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Rice Volleyball 2010

By Paul Fitzgerald     8/26/10 7:00pm

While the Owls were certainly displeased with the ending to their 2009 season, a look back at last year's accomplishments reveals a successful season. Rice qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year, while also winning the Conference USA Tournament held at Tudor Fieldhouse last November. The Owls understand, however, that the success of last season means little if they do not continue to take steps forward. Despite last year's achievements, Head Coach Genny Volpe believes that this year's squad can build upon 2009.

"It's definitely important to build on last year's success," Volpe said. "As long as we can stay healthy, we're pretty excited about improving on last year and playing consistent volleyball the whole season."

The team's offense will hinge greatly on the play of the 2009 National Setter of the Year Meredith Schamun. The senior co-captain from Murrieta, Calif. was named C-USA Setter of the Week on four different occasions, while also garnering MVP honors for her play during the C-USA Tournament in 2009. Schamun finished the year ranked fifth in the country in assists per set, and she will look to build on her 2009 successes this fall. As the setter, she understands that her play is also judged by the success the team will have.

"I'm the quarterback, so it's my job to make the offense easier for everyone," Schamun said. "But I'm really just as important as everyone else, and we have so many people that contribute."

While Schamun guides the offense, senior libero Tracey Lam remains just as crucial to the Owls success defensively. Lam was named to the C-USA First Team last season, in addition to being named the conference's Libero of the Year. Lam currently sits in seventh place on the C-USA career digs list with 1,701. While the other co-captain's defensive performance is certainly important, Volpe believes Lam's leadership is just as vital.

"She's definitely a huge reason why our defensive numbers were so good last year," Volpe said. "But at the same time, her leadership is just as important as her play on the court."

While Rice's two senior leaders are certainly talented, the remaining roster is one of the deepest ever at Rice. Senior middle blocker Caroline Gill will look to rebound from a stress fracture to her foot last season and provide the Owls with strong defense. When healthy, Gill plays a solid all-around game and will bring experience to a team with a bunch of talented young players. Fellow senior outside hitter Justyna Brewczyk hails from Poland and brings experience and leadership to the Owls as well.

Expectations for now-junior outside hitter Ashleigh McCord were high when she came to Rice, and the native Texan has not disappointed. McCord was named to the C-USA freshman team her first season, and was named All C-USA first team last year. While her ferocious kills add punch to the Owls' attack, her defense improved last season as well, as McCord recorded five double-doubles, mostly later on in the season.

Junior outside hitter Megan White finished 2009 with 258 digs, and her service game should also help out the Owls this coming season. White, one of four Owls from California, should aid an Owls defense that will look for more consistency this season.

Rice's 2009 recruiting class only contained two members, and only one of the two played last season. Sophomore Nancy Cole remains the Owls' tallest player at 6'3", and her all-around game should provide Rice with important depth. Cole was named to the 2009 All C-USA freshman team, largely for her strong play in the latter half of the season.

While Megan Murphy came to Rice in 2009, she retained a year of eligibility after redshirting. The setter will look to compete for playing time this year, and though she sits behind one of the best players in the country at her positions, Murphy should be able to spell Schamun.

The 2010 recruiting class is both large and talented, a main reason for the depth of this year's year's team. Junior transfer Jordan Meredith hailsfrom Hawaii and spent at Boston College. Meredith boasts a solid all-around game, and her play in practice has impressed Volpe thus far. Fellow transfer Laurie McNamara came to Rice in the spring of 2009 after playing one season at Villanova in 2008, leaving McNamara with three seasons of eligibility remaining.

The Owls currently have four true freshman on the roster. Outside hitter Mariah Riddlesprigger has already impressed with her athleticism and should help give Rice's offense another dimension. Riddlesprigger plays for one of the best club teams in the country, and her play has earned her one big fan in Volpe.

"Mariah is one of the most dynamic athletes we've ever had at Rice," Volpe said. "She's definitely going to be competing and getting experience this year."

Freshman Megan Shepard is also expected to contribute. The Dripping Springs High School graduate is a great blocker and should provide the Owls with athleticism when she's on the floor. Fellow freshmen and Texas natives Lindsay Daniel and Tyler Jenkins will both look to gain valuable experience this year, as it will be tough to break into a stacked Rice lineup this fall.

While the volleyball program may have one of its best teams ever, that team will also have to navigate through a difficult schedule that begins this weekend with the Rice Invitational I. The Owls will host Texas Tech University, the University of Texas at San Antonio and the University of Mississippi, playing three games on Friday and Saturday. Rice will then travel to Malibu, Calif. for the Pepperdine-Asics Classic and then to Baton Rouge, La. for the LSU Tiger Classic. The Owls will face off against Lousiana State University, the University of North Carolina, the University of Missouri and Pepperdine University, among others.

Following their road trip, the team will return home for the Rice Invitational II against three easier opponents, before kicking off their conference slate against the University of Houston.

While the team has not been preparing any differently, the high intensity at practice gives Volpe high hopes for a fast start.

"The competition in the gym is the highest since I've been at Rice," Volpe said. "Mentally, it's great to get off to a good start and go out and play the way we've been practicing."

While the Owls may face a tough schedule and pressure due to their impressive 2009 season, this year's volleyball squad has the talent, depth and experience to be a national contender. For the first time ever, Rice received votes in the American Volleyball Coaches' Association Preseason Top 25, an indication that Volpe's peers are starting to take notice of the success the Owls have had the last few years and the team they will put on the floor this fall. Schamun believes that the Owls will welcome national attention this year.

"It's pretty neat to gain some recognition finally," Schamun said. "A lot of people don't know about our program on a national level, so it's great for people to hear about the success we've had."

Anyone in attendance at last season's C-USA Tournament final can attest to the excitement of last year's team, and with many of the same characters back on campus again this fall, that excitement should be felt again at Tudor Fieldhouse.

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