Aug. 27, 2003
CENTER VALLEY, Pa. -- It is no surprise that with a 32-0 record against Patriot League opponents over the last two years, American University was selected to finish first during the regular-season in a pre-season vote of the League's coaches and sports information directors. Last year's runner-up Lehigh and PL tourney participant Army are expected to contend with AU for the League title.
The two-time defending champion Eagles gained 13 first-place votes to finish with 97 points. Lehigh, which was the top choice on one voter's ballot, had 75 points to edge Army. The Black Knights earned the first-place nod on two ballots en route to 72 points. The pre-season prognosticators picked Bucknell (66 pts.) to nab the final playoff spot. The Bison are followed by Navy (55 pts.), Colgate (36 pts.), Holy Cross (31 pts.) and Lafayette (16 pts.).
American (26-8, 14-0 PL) has a solid core of players to work with, including two-time Patriot League Player of the Year Karla Kucerkova (Olomouc, Czech Republic). Kucerkova, who was also the Verizon Volleyball Academic All-American of the Year, led the League in kills (4.84) and was in the Top 10 in hitting percentage (.307) and service aces (0.41). Entering her final season at AU, the senior outside hitter is seventh on the League's all-time hitting percentage list with a .312 mark in two seasons.
Kucerkova is flanked by All-Leaguers Courtney Mulford (San Diego, Calif.), Catherine Fluegeman (Muncie, Ind.) and Cutrina Biddulph (Reseda, Calif.). Mulford dished out a League-best 11.19 assists per game en route to second-team all-star accolades. The junior setter also led the PL in service aces per game with a 0.59 mark.
Fluegeman, who was also a second-team selection, was third in the League in hitting percentage (.313). The junior middle blocker was even tougher against League foes with a .448 attack mark. Biddulph was tabbed the 2002 Rookie of the Year after posting the best hitting percentage in the PL (.329). The sophomore middle blocker also contributed 0.94 blocks per game to finish sixth in the League.
Lehigh (21-13, 10-4 PL), which is the only team to participate in all 13 PL tourneys, will rely on first-team All-League performer Jeannette Singleton (Claremont, Calif.). The senior outside hitter was among the League leaders in hitting percentage (.240), kills (3.90) and digs (2.92).
Other notable returnees for the Mountain Hawks include senior middle blocker Katie Dukatz (San Antonio, Texas), senior defensive specialist Jill Kober (Germantown, Md.) and sophomore outside hitter Morgan Volkart (Las Vegas, Nev.). Dukatz was a solid all-around player for LU last season with a .245 hitting percentage and 1.00 blocks per game, while Kober finished second in the League in digs with a 3.86 average. Volkart, who was the PL Rookie of the Week three times, led the PL with 1.09 blocks per game last season.
Army (15-16, 8-6 PL) has earned a post-season berth in each of head coach Glen Conley's four seasons at West Point. The Black Knights have a couple of main offensive players back in the fold in Caitlin Machon (Warwick, R.I.) and Abby Casciato (Lake Worth, Fla.).
Machon was a second-team all-star last season after notching 3.50 kills per game. The junior middle hitter was also among the team leaders in hitting percentage (.254), digs (2.71), blocks (0.65) and service aces (0.33). Casciato was fifth in the League in assists with an 8.66 per game mark. The sophomore setter gained Rookie of the Week recognition each of the last four weeks of the regular-season.
Senior defensive specialists Erin Kennedy (Manhattan, Kan.) and Becky Brown (Syracuse, N.Y.) should have expanded roles on defense with the graduation of three key defenders. Kennedy dropped in 49 service aces last season, while Brown was third on the team in digs (2.43).
Bucknell ended the 2002 campaign with a 15-13 overall record and a 9-5 mark in League play to grab a post-season slot. The Bison will be led by twin sisters Brandi and Breean Trapasso (North Tonawanda, N.Y.). Brandi Trapasso led the League and was 21st among NCAA leaders in digs per game with a 4.49 mark. The senior outside hitter needs 297 digs to break Bucknell's all-time record. Breean Trapasso was one of the best setters in the League with a 10.71 assist per game mark. She also contributed 35 service aces a year ago.
With the graduation of All-Leaguer Melanie Ghiz and classmate Jennifer Wrigley, junior middle hitter Jessica Bissett (Orchard Park, N.Y.) and sophomore outside hitter/defensive specialist Chelsea Anderson (Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.) will have expanded roles for the Bison. Bissett was third on the team in blocks (0.49) and had a .146 hitting percentage last season, while Anderson was second on the team in digs (3.57) as a rookie.
Navy (17-14, 8-6 PL) hopes to be in the playoff hunt with the return of junior rightside hitter Ashley Van Hartesvelt (Breckenridge, Colo.), senior middle blocker Kellie Young (Portland, Ore.) and junior middle blocker Amanda McHenry (Cary, N.C.). Van Hartesvelt, who was the 2001 Co-Rookie of the Year and a second-team all-star, led the team with 3.38 kills per game en route to a .191 hitting percentage. She was also second on the team in blocks (0.64) and service aces (0.45).
Young was third on the team in blocks a year ago with a 0.58 per game mark. She will also serve as team captain this season. McHenry was third on the squad with a .279 hitting percentage, which is tops among returning players. Defensively, the Mids will look to senior libero Michelle Augustine (Vista, Calif.), who tallied 1.81 digs per game in 14 matches in 2002.
Despite a sophomore laden lineup, Colgate, which was 4-25 overall and 3-11 in League play, will depend heavily on senior Claire Putzeys (Newtonville, Mass.) and junior Natalie Rawson (Palmdale, Calif.). Putzeys led the team in blocks (0.73) and service aces (0.27) and was third on the team with a .168 hitting percentage. Rawson, a defensive specialist, was second on the team in digs per game with a 2.27 mark.
Holy Cross' (8-19, 4-10 PL) key offensive weapons are junior middle hitter Diane Marzelli (Monument Beach, Mass.) and junior setter Michelle Leahy (Andover, Mass.). Marzelli contributed a .143 hitting percentage with 1.49 kills per game, while Leahy was fourth in the League with a 9.51 assist per game mark. Leahy also dropped in a team-best 41 service aces and posted a 2.04 dig average.
Lafayette's 3-27 overall record last season surpassed the team's win total from the last three seasons combined. The Leopards, who remained winless in League play, have a solid base to build on, including juniors Erin Brune (Pasadena, Calif.), Kate Walkenhorst (Tulsa, Okla.) and Heidi Olichwier (Arlington Heights, Ill.). Olichwier was among the PL leaders in assists (7.06) and service aces (0.44).
The 2003 season kicks off with seven of the eight teams in action this weekend. American, Army, Bucknell, Colgate, Lafayette and Lehigh will be participating in season-opening tournaments, while Navy is playing a twinbill at The Citadel Saturday. Holy Cross opens its year Sept. 3 at Quinnipiac.
2003 Volleyball Pre-Season Poll
|Rank||Team||Points (1st)||2002 Overall Record||2002 League Record|
|1. ||American||97 (13) ||26-8||14-0|
|2. ||Lehigh||75 (1) ||21-13||10-4|
|3. ||Army||72 (2) ||15-16||8-6|
|5. ||Navy||55 ||17-14||8-6|
|7. ||Holy Cross||31||8-19||4-10|