Aug. 22, 2006
WEST POINT, N.Y. - Eighth-year head coach Glen Conley's focus for his 2006 Army squad is a "team first" attitude. He wants his players to bond into one of the best possible teams they can be. He believes that a focus on team concepts will enable the Black Knights to continue the success on which they built last season and achieve all of their goals in 2006.
"We want to be the best team that we can possibility become," Conley said. "We want to learn to put ourselves behind the team. Putting the team first is the major goal. Along the way, we want to play some good volleyball, but we want to make sure we put the best volleyball team we possibly can on the court and compete everyday."
The 2006 Black Knights must find steady production from their returning players as they attempt to fill two voids in the starting lineup due to graduation. A return to the Patriot League Campionship game for a third straight year depends on this group's cohesion.
The Black Knights (21-7 overall last fall, 10-4 PL) return a strong nucleus which made significant contributions last fall. Conley feels the void created behind the line with Abby Casciato and Mandy Kimbrell's departures will rest with an emphasis on a team effort.
"Throughout the spring, the team worked on serving and I think we have improved in that area," Conley said. "While we may have lost our best server from last year, as a team we might be a stronger serving team. Whereas last year, we would get to Abby and she would reel off points, I think now we have the capability of reeling off points at just about every position. We are excited about that."
Army features some new talent that will provide plenty of competition for starting positions.
"I think we are going to be pretty good," Conley said. "We are going to have some tough decisions to make because I think it is going to be a good battle for playing time. I think we are going to put a solid team on the court, and our focus will be to put the best ball-handlers on the court."
Outside Hitters/Right-Side Hitters
Conley looks to mix up the lineup a bit but one thing is certain, youth will reign at these positions. With senior Eileen Cassidy most likely moving to the libero position, it opens up a spot on the left side. By moving junior Lauren Teal, the Black Knights' most prominent right-side hitter a season ago, to the setter position, it opens the door on the right side.
Sophomore Elizabeth Lazzari, 2005 Patriot League "Rookie of the Year," will continue to anchor the left side again in 2006, while sophomores Briana Stremick and Jamie Clark will have an opportunity on the right side. Freshman Rachel Dunn should challenge for playing time with the open spot on the left side.
Lazzari ranked second on the team in kills (2.86) and third in digs (3.23) last season. Stremick was a second team All-Patriot League honoree in 2005 after she came on strong during the latter half last fall to lead the team in kills (3.08) and finish eighth in the league in kills per game.
Clark provided a stabilizing force at the net last season with 0.75 blocks per game, which ranked second on the team, while chipping in 2.38 kills per outing. Clark was the Black Knights most accurate hitter in 2005 posting a .325 hitting percentage, third in the league and the third-best season percentage in Army history.
Senior Anne Fields should see time at the right side throughout the season, and junior Hannah Farrell brings a special ingredient to the mix and provides another option for the Black Knights. Conley expects freshman Amelia Storey to garner some important playing time as well.
Fields smacked 57 kills in 44 matches in 2005 in addition to 16 blocks and 19 digs. Farrell, who saw limited time at the right side last season, is one of Army's top serving threats. She registered 26 aces a season ago, and was sixth in the conference with 0.46 aces per game.
The middle will be a strength for Army in 2006 with the return of senior Danielle Cooper and sophomore Rachael Breinling, who should be mainstays. Cooper has notched the most playing experience at this position and will provide guidance to the younger players. Clark will also see time at the middle blocker spot. Conley sees her versatility as a tremendous bonus for the team.
Cooper led Army last season in blocks with 71 and her defensive prowess will be looked upon to stop opponents' offensive attacks. She added 192 kills in her 90 appearances. Breinling possesses a talent for timing to make precision blocks in the middle, which she demonstrated last season with 51 send-backs in 74 games.
Clark split time between outside hitter and the middle as a rookie, and Conley sees her continuing in the dual role in 2006.
The Black Knights have big shoes to fill with the graduation of Casciato. Into those shoes steps Teal. Army adds the talents of freshmen Maureen Bannon and Malissa Gallini, who come to the banks of the Hudson after stellar prep careers. Conley has three strong players at this position and likes his options of running either a 5-1 or 6-2 system.
Teal was the backup setter behind Casciato her first two years, and following a stellar spring, has earned the starting spot this fall. As a left-handed setter, Teal brings a lot to the table and has tremendous blocking capabilities. Last season, Teal posted 44 assists, while tallying 120 kills, 76 digs, 37 blocks and 23 aces.
Army will also have to fill the vacancy at libero after Kimbrell graduated. Cassidy is the most likely candidate to step into this role. The Black Knights will also be aided by sophomore Michelle Fratto and freshman Shara Hoffman.
Cassidy has shown a knack for defense in her previous three seasons, averaging nearly 3.0 digs per game. Cassidy has already broken into the Top 10 on the Academy's career digs ledger with 865 digs.
In a limited role last season, Fratto made 18 digs, while chipping in four assists and two service aces. Hoffman is a solid player and Conley expects her to contribute in the libero or defensive specialist role.
Four tournaments, including a trip to Indianapolis, Ind., and 14 home matches highlight the Army schedule. The Black Knights are slated to play 28 matches before the Patriot League Tournament.
Army opens the regular season on Friday, Aug. 25, when it hosts St. Peter's in Gillis Field House for the Army Invitational. Next up, the team has back-to-back weekend road trips as it travels to Indianapolis, Ind., to compete in the Butler Invitational which is slated for Sept. 1-2. The squad hits the road the following weekend as it travels to Worcester, Mass., to compete in the Crusader Classic on Sept. 8-9. The Black Knights will face Holy Cross in the first match of the weekend to open league action.
The Black Knights host their final tournament of the season, the Army of One Classic, Sept. 15-16 in a final tune-up before the conference slate gets into full gear on Sept. 22 against Colgate.
"I think we have a chance to be right there at the end and be one of the stronger teams in the Patriot League," Conley said. "But, we are going to try to do the best we can and come together as a team. We did that last year really well and again that is going to be a big focus this year. I think if we do that, we will be happy with the results."