Aug. 15, 2007
There were moments during the 2006 season that the Butler volleyball team seemed to be a mere skeleton of its total self. That assessment would not have been too far from the truth, as injuries plagued the team throughout the year and limited head coach Sharon Clark to as few as seven healthy players at times late in the season.
This fate should be far less of a concern for the 2007 squad, as the Bulldogs will boast one of the deepest and most versatile rosters since Clark assumed the helm seven seasons ago.
"Last year, we had to go through a season where health was always an issue," Clark recalled. "Having depth at every position as we do now will be a huge benefit to us this year, but the biggest key to our success will be for us to stay healthy."
Contributing to the depth of the roster will be a host of young talent, including nine players entering their sophomore or freshman seasons. The pure talent and remarkable athleticism that the group displays has given Clark cause to be excited.
"We have so many young and multi-talented players who can succeed at a lot of different positions," Clark added. "Our team's chemistry and ability to mature on the fly will go a long way in determining how far we are capable of going."
The Bulldogs' offensive corps will be one of the youngest in the Horizon League in 2007, as seven of the eight players will be entering their sophomore or freshman seasons. The depth and overwhelming athletic ability of the group, however, has given Clark plenty of reason to smile. "We are extremely quick and athletic at the net, and we will have a lot of depth," Clark said, "but, because of our youth, we will have to learn on the job."
The team won't have to look too far for veteran leadership, as senior Michelle DeGeeter returns as the Bulldogs' captain. The only senior member on the roster this season, DeGeeter was one of the best all-around players on the team in 2006, ranking second with 2.79 kills per game, 2.75 digs per game and 1.01 blocks per game. She finished tied for the team lead with eight double-doubles as well as one of the team's two triple-doubles.
"Michelle brings so much to our team when she is on the floor," Clark commented. "She is our offensive leader on the court, and she does it both vocally and by example in her play. She has done such a great job at middle in the past and will continue to do so this year."
Horizon League All-Newcomer Team member Porshia Allen will once again be relied upon to bring the thunder from both the outside and the middle. One of Butler's most effective point scorers in 2006, Allen paced the Bulldogs with 2.94 kills per game thanks in part to a team-high 1,041 attacks. The 6-1 sophomore proved to be quite adept at passing during her rookie year as well, logging 2.23 digs per game for the third-most on the squad while adding eight double-doubles.
"Porshia is so experienced at the game that she could play either position without even thinking," Clark said. "She has a natural arm swing and incredible power. She possesses an innate feel for the game and has great court sense."
Sophomore Stephanie Steele brings experience up front following a strong initial campaign in 2006, where she started 26 of 30 matches and averaged nearly a kill per game. A versatile and athletic player, she also added a defensive element to her repertoire with 1.84 digs per contest last year.
"Stephanie gained a lot of experience last season," Clark mentioned. "Her versatility will be very beneficial to us, and the fact that she is in top physical condition will only help her game."
The Bulldogs also may turn to redshirt freshman Stephanie McGurk for some consistent time in the lineup. Despite battling injuries throughout her rookie campaign, McGurk still saw action in 18 games in 2006, allowing her to gain vital experience in the system. She is expected to be fully recovered after rehabbing during the off-season and will be relied upon to give the squad a strong presence on the outside.
"We are thrilled to have Stephanie back after all the injuries," Clark remarked. "She passes extremely well, and she understands the position as well as anyone."
Redshirt freshman Melody Austin also has had a year to learn the Butler playbook after sitting out the 2006 season. The 6-1 middle blocker's combination of pure athleticism and dedication to the game gives Clark and the coaching staff reason to be optimistic.
"Melody is a feisty freshman," Clark explained. "In terms of her lateral speed and quickness, she is one of the most athletic middles that we have ever had here. Factor in how hard she works, and her future looks really bright."
Adding to Butler's athleticism up front will be a trio of newcomers who have exploits in multiple sports on their resumés.
A stand-out on both the volleyball and basketball court in high school, Holly Knight brings state tournament experience to the Bulldogs after helping her volleyball team to a 42-6 record and the state title her senior season. She earned all-state honors in 2006 while receiving all-area nods three-straight seasons.
