Volleyball Team Builds For The Future

Oaklandís 2002 volleyball campaign did not come up big in terms of wins, but it did show some signs that the Golden Grizzlies are building a nucleus of young players that will be ready to compete with the rest of the Mid-Continent Conference in future seasons. Despite finishing with just a 4-27 record, Oakland finished Mid-Con play at 4-8, its most conference wins in three years, and came within a couple of points of qualifying for the Mid-Con Tournament for the first time in school history.

Junior Beth Ann Rourk led Oakland in kills and finished second on the team in digs in 2002.

First-year head coach Mark Ridley started the season with a roster that had just one senior and seven freshmen and sophomores, and its inexperience showed in the early going. OU suffered through a 0-17 start to the season, getting blanked 3-0 in 13 of those contests. The first half of the season did have something to offer, however, as the young Golden Grizzly squad gained valuable experience in the early going.

Oakland came up with its first win of the season on the road, taking a hard-fought 3-2 win at Chicago State behind 15 kills from junior Beth Ann Rourk (Woodhaven, Mich.). Rourk would wind up leading Oakland in kills for the season, totaling 262. She also proved to be one of the teamís top defensive players, garnering 353 digs over the season to finish second on the team.

Oakland's only senior in 2002, Becca Saldana led the Golden Grizzlies in assists and blocks.

With a win and some confidence under their belts, Oakland then went out and picked up its first home win of the season, blanking UMKC 3-0. After that match the team picked up its play, getting shutout just twice the rest of the way while pitching a pair of shutouts themselves.

At the beginning of November the Golden Grizzlies blanked Chicago State and Western Illinois in back-to-back matches to place themselves back in the race for a berth in the Mid-Con Tournament. It came down to the final weekend of the season to determine the tournament slots, with Oakland needing a win in one of its two remaining matches to make the field. At UMKC the Golden Grizzlies took a 2-1 lead in the match only to see the Kangaroos come back to take the match in five games. OU then faced the Mid-Conís top team in Oral Roberts, but fell there as well in four games to end the season.

A bright spot for Oakland was its defensive play at the net, where the Golden Grizzlies averaged 2.44 blocks a game, a mark that led the league. Senior setter Becca Saldana (White Lake, Mich.) led Oakland with 107 total blocks, averaging 0.98 per game, third in the league. OU had three of the leaguesí top-10 in blocking, with freshman Amanda Fowler (Battle Creek, Mich.) fifth (0.95) and Sara Miller (Jackson, Mich.) coming in seventh (0.86).

Saldana also led Oakland in hitting percentage, finishing at .235 for the year, the eighth highest mark in the Mid-Con. The Golden Grizzlies leader in digs was sophomore Katie Lozier (Clinton Township, Mich.) who saved 370 balls and finished eighth in the conference in that category.

Freshman Amanda Fowler became the first Oakland player ever named to the Mid-Con All-Newcomers team.

Fowler, who finished among the team leaders in kills (210), hitting (.204), aces (14), and blocks (98), was the only OU player to gain postseason recognition, getting named to the Mid-Con All-Newcomers team. She became the first Golden Grizzly player to be named to that team since Oakland has been a member of the conference.

Despite the lack of success as measured by wins and losses, Oaklandís season was one in which a young team grew into one that, by the end of the season, proved that it could compete with the best in the Mid-Con.

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