2006 volleyball preview

By Doug Fitzgerald published August 21, 2006

Having led the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs volleyball team to the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference playoffs in each of her first two seasons, it might be reasonable to expect that coach Jessica Wood and the Mountain Lions had earned a little respect from their peers.

Apparently, that would be expecting too much.

Going into their first year in the RMACâ€TMs East Division, the Mountain Lions were chosen to finish fourth by the conferenceâ€TMs coaches in the annual preseason poll.

“Iâ€TMm not surprised,” said Wood. “There are a lot of strong teams in the (East Division).”

But while Wood isnâ€TMt surprised by the projection, she doesnâ€TMt necessarily agree. Fourth in the East would likely land UCCS sixth or seventh overall, and thatâ€TMs nowhere near the level Wood thinks her team can reach.

“We would like to finish higher than we did last year and break into the top four in the RMAC,” said Wood. “We have also made making regionals a goal this year.”

Woodâ€TMs quest will be made easier by the presence of two seniors, fourth-year outside hitter Jill Wrenn and fifth-year middle blocker Caroline Ottino.

“Weâ€TMre going to get some true leadership,” said Wood. “They both have a strong game and RMAC experience.”

The experience Wrenn and Ottino provide will be crucial to a team that hopes to break into the top four in one of the nationâ€TMs elite volleyball conferences. That each has competed in more than 50 RMAC matches will be a valuable commodity as UCCS moves forward.

“Nothing surprises them,” said Wood. “Theyâ€TMre going to make the rest of the team smarter players and also toughen them up.”

Smarter a tougher could be a scary proposition for opponents since the Mountain Lions have no shortage of bigger and stronger. Seven UCCS players measure 5-foot-11 or taller and two others are 5-10. And as for strength, four of the teamâ€TMs top five scorers return with Diane Sheldon (321 kills) and Andrea Weedman (269) joining Wrenn (217) and Ottino (179). Other key frontline returners include juniors Stephanie Laband and Lindsey Myers and sophomore Marie Ottino.

The core of the defense returns as well. Weedman set a new school record for digs when she recorded 526 last year. Libero Laura Meeter was close behind with 422, while the versatile Laband added 265. Sarah Broerman also figures to see increased playing time in her sophomore season.

As if that werenâ€TMt enough to fuel optimism, UCCS added several new faces that will figure prominently. The biggest of the newcomers, both figuratively and literally, is 6-2 middle blocker Brooke Akers. The junior led Division I Air Force in kills (330), hitting percentage (.228) and blocks (92) a year ago.

“She brings not only height and a lot of power, but sheâ€TMs also very quick in the middle,” said Wood.

Another Division I transfer, Monique Blando, could see time at both outside hitter and defensive specialist. The freshman class includes 6-foot middle blocker Heidi Fehringer and outside hitter Lauren Orth.

But no matter how good a teamâ€TMs frontline is, the setter must be solid for the gears to mesh. Wood thinks she has that setter in sophomore Jessica Stewart.

In 2005, the Mountain Lions employed a 6-2 lineup because of the presence of two talented freshman setters, Stewart and Jocelyn Evans. While that arrangement had its advantages, it also often prevented the offense from developing the continuity and consistency that a single setter can provide.

“The offense can get into a better rhythm with just one setter,” said Wood.

When Evans opted to leave school, the team became Stewartâ€TMs to run. It also opened up a roster spot for Wood to bring in athletic freshman setter Cortney Weedman, Andreaâ€TMs sister.

Stewartâ€TMs experience will allow the Mountain Lions to expand their options.

“Weâ€TMre going to run a faster offense,” said Wood. “We had to run half an offense last year because of our inexperience at setter.”

A quicker offense, more experience, a strong returning class and talented newcomers makes a compelling formula for high expectations â€" at least from the UCCS faithful. The rest of the RMAC will, for now, remain skeptical.

“I think weâ€TMll be pretty strong,” said Wood.

And at this point, hers is the only opinion that matters.

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Caroline OttinoCaroline Ottino13MB
Caroline OttinoCaroline Ottino13MDSo.
Caroline OttinoCaroline Ottino8MBFr.
Caroline OttinoCaroline Ottino14MB
Caroline OttinoCaroline Ottino13MB
Jill WrennJill Wrenn5OH/RSFr.
Jill WrennJill Wrenn4RSSo.
Jill WrennJill Wrenn5RS
Jill WrennJill Wrenn5RS
Andrea WeedmanAndrea Weedman9OHFr.
Andrea WeedmanAndrea Weedman9OH/DSSr.
Andrea WeedmanAndrea Weedman9OH/DSSr.
Andrea WeedmanAndrea Weedman9OH/DSSr.
Laura MeeterLaura Meeter6S/LFr.
Laura MeeterLaura Meeter6S/LFr.
Laura MeeterLaura Meeter6S/LFr.
Laura MeeterLaura Meeter6S/LFr.
Diane SheldonDiane Sheldon11OH/RSSr.
Diane SheldonDiane Sheldon11OH/RSSr.
Diane SheldonDiane Sheldon11OH/RSSr.
Jocelyn EvansJocelyn Evans2S
Marie OttinoMarie Ottino3OH
Marie OttinoMarie Ottino3OH
Jessica StewartJessica Stewart8SJr.
Jessica StewartJessica Stewart8SJr.
Jessica StewartJessica Stewart8SJr.
Jessica StewartJessica Stewart8SJr.
Sarah BroermanSarah Broerman10DSFr.
Sarah BroermanSarah Broerman10DSSo.
Sarah BroermanSarah Broerman10DSJr.
Sarah BroermanSarah Broerman10DSSr.
Stephanie LabandStephanie Laband15OH/RSSr.
Stephanie LabandStephanie Laband15OH/RSSr.
Stephanie LabandStephanie Laband15OH/RSSr.
Monique BlandoMonique Blando2OH/DS
Cortney WeedmanCortney Weedman14S
Cortney WeedmanCortney Weedman14S
Additional News Stories
December 20, 2006Jessica Wood featureAfter graduation, former student-athletes are rarely able to continue their lives in the sport they have grown up with and competed in to earn a degree. It is very unusual for a graduate to find a head coaching position less than five years after their final competition as a student. However, if any Racer could achieve that, it would be Jessica Wood.
November 2, 2006Akers, Ottino named All-RMACUniversity of Colorado at Colorado Springs middle blockers Brooke Akers and Caroline Ottino were named to the 2006 All-Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference teams, the conference announced Wednesday.
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