"Holly is an aggressive player and is vocal on the floor," Clark mentioned. "Because she joined the team early in the year, she already has been exposed to the system and has gained a lot of experience in the middle."
Jalesa Lee's distinction as a high school state qualifier in the high jump gives her the potential to become an imposing middle blocker at the collegiate level. A three-year starter, she earned all-state honorable mention her senior year after leading her team in kills and blocks before an injury ended her season.
"Even when we recruited her, we thought Jalesa could challenge for starting time at middle," Clark said. "She has a swift arm swing and great lateral quickness, which will give her a heads up."
Jessica Wolfe adds a combination of both Knight's and Lee's athletic repertoire, excelling in both basketball and the high jump while assembling a successful four-year volleyball career. The conference player of the year as a senior, she helped her team to three conference championships, a pair of county championships and a sectional title.
"Jessica will challenge for the starting position right away," Clark said. "She is very fluid at the position, has a great knack for blocking and will definitely make us stronger as a team at that position."
The Bulldogs will turn to the steady hands of junior setter Dana Daprile to serve as the team's quarterback in 2007.
Despite being hampered by injuries in 2006, Daprile still put together an impressive sophomore campaign, dishing 8.25 assists per game with a .405 percentage. She provided superb defense as well, averaging 2.04 digs per game, posting six double-doubles and compiling one of the two Butler triple-doubles on the year.
"Dana has improved her game this spring more than anyone," Clark said. "Her learning curve has gone way up, and she is at such a different level now as a setter. She has also improved on her mental game, and it shows in her play."
Adding to the depth at setter will be transfer Brittany Awai. She adds experience and a level-headed mentality to the setter position after spending her rookie season at Santa Clara. A two-time high school all-state honoree from Hawaii, Awai helped her team to undefeated seasons and trips to the state tournament as both a junior and senior.
"Brittany has an unbelievable work ethic and a warm personality which really lends itself to the position," Clark explained. "She is very even keeled, controlled and does not get overly emotional on the floor, which is key to succeeding at setter."
Strong defense has always been a trademark of past Butler teams, and this season's installment will be no different. Led by one of the Horizon League's leaders in digs in Nina Inic, the Bulldogs' back row will again be one of the best in the conference.
Inic returns for her junior campaign after putting together an incredible sophomore season in which she etched herself into the Butler record books with some of the most dominating defensive performances in the league in 2006. The Academic All-District Second Team honoree posted matches with 32, 35 and 40 digs for three of the top-10 single-match performances in school history while leading the conference with 4.09 digs per game in league play.
"Nina has a very high volleyball IQ," Clark said. "She has unbelievable court vision and an uncanny ability for finding the ball. She is also a very good leader on the court and is probably the most respected player on the team."
Junior Chloe' Blasingame provides confident support on the defensive end after averaging 1.70 digs per game last year. Her .927 reception percentage from a year ago is tops among returning players, while her flawless 1.000 service percentage led the squad.
"Chloe' has come into her own this off-season with regard to her game," Clark commented. "We are looking for big things from her this year. She is an excellent communicator and is very vocal and aggressive on the floor."
The defensive corps will also benefit from the addition of highly-touted freshman Katie Daprile. The younger sister of setter Dana, Katie earned all-state honors following her senior season after helping her team to a 27-3 record and its fourth-straight sectional championship.
"Katie is unbelievably exciting to watch," Clark said. "She is highly skilled and probably the most competitive freshman I have ever recruited. She is a true bulldog."
Three regular season tournaments, a dozen home matches and always-challenging competition highlight the 2007 schedule. The campaign will feature a season-opening trip to Florida, a quartet of first-time opponents and a six-match home stand to end the year.
The Bulldogs' non-conference schedule will be especially crucial to the team's success, pitting them against a multitude of playing styles which will prepare them for yet another demanding Horizon League slate.
"Our non-conference schedule will give us a good mix of teams with different styles," Clark stated. "It will also give us a chance to test out our players at different spots and see where they fit best.
"Our diversity of play in the non-conference schedule will benefit us when we head into league play, because I think that the Horizon League has become far more varied in terms of style of play in the last few years."