Aug. 10, 2012
The University of Nevada volleyball team will welcome the challenges of competing in the Mountain West in 2012 with open arms, buoyed by the confidence of second-year head coach Ruth Lawanson.
"If we use our volleyball I.Q., outwork our opponents and stay in points until the very end, we will compete well in what is a much tougher conference from top to bottom," she said.
The Wolf Pack is coming off a 5-21 (2-12) record in its last season in the Western Athletic Conference in 2011.
Lawanson knows the Mountain West well. She was an assistant at Air Force from 2008-10. She has stressed the rise in level of competition to her players in the first week of on-campus training for the Fall season, using examples like Boise State, the sixth place team in the Mountain West in 2011. The Broncos finished with a 16-15 overall record. San Jose State, the sixth place team in the WAC in 2011, was 12-17, five games worse than Boise State.
The Wolf Pack will open the season at the Fairfield Inn North Baylor Classic in Waco, Texas, from August 24-25. The Event, hosted by Baylor, will feature the host Bears along with Tulane and Texas A&M Corpus Christi. The Wolf Pack Invitational will mark the beginning of the 2012 home schedule for the Pack, as Cal State Fullerton, Washington State and Cal State Bakersfield descend on Reno from September 6-8. Nevada will open against Cal State Fullerton at 7 p.m. on September 6, inside the Virginia Street Gym.
Nevada's toughest non-conference test will also come at home, when Texas Tech arrives in Reno on September 19 to take on Nevada. Three days later, Nevada's first Mountain West contest will also come at home against San Diego State. Each team in the conference will play its eight opponents home and away, and Nevada will make the return trip to SDSU on November 20. Colorado State will also be a tough opponent for the Pack, as it takes on the Rams on September 27 in Fort Collins and October 27 in Reno.
"The teams that occupied the top of the conference standings last season, as well as the overall depth of the league, will make this season an exceptional opportunity for us," Lawanson said. "We are going to have to defend our home court to have a successful season."
A middle driven team in 2011, Lawanson will look to two all-conference players, with the help of a deep well of outside hitters, to lead the Nevada in 2012.
Janelle Batista and Tessa Lea'ea will return after stellar seasons in 2011. Batista, a senior middle blocker/right-side hitter from Corvallis, Ore., earned second-team all-WAC honors a season ago as a middle blocker. She led the Pack with 227 kills. Lea'ea, a Stockton, Calif. native, was named to the all-freshman team in her first season, also as a middle blocker. She was second on the team with 223 kills. Returners Elissa Ji, Grace Anxo and Bonnie Paul will attack from outside positions. The trio had 369 kills combined in 2011, led by Ji's 169. Anxo finished with 145 and Paul had 55.
Freshmen Sam Willoughby, a middle hitter, and Sommer King, an outside hitter, are also expected to compete for playing time. Willoughby earned four varsity letters for Karolyn Kirby at Steele Canyon High School in Spring Valley, Calif. She graduated as the school's all-time leader in kills (896), (47.1), hitting percentage (35.9) and blocks (271). As a member of the Coast Volleyball Club, she finished 17th in the open division junior nationals in 2011. King lettered twice in volleyball at Green Valley HS in Henderson, Nev. A part of a state championship team in 2011 and three regional championship teams from 2009-11, she left as a member of the most decorated group of players at Spring Valley.
"We will need to be a true team this season," Lawanson said. "One of the areas in which that will be most apparent is our offensive production. We are going to need to get offense from all of our front-line players."
Nevada's most experienced defensive specialist/libero will be senior Kelly Chang. She led the Pack with 312 digs, 125 more than the second-best defender last season, graduated senior Tatiana Santiago. Chang played in all 26 matches during her junior campaign.
Two freshmen will bolster Nevada's defensive corps this season. Kara Kasser, a native of Brea, Calif. (Brea Olinda HS) will join the Pack as a defensive specialist/libero. Megan Mize, a local product, is a native of Zephyr Cove, Calif. (George Whittell HS) and will be a defensive specialist at Nevada. Kasser was a two-time all-Century-League selection and a three-year letterwinner at Brea Olinda. She was a team captain in her junior and senior seasons. Playing her club volleyball for the Impact and Goldenwest Volleyball Clubs, she was a four-time participant in the U.S. Junior Olympics. Mize was an all-around athlete at Whittell, lettering once in track and field, twice in basketball and four times in volleyball. She has competed at the club level for the past five seasons, captaining her Silver State Volleyball Club team last season.
"There will be competition at every position this season, including our defensive spots," Lawanson said. "That is one of the ways this team will benefit from its composition."
One of Nevada's considerable losses was at the setter spot with the graduation of Santiago. She piled up 880 assists in 2011, by far the most on the team. The competition to replace Santiago will come from two players, junior Dana Holt and freshman Taylar Rothfuss.
Holt had two assists in limited action last season. Rothfuss played her club volleyball with the Yavapai Juniors for the last eight seasons. She was a part of a Fiesta Classic Championship team in 2010. She was also a second-team all-state performer as a senior.