Aug. 21, 2002
WACO, Texas -
Coming off its second NCAA Tournament appearance in three years, Baylor's volleyball team looks to build on its recent success in 2002. The necessary components are in place: a solid group of experienced veterans and a deep class of talented freshmen. How far the Bears trek in 2002 will be determined by how well - and perhaps how quickly - those two components mix.
"Talent wise, our cupboards are beginning to fill," seventh-year head coach Brian Hosfeld said. "The challenge will be getting that talent to mix, and quickly."
Although the Bears lost three starters and five seniors from a year ago, even a pessimist would be hard-pressed to overlook the enormous size of the freshman class - both literally and figuratively.
Five freshmen will don the Green and Gold for the first time in 2002. Other than five-foot, two-inch Marissa Kersten (Green Oaks, Ill./Carmel), no incoming player is shorter than 5-11. Desiree Guilliard-Young (Berkeley, Calif./Berkeley) stands 6-5, Emily Huston (Santa Rosa, Calif./Montgomery) and Kelly Spriggs (Houston, Texas/Westbury Christian) are 6-1, and Stella Odion (Katy, Texas/Langham Creek) measures 6-0.
"Across the board, this is the most physical class we've ever had," Hosfeld said. "And we've had some really good classes in the past. Plus, they've been working hard individually to be ready. Just hearing about how they've prepared for their first season is impressive and exciting. That creates an excitement for the entire team."
With the Big 12 Conference schedule starting in the third week of the season, time is always of issue. However, the Bears face one of their toughest non-conference schedules ever this season. Baylor's 11 non-conference opponents won nearly 63 percent (203-120) of their games in 2001, and all but one team returns at least three starters. The Bears' toughest non-conference test of the year will come in the third match of the season - an Aug. 31 date at 2001 national runner-up Long Beach State.
"Some of our freshmen are going to be tested right away," Hosfeld said. "We built this non-conference schedule with that in mind. It is important for the young players to be battle-tested by the time we get to the Big 12 portion of our schedule."
Baylor graduated five seniors last season, three of which started on a regular basis. Without a senior class this season, the 2002 Bears will rely on a group of five juniors to carry the leadership load. Sophomores last season, those five players suddenly become pseudo-seniors.
"Essentially," Hosfeld said, "the entire team must mature quickly."
Along the way to maturity, the 2002 Bears have the luxury of being perhaps the most versatile squad in the program's history. Five players have the capability of playing more than one position, and three of those will see extensive playing time at both positions.
"Versatility is a necessity," Hosfeld said. "Ultimately, you would love to have one or two people at each position that will play all the time. But because we have several people that can play at various positions, we are very deep where we would otherwise appear to be thin.
"What we as a coaching staff have to make the players realize is the importance of options. We need to be able to plug a player in here or there as the situation presents itself. And from a training standpoint, that versatility just adds to the level of competition at each position."
Arguably the most exciting player in the nation, junior Stevie Nicholas (Fullerton, Calif./Sunny Hills) spearheads a deep and talented list of outside hitters. The two-time first-team all-Big 12 selection led the conference in kills per game for a second straight season last year. Nicholas ranked sixth nationally in that department, averaging 5.33 per game.
"We're looking for consistency from Stevie, and I think she's looking for the same thing from herself," Hosfeld said. "She is a great attacker, and because of that opposing teams will focus on her. Still, I think you'll see her put up outstanding numbers."
Nicholas earned first-team AVCA all-Central Region honors last season after being named region freshman of the year in 2000. She joined Sara Meyermann of Iowa, Mira Topic of Texas, Kim Willoughby of Hawai'i and Jennifer Wittenburg of Houston as the only Division I players to post at least three matches with 30 or more kills last season; Nicholas had 32 against Texas (Oct. 27), 32 against Missouri (Nov. 24) and a school-record tying 36 at Kansas (Oct. 20).
Not to be overlooked is Nicholas' strength at the service line, where she was second in the Big 12 last season with 0.53 service aces per game. That average ranks first in school history, while her total of 59 ranks second all-time at Baylor.
Junior Lisa Smith (Houston, Texas/Blinn College) returns after missing the entire 2001 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee. Hosfeld expects Smith to be at full strength by mid-August and to give the Baylor attack an added dimension.
"Lisa is a very gifted athlete, and learned a lot about the game while sitting out last season," Hosfeld said. "It's going to be fun to watch her apply what she learned and have success. In doing so, I think Lisa will surprise a lot of teams. She and Stevie will provide a good one-two punch for us on the left side."
Smith was a second-team junior college all-American in 2000 at Blinn (Texas) College. Despite having never played a game at Baylor, Smith is veteran Bear after transfering to BU in January 2001.
Also returning on the outside is junior Laura Daniela Lloreda (Veracruz, Mexico/Universidad de las Americas), who averaged 2.34 kills per game last season.
"Daniela is our most experienced player with her international experience," Hosfeld said. "She found some comfort in the spring on the right side. Her ability to control the ball on the right side will be very big for us.
