Volleyball Preview: No Seniors, No Problem for ECU in 2004
Volleyball Preview: No Seniors, No Problem for ECU in 2004
While most teams expect to rely on experience from seniors to lead them to the top, East Carolina will rely on its junior experience for a successful season in 2004. The Pirates' 2004 roster features no seniors, so five juniors will take over the mission of leading ECU towards the top of Conference USA. The program begins its fourth year of competition in C-USA looking to make its mark in the conference.
"The junior class has grown up in Conference USA. That's all they have ever known," ECU head coach Colleen Munson said. "They understand what the travel is like and what the competition entails. It's time for them to earn the respect they deserve."
Outside hitters Erica Wilson, Pam Ferris, Katie Jannusch and libero Johanna Bertini will be called upon to keep the Pirates' ship afloat along with junior college transfer Paige Howell. Wilson, a co-captain for the 2004 squad, led the team with 287 kills in 2003. Ferris and Jannusch combined for 431 kills, 387 digs, and 71 service aces, while Bertini led the team with 308 digs from her libero position. After redshirting in 2003, Howell will provide help in the middle. While ECU won 10 matches in 2003, 11 of its 21 losses came down to the final two games of a match.
Joining the junior class are two seasoned sophomores in middle blocker Jaime Bevan and setter Heidi Krug. Both return from the 2003 starting rotation. Bevan was named to the C-USA All-Freshman team in 2003 after leading ECU in total blocks (112) and ranking second on the team with 277 kills. Krug is the only true setter on the roster, and she gained valuable experience as a freshman.
ECU has landed what Munson calls her most athletic freshmen class with outside hitters Mignon Dubenion, Kim Jefferson, Kelley Wernert and libero/defensive specialist Trish Monroe. All four could make an immediate impact, but will have to adjust to playing at the college level as well as familiarize themselves with the Pirates' fast-paced system.
Munson's system will stress speed and tempo, but ultimately will center around East Carolina's defense. The Pirates will rely on defensive players Bertini and Caitlin Daly for their ball control and tenacious defense. Bertini and Daly will have more responsibility defensively, as the Pirate defense has been designed to maximize their libero abilities. Ball control and defense will be the strengths of the Pirates this season, which will help achieve their ultimate goal of having defense become their transition offense.
Krug will be in charge of that transition offense, which Munson hopes will resemble the fast-break in basketball.
"You'll have two or three hitters coming at you all the time, so it really keeps the opponents guessing as to who will be set. We're trying to keep our opponents on their heels in response to our offense," Munson said.
Blocking came along very well last spring. ECU adjusted their system to make it easier for middle blockers to better read both the setter and the attack, allowing the Pirate defense to more efficiently operate.
"Heidi is a great court leader and floor general. She understands our system, knows our hitters' strengths and weaknesses, which allows her to put them in the best situations," Munson said.
"We worked with Heidi this spring on consistency and understanding the college game. She has to understand our team as well as the opponent and then create her offense from there."
Krug gained valuable experience as a freshman in 2003 recording 355 assists in 98 games. Her 35 service aces ranked second on the team.
Bevan will get help this season from junior college transfer Paige Howell. In just 18 months with the program, Howell has developed into a physical presence at the net.
Freshman Mignon Dubenion could see time in the middle as well. A two-time Junior Olympic team member, Dubenion comes from the highly-regarded Front Range Volleyball Club of Colorado.
The southpaw Ferris brings power and authority to the Pirates' attack, while Jannusch's aggressive play helped earn her ECU's first-ever C-USA Player of the Week honor last season. Wilson, who has seen time outside and on the right side, led the group with 287 kills in 2003.
"Our outside hitters made great strides last spring in becoming students of the game. They are thinking strategically when attacking, giving us the opportunity to score points," Munson said.
Sophomore Abigail Parker, freshmen Kelley Wernert, Mignon Dubenion, and Kim Jefferson make the group even more diverse. Parker gained valuable experience during the spring season. Dubenion and Wernert bring championship club experience and could contribute immediately. Jefferson brings front-row versatility and athleticism, recording 297 kills as a senior in high school.
LIBERO / DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS
"It gives us confidence that if we don't block a ball, we're going to dig it. Our practices are going to be more competitive because we'll have three excellent defensive players which will make everyone's game better," Munson said.
ECU next travels to the College of Charleston Tournament to take on Atlantic Coast Conference member Duke, 2003 Atlantic Sun runner-up Georgia State and Southern Conference runner-up College of Charleston. Non-conference matches with NC State, Campbell, William & Mary and North Carolina A&T are also on the schedule slate before the Pirates open Conference USA play at UAB and USF.
ECU hosts six C-USA home matches against Houston, TCU, Tulane, Southern Miss, DePaul and Marquette, but hit the road for conference showdowns with Memphis, Saint Louis, Charlotte and C-USA favorites Louisville and Cincinnati.
Marquette, Memphis, TCU, USF, DePaul, Southern Miss and Saint Louis are in the middle of the pack with UAB, Charlotte and East Carolina rounding out the bottom of the preseason poll. If the Pirates play their game, they should land one of the 12 spots in the 2004 Conference USA Tournament in Louisville, Ky.
"There's no reason we can't go in and win every match if we play the game that we know how to play. The way it's been in the past is that the home team has a huge advantage because of travel," Munson said.
"Now that we have veterans in the league, our girls understand that they need to take care of business. You go and play hard, night-in and night-out, whether we're at home or on the road. It's imperative we show up every night. We know that we're a good team, now we have to go out and prove it."