Oakland Ready To Continue Its Climb Towards A Mid-Con Tournament Berth

After building a foundation to build on last season, Oakland’s volleyball team will use the hard work that it put in last year to continue its climb up the ladder of success in 2004. After spending half of the season in 2003 adjusting to a new coach and style of playing, the Golden Grizzlies showed signs of improvement over the second half. That improvement, along with having a year under their belts with head coach Dave Schmidlin, will be the things that OU will use to build upon in 2004.

Junior Becca Moller is already ranks among OU's top-10 in career assists.

Oakland finished last year with just a 6-21 record, but the win total was higher than the year before and the Golden Grizzlies should be able to move that win total up once again in 2004. OU finished at 5-9 in the Mid-Con; the most wins for the program in conference play since joining the league and was just one win away from challenging for a playoff slot, a team goal for 2004.

It will be a challenge for Oakland to meet its goals this year, but certainly not out of the reach of the team. Oakland lost three starters and six total letterwinners from last year’s squad and return only six letterwinners for 2004. With a roster of only 10 at the start of the season depth will be a concern for the Golden Grizzlies, but the talent that is there is plenty for the team to move up the Mid-Con standings and challenge for a playoff berth at the end of the season.

“The team has put the groundwork in place for this program to raise its level of play,” says Schmidlin. “I think that it is realistic for this team to contend for a spot in the Mid-Con Tournament. This year I am more familiar with the players and what they can do and that will make things easier.”

Oakland does return a key part of its offense, the setter. Junior Becca Moller has been a starter in her previous two seasons and after a season learning the new system, she is set to run the offense with more efficiency in 2004. She averaged over nine assists a game last season and finished tied for the team lead with 29 service aces, a mark that leads all returning players.

Junior Heather Lippert is Oakland's top returning middle blocker. She finished among the Mid-Con leaders in blocks in 2003.

An area in which Oakland expects to see a great deal of improvement is at the middle hitter position. In her first year on the team, junior Heather Lippert led the team in hitting percentage and blocks and has steadily improved her play since. Junior Erin Palmer joins the team this season after transferring from Kalamazoo Valley Community College and will give the team another solid option in the middle. A first team all-region player at KVCC, she was among the national leaders in kills per game and finished among her league’s leaders in kills, hitting, blocks, digs and aces.

“I think that we will improve in all aspects of the game,” said Schmidlin. “Becca Moller has one more year of experience and our middle attack should improve greatly. Heather Lippert has improved a great deal and the addition of Erin Palmer will make the middle much stronger than it was last year.”

Oakland’s outside hitters, the deepest group on the team, has also made great strides from a year ago. Senior Sara Miller was the squad’s most consistent hitter last season, leading the team in kills with 211. She has reached the 200-kill level in each of the past two seasons and her 446 career kills are tops on the team. Karen Conger returns for her final season and is a capable player that will battle for an outside position as well as adding three years of experience to the mix. Junior Whitney Lane is another player that has shown improvement and will be looking to increase her playing time. Her blocking abilities will be a plus for the team’s right-side defense. Allison Summerhill, who sat out last season as a redshirt, will give the team another option at its deepest position. One of the squad’s new faces this season, Chelsea Licavoli has the ability to step in and contribute right away. She recorded 490 kills as a senior in high school and her 446 career aces are second all-time in the state of Michigan.

Senior Sara Miller will hold down one of the outside spots after leading OU in kills in 2003.

“Sara Miller’s improvement on the outside can only make us better,” says Schmidlin. “Karen Conger and Chelsea Licavoli are going to fight for that other outside position. Whitney Lane will shore up that right side position for us and if Allison’s knee holds up she will give us some valuable depth.”

Oakland’s defense should also improve this season, with senior Katie Lozier coming back as the squad’s top libero. She shared that position last season and wound up second on the team with 202 digs and 52 assists. Lozier will also serve as the backup setter to Moller. Freshman Kellie Kunkel is an athletic player with good defensive skills that could get her plenty of time on the floor to add to the improving OU defense.

“Katie is a tenacious player for us on defense,” says Schmidlin. “I expect her continue in that role this season. Kellie Kunkel is a player that I think will come in and surprise some people; she will certainly help improve our defense.”

While the roster is a bit short, Oakland does have the talent to continue with the course of improvement that emerged last season. This season the Golden Grizzlies are