"She has a good understanding of what she needs to do in order to be prepared for success this season."
Lloreda collected 390 digs last season, 10th in school history, for an average of 3.48 per game, second all-time at Baylor. She finished seventh in the Big 12 in digs per game, sixth in conference matches at 3.76.
Like Nicholas, Lloreda was deadly at the service line last season, finishing tied for third in the Big 12 standings with 0.46 aces per game. She had 51 aces on the year, third in school history, and posted a Baylor and Big 12 record with nine aces against Southwest Texas.
Baylor welcomes a pair of high-powered freshman to the outside hitter position in Odion and Spriggs. Odion, who earned letters in volleyball, basketball and track during her time at Langham Creek, was a first-team all-District 16-5A selection as a senior. Spriggs was a three-time TAPPS all-District 7-3A selection, earning first-team honors in each of the past two seasons.
Lloreda, Odion and Guilliard-Young will all contribute on the right side.
Junior Tisha Schwartz (Amarillo, Texas/Amarillo) returns to anchor the Baylor middle blocker contingent. Schwartz finished ninth in the Big 12 with a .302 attacking percentage last season and 12th in the conference with 0.99 blocks per game. She was fifth in the league in attacking percentage among players with at least 600 attempts, and she was 11th in attacking percentage in conference matches.
"As with everyone else, we're expecting more," Hosfeld said. "She's put herself in a position physically to be more accessible to our setters. That comes with maturity, too; she has learned how to be more available in transition that will lead directly to points for the team."
Joining Schwartz in the middle will be Guilliard-Young, who at 6-5 is the tallest player in the program's history. Guilliard-Young led Berkeley High to consecutive Alameda/Contra Costa Athletic League titles and has earned first-team all-ACCAL honors in each of the past three seasons. She guided Berkeley to a 26-0 record in league matches during her final two seasons.
Guilliard-Young established Berkeley records with 665 career kills, 214 career solo blocks, 71 solo blocks as a senior, 416 career total blocks and 130 total blocks last year. Guilliard-Young was selected athlete of the week by the Oakland Tribune and the West County Times twice each during her final two years at Berkeley.
At 6-1, Spriggs is expected to see time at middle blocker, as well.
The biggest shoes to fill for Baylor in 2002 is at setter, where the Bears must replace 2001 honorable mention all-Big 12 selection and two-time NCAA assists-per-game champion Dana Chuha. At the same time, though, setter may be the position at which the Bears have the best mix of talent and depth.
Vying for the setter job are sophomore Jillian Mazzarella (Bonita, Calif./Bonita Vista) and Huston.
Mazzarella, who attended the prestigious Sports Performance Collegiate Setting Camp in Chicago, Ill., in mid-July, appeared in 24 of Baylor's 30 matches last season, logging 72 games of service.
However, nearly all of that came at defensive specialist. She averaged 1.54 digs per game, totalling 111 digs on the season.
As a senior in high school, Mazzarella led Bonita Vista to an undefeated season, a California state title and the No. 1 ranking nationally.
"Jillian made tremendous strides during the spring in being able to run the offense for this team," Hosfeld said. "She is a proven winner. You don't win California championships and have an undefeated season if you don't know how to win.
"She may be the most competitive person on our team. Jillian has that laid-back Southern California attitude, but she'll fool you. She will stop at nothing to do what it takes to make this team successful."
While Mazzarella has a year of Baylor volleyball experience under her belt, she is likely to get a strong push for playing time at the setter position from Huston. A two-time all-North Bay League selection at Montgomery High, Huston was named all-tournament at last fall's prestigious Redwood Tournament and led Montgomery to the North Bay League title.
"Emily brings a lot of things to the table," Hosfeld said. "First of all, she's a physical presense at the net, which is something we've not had at the setter position. She's also a very fundamentally sound setter."
Possibilities abound at the setter position, according to Hosfeld, who said running a 6-2 offense is not out of the question.
"A lot will be determined in preseason," Hosfeld said. "Jillian comes into the season with the upper hand just having been here, but with two setters, anything is possible."
Should her services be needed, Lloreda also has experience as a setter.
Baylor is blessed with a wealth of experienced talent along the back row, led by junior Sarah Braga (West Hills, Calif./Notre Dame) and sophomore Kara Kennedy (New Braunfels, Texas/Canyon).
Braga, who was hampered with injuries the majority of her freshman season, appeared in 20 matches as a sophomore last season. In 49 games, she tallied 72 digs for a 1.47 per game average. Braga was also one of a school-record seven Bears to reach double figures in service aces with 10.
Kennedy saw limited action as a freshman last season, appearing in just four matches. Still, Hosfeld calls Kennedy one of the hardest workers on the team and expects her to fight for court time in 2002 with the addition of the libero position.
Freshman Marisa Kersten (Green Oaks, Ill./Carmel) gives Baylor a fifth option along the back row. Kersten led Carmel High to a 20-13 record as a senior and collected 131 digs at defensive specialist.