCS as a pushover. The rise Mountain Lions is no secret within volleyball circles.
"The team earned a lot of respect last year in how they played and how they managed themselves," said Wood. "It's a compliment to be on other people's radar. They're taking us seriously and I don't think they've done that in quite some time."
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
|Additional News Stories|
|December 12, 2005||Joseph promoted to administrative assistant||The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Athletic Department announced Tuesday that A.J. Joseph has been promoted to administrative assistant to athletic director Stephen W. Kirkham.|
|November 11, 2005||UCCS eliminated from RMAC playoffs||The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs volleyball teamâ€™s season came to an end Friday as the Mountain Lions were defeated 3-0 (30-22, 20-28, 34-32) by the Metro State Roadrunners in the first round of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference playoffs in Kearney, Neb.|
|November 10, 2005||Three Mountain Lions named All-RMAC||UCCS junior middle blocker Kelley Angel was named first-team All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference, the RMAC announced Thursday. Teammate Andrea Weedman was named second-team All-RMAC, while Jill Wrenn was honorable mention.|
|November 4, 2005||Volleyball loses third straight match||The good news is that the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs volleyball team finished the 2005 regular season with a best-ever 12-7 Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference record (16-12 overall) and will be making only its second trip to the RMAC playoffs next week.|
|November 2, 2005||Another record crowd witnesses loss||Behind 17 kills each by Samantha Connelly and Holly Swanson, the Colorado State-Pueblo Thunderwolves grabbed two points in the Steel and Silver Series with a 3-2 (24-30, 30-23, 31-29, 28-30, 15-4) victory over the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs Wednesday before a UCCS-record 402 fans at the U.S. Olympic Training Center.|