Golden Grizzlies Will Count On Experience In 2003

Oakland’s volleyball team will have its work cut out for it in 2003, as the Golden Grizzlies will try to recover from a 2002 season that saw them win just four matches. The good news for Oakland volleyball fans is that it looks as if the team has the tools in place to do just that; improve the program from last year and challenge for a spot in the Mid-Continent Tournament at the end of the season.

Oakland returns all but one of its starters from last season’s team, with the only loss being setter Becca Saldana. Other than that OU returns 11 letterwinners from last year’s squad, making the team one of the most experienced in the Mid-Con for 2003. Perhaps the biggest change from a year ago is the addition of David Schmidlin as the team’s head coach. He comes to the program after serving eight seasons as an assistant coach men’s coach at IPFW and one season as women’s head coach at the University of Saint Francis, bringing a wealth of collegiate volleyball experience to the program. His immediate goal is to put the building blocks for rebuilding the program in place right away.

“I want to build a base to build the program on,” says Schmidlin. “I want to do things the right way, both on the court and off the court. I am not going to be too concerned with wins and losses early in the season. I want to take that portion of the season and establish an attitude that we are going to be successful and a work ethic that will carry us into the conference portion of the season.”

Senior Beth Ann Rourk led Oakland in kills and kills per game as a junior.

Seniors Beth Ann Rourk and Cortney Varterasian return as the 1-2 punch of the OU offense after finishing 1-2 last season on the squad in kills. Rourk developed into one of the team’s top all-around players in 2002, leading the team in kills (262) and finishing second in digs (353), coming in among the Mid-Con leaders in that category. Varterasian also has a well-rounded game, finishing among the team leaders in kills, digs, blocks and aces, with her 26 aces leading the team. With the pair also having three years experience on the squad, their leadership will be an invaluable asset to the team.

Senior Cortney Varterasian was among Oakland's leaders in aces, assists, kills and digs on 2002.

Rourk and Varterasian are not the only outside hitters returning with experience from a year ago. Karen Conger, Whitney Lane and Allison Summerhill all gained experience last season and will be looking to put it to good use in 2003. Conger, a junior, has the most experience of the lot, finishing fourth last season in hitting percentage. A freshman a year ago, Lane showed promise for the future by registering 91 kills and 29 blocks in a reserve role. Summerhill saw limited action in 2002, but is ready to step into a larger role in her sophomore season after playing in 18 games as a freshman.

Junior Sarah Miller had a solid season in the middle of OU’s front line, registering over 200 kills as the team’s top middle blocker. Her defense at the net was also impressive as she finished seventh in the conference by averaging 0.86 blocks per game, with her 94 rejections the third highest total on the team.

Middle blocker could turn out to be a position of strength for Oakland in 2003, as Amanda Fowler and Patti Hunter return for another season of action. Fowler had an impressive freshman season, good enough, in fact, to be named to the Mid-Con All-Freshman squad, the first OU player to receive that honor. She hit .204, second on the team, and is the only returning Golden Grizzly with a .200 or better hitting average in from a year ago. She put away 210 kills and had an impressive 98 blocks at the net, finishing fifth in the Mid-Con in that category. Hunter, also in her first season at Oakland after transferring from Macomb CC, provided a capable back-up in the middle, finishing third on the team in hitting percentage with a .148 mark.

Defensively Oakland has a pair of players returning from a year ago that split time as the team’s libero. Senior Lauren Bramos racked up 255 digs and launched 20 aces last season, both among the team leaders. Junior Katie Lozier proved to be just as effective, finishing among the Mid-Con leaders with her 370 digs, the top mark on the OU squad, while adding 12 aces. With both players back for 2003, the Golden Grizzlies back row defense should be solid.

The only question mark coming into the season is a setter. The loss of Saldana is significant, but Oakland has a player in the wings to take her place in the person of Becca Moller. A sophomore, Moller redshirted last season in preparation for taking over as the team’s setter in 2003. As a freshman in 2001 she showed that she has the tools to get the job done, totaling over 700 assists to go with 47 blocks and 10 aces.

Hoping to make contributions to the team right away will be a pair of new faces on the squad that have transferred to Oakland, each with three years of eligibility with the Golden Grizzlies. Heather Lippert will add her name to the mix at middle hitter after spending two years at Western Michigan. While she saw limited action at WMU, she has solid credentials coming out of high school, where she was an all-state performer and a member of the Oakland Dream Team at Walled Lake High School. Stephanie Linz is the other newcomer, transferring from Michigan. She did not play volleyball for the Wolverines, but showed her athleticism as a member of the Wolverine track team for whom she was an All-American last year after finishing seventh in the high jump at the NCAA Championships. A two-time letterwinner in high school at Okemos, Michigan, she will looking to bolster the OU contingent of outside hitters.

While Oakland got off to a rough start last season, the team rebounded in the second half, posting all of its wins in Mid-Con action and coming within a game of making the Mid-Con Tournament. In the spring the improved play continued, with the Golden Grizzlies claiming wins over a number of teams they had lost to in the fall. With the momentum of the team’s improved play in the spring and one of the most experienced squads in the conference returning, Oakland should be set to show improvement in 2003.

“Our style of play will be probably be different this year,” says Schmidlin. “My background in men’s volleyball will bring us some things that you don’t ordinarily see in the women’s game. Our offense should be much improved and the intensity of our play will be better as well.”

Oakland University 2003. All rights reserved.

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