JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (Aug. 23, 2007) - Coming off a record setting 2006 campaign that saw the Lady Bucs set a new school record winning 16 consecutive matches en route to capturing the program's first regular season conference title in 15 years, ETSU looks to take the next step in 2007 and advance to the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history. The road to the NCAA's will certainly be filled with obstacles however, as the Lady Bucs must navigate an expanded Atlantic Sun Conference while replacing four starters lost to graduation after 2006; including All-Atlantic Sun honorees Nani Emerson and Jennifer Sartor. The Volley Bucs begin their journey Friday afternoon at the Georgia State Invitational against the host Panthers. Match time is set for 12:30 p.m.
Helping the reloading efforts are a quartet of seniors, including 2006 All-Atlantic Sun selections Kaena Apana and Callie Kiselich, as well as a highly touted recruiting class providing the Lady Bucs with one of the deepest benches in the Atlantic Sun.
"We are more athletic, and more ‘volleyball talented' from top-to-bottom in 2007," said fifth-year head coach Lindsey Devine. "We lost four key players, but looking at our returning talent and include our newcomers, I still fully expect us to be at the top of the conference."
All four rising seniors have seen considerable court time in their ETSU careers with each of the four seeing action in nearly every frame of action in 2006. Preseason all-conference selections Apana and Kiselich headline the senior class after both made appearances on the second-team postseason awards list in 2006. Apana set a new conference records for digs in a three-game match with 31 against Lipscomb last season en route to earning one of the Lady Bucs' four Player of the Week selections, and finished the year ranked second in the conference and 26th in the nation in digs per game.
"Ena's skills, energy and desire make her a competitor that every one of our players will look to as an impact player in each and every one of our matches this season," said Devine.
Fellow senior Callie Kiselich is rounding out a spectacular four-year career; much of which has been spent sharing the spotlight in the middle with graduated Jennifer Sartor. Kiselich ranked fourth in the conference in 2006 in hitting percentage and fifth in total kills and kills per game.
"It's Callie's show in the middle now," said Devine. "This is her time to step up and leave a huge footprint on our program. I know she is sincere in her hunger to make it to the NCAA's in her final season."
Michelle Mislan joins Kiselich as the Lady Bucs' only four-year performers on the 2007 squad. Mislan cracked the starting lineup as a junior and played a vital role in ETSU's march to the conference crown, shoring up blocking efforts on the right side and finishing second on the team in block assists and total blocks.
"Michelle has the ability to be an unstoppable blocker for us on the right side," said Devine. "She has persevered through four seasons of seeing a wide range of court time, and really wants to be a part of an NCAA team."
Rounding out the senior class is Marissa Mortensen. Mortensen will begin the season competing to fill the gaping shoes left by departed setter Nani Emerson, but the Lady Bucs success will depend largely on Mortensen's court efforts regardless of her final role with the 2007 squad. In 2006 Mortensen was called on to contribute in every imaginable way, and acquitted herself well at every position on the court; playing a vital "glue" role throughout the campaign.
"Marissa will fight for the setting position in the preseason," said Devine. "She was a crucial player for us all over the court last season, but I don't think we saw her full potential until the very end of the season. She really raised her level of play in a pressure environment at the conference tournament last season."
The lone rising sophomore, Kristan Provchy will be called upon to raise her level of play and production after seeing time sparingly in 2006.
"Kristan learned a lot last season playing behind two experience middles in Jen (Sartor) and Callie (Kiselich)," said Devine. "She has great focus and drive, and this season I'm looking at her to step up and really contribute to the middle of our line."
A slew of newcomers complete the 2007 Lady Buc roster, as seven true freshmen and two transfers will add new levels of depth to this season's squad.
"This is a great opportunity for these new players to come into a program with open spots and make an immediate impact," said Devine. "Having so many quality competitors is a nice problem for us to have, and it ensures that we will have our best players on the court at crunch time."
Lauren Baufield comes to ETSU following a stellar prep career in
"Lauren is a hungry player who hits a very heavy ball," said Devine. "She has an amazing court sense, is a fired up competitor. She expects to win every time she steps on the court."
Whitney Cogburn joins the Lady Bucs from local
"Whitney will contribute immediately at setter and on the right side, said Devine. "She is deceptive in the front court, and we will look to her to be an impact player; not just this season, but especially as she develops throughout her career."
"Des has the two skills I covet in outsides," said Devine. "She has the ability to pass the ball and terminate rallies. She is incredibly athletic and highly intelligent as well, making her another of our key additions this season."
Defensive specialist Dani Howe joined Dyck as a late-period signee in the summer, and will spend 2007 primarily as Apana's understudy. The
"Dani has tremendous heart and a genuine desire to improve every time she touches the ball," said Devine. "She will provide solid ball control which is the key to running our offense effectively.
The trio of Britney Loomis, Courtnie McKinney and Erin Ryan will compete for time in the middle and on the outside in their first year with the program. Loomis and Ryan join the Lady Bucs following outstanding high school careers, but
"Britney is a very versatile player," said Devine. "She is athletic and makes good contact with the ball. She is very committed to being the absolute best she can be.
"Courtnie is a competitor with high expectations of herself. She probably has the most to learn of any of our newcomers; simply because she has been away from volleyball for over two years, but when she puts it all together, she will bring the most to the table with her presence, athleticism and personality.
Also competing for a spot in that outside rotation is freshman Laura Waddell, a three-time all-district selection out of
"Laura is much stronger and more athletic than her frame indicates," said Devine. "She can quickly terminate rallies and has the potential to be one of our go-to players."
Transferring in from A-Sun rival
"Amanda has all the skills," said Devine. "She is full of desire and I have every confidence that she will fight for that setting position and be prepared to quarterback us to another conference championship if she wins it."
The Lady Bucs will traverse a considerably more challenging schedule than the one that yielded 16 consecutive victories a season ago. Amid their four preseason tournaments, ETSU encounters three power conference opponents, including a match-up2006 Big East champion
"I'm hoping our freshman will be able to work through some of those ‘freshman issues' through the tournament schedule so that by the time we hit the Indiana tournament, we'll be playing at the level necessary to compete in the Atlantic Sun," said Devine.
ETSU will have to unseat defending tournament champion and preseason conference favorite
"We expect to win this season," said Devine. "We have to prepare ourselves so that every time we step on the court for a conference match we realize that we are one step closer to our goal of a conference championship. Our returning seniors have championship experience and know what its like to fall short in the conference tournament, and our newcomers add skill levels and depth that we did not have previously. Hopefully that is the winning formula for us to achieve our goals.