Preview: 2008 Mountain Lions will be a whole new animal

By Doug Fitzgerald published August 19, 2008

The 2008 Mountain Lions volleyball team will be a whole new animal.

It has to be. Only two starters, and four players overall, return from the 2007 team.

Over their careers, the six seniors from that team earned a reputation for firsts. Those players earned the program's first wins over perennial volleyball powerhouses Metro State, Regis and Nebraska-Kearney. They qualified for the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference playoffs four consecutive times (UCCS had made only one previous appearance). They culminated their careers by going 16-3 in RMAC play in 2007, winning the program's first two playoff games and qualifying for the NCAA Tournament for the first time.

Now, with those players graduated, UCCS coach Jessica Wood faces a first of her own. For the first time since taking over the program prior to the 2004 season, she must rebuild"" or not.

“I wouldn't say that we're rebuilding, we're reforming,” said Wood, who bristled at the notion that it's a rebuilding year."œIt's going to be a process of getting them used to each other"¦ you always have your ups and downs with that. It also presents a challenge from the coaching standpoint. We have to learn each player's personality and how they respond and kind of figure out the personality of the team as well.”

She'll have a head start on the process in the persons of two solid returning starters. Sophomore Lauren Orth was tied for fourth on the team with 2.04 kills per set in 2007 and also had 51 blocks. Senior Jessica Stewart had 663 assists and 184 digs while splitting time at setter.

Also returning are junior Cassey Santucci, a solid blocking frontliner who saw action in 35 sets a year ago, and senior Sarah Broerman, a defensive specialist who missed the 2007 season with an injury.

“We're looking for (the returners) to set the standard,” said Wood."œThey're the ones who've been here, that understand what the coaches are looking for, and they've all come in strong, stronger than before.”

With so few players returning, Wood must get big contributions from her newcomers. Two of those newcomers come to UCCS with Division I experience as junior middle blocker Kim Boogaard and sophomore right side hitter Andrea Brodie transferred from Iona and Portland State respectively.

Both have Colorado roots. Boogaard went to Pine Creek High School and was named honorable mention all-area by the Gazette in 2004 and 2005. Brodie was a first-team all-area selection in 2006 after her senior season at Cheyenne Mountain High School.

“Both are very strong, very seasoned players; we were very fortunate they sought us out,” said Wood."œColorado has a very strong recruiting base; tremendous athletes and volleyball players. We're very fortunate that if some of them want to come home that they look here.”

In Wood's quick-set offense, the play of the middle blockers is crucial. She thinks she's hit the jackpot with Boogaard and freshman Karina Miastkowska. Boogaard is an exceptional blocker, having led the Division I Gaels in blocks with 1.04 per set despite seeing limited playing time. She has an advanced ability to read hitters.

Miastkaowska is more offensively oriented, having recorded over 200 kills while hitting .370 as a senior at New Trier High School in the Chicago area. She led the Trevians to four straight conference championships and state playoff appearances.

While Orth will anchor the outside, she'll have plenty of help. Brodie was the Colorado Springs 4A Metro League MVP as a senior at Cheyenne Mountain High School in 2006 after recording 244 kills and leading the Indians to the state semifinals. She went on to Division I Portland State, where she had 47 kills in limited action for the Vikings this past season. Orth, Brodie and Santucci are all plus blockers, which will help the Mountain Lions maintain their reputation for fearsome net play.

Molly Crockett and Sonja Johnson, both freshmen, are exceptional directional hitters"" an ability that the big-hitting UCCS teams of the past four years occasionally lacked. Crockett, a two-time all-area selection, combines that precision with frightening velocity. Johnson, along with Brodie, has also played setter, giving UCCS solid options when it is taken out of system.

When in system, the veteran Stewart and freshman Alex Nuttall will run the offense. Stewart not only has three years of experience running the quick set, but she came into camp quicker than she had been. Nuttall has been impressive enough that Wood still considers running a 6-2"" rotating two setters as they reach the front row instead of leaving one setter in full-time"" a possibility. Using one setter builds better continuity while the 6-2 brings an extra hitter into play.

Broerman and Kelsey Pobar are in a battle for the libero spot, though both should see plenty of playing time. Broerman, who is coming off shoulder surgery, has in-depth knowledge of UCCS'RMAC opponents to go along with her outstanding defense and ball control. Pobar has been described by Wood as a"œdifference maker” on defense that has an advanced ability to read a hitter's angles. They will be joined by walk-on Courtney Carrell, who has impressed with her speed, strength and ball control.

Brodie, Crockett and Johnson are also strong defenders, meaning they can be big contributors when the rotation takes them to the back row. Add the big blocking, and UCCS should be tough to score upon.

“Our defense is going to be very, very strong and it's much more balanced than it has been in the past,” said Wood.

So while there are lots of new faces, UCCS fans shouldn't expect a dramatic drop-off from what they've seen from previous Wood teams. This season's squad isn't as big or as powerful as previous Mountain Lion teams, but it has the ingredients to take Wood's speedy system to a new level.

“I think we're going to have another very strong season,” said Wood."œWe not only have a strong defensive team, (but) they hit hard and they run a fast, dynamic offense. I think they're going to bring just that little bit of an edge, personality-wise. They're going to be a lot of fun to watch.â€

UCCS Players/Staff Featured

Jessica StewartJessica Stewart8SJr.
Jessica StewartJessica Stewart8SJr.
Jessica StewartJessica Stewart8SJr.
Jessica StewartJessica Stewart8SJr.
Sarah BroermanSarah Broerman10DSSo.
Sarah BroermanSarah Broerman10DSFr.
Sarah BroermanSarah Broerman10DSJr.
Sarah BroermanSarah Broerman10DSSr.
Cassey SantucciCassey Santucci12MB/OHSo.
Cassey SantucciCassey Santucci12MB/OHSo.
Cassey SantucciCassey Santucci12MB/OHSo.
Cassey SantucciCassey Santucci12MB/OHSo.
Andrea BrodieAndrea Brodie2OH
Andrea BrodieAndrea Brodie2OH
Courtney CarrellCourtney Carrell7OH/DS
Courtney CarrellCourtney Carrell7OH/DS
Alex WoodAlex Wood13RSSo
Alex WoodAlex Wood13RSFr
Alex WoodAlex Wood13RSJr
Alex WoodAlex Wood13RSSr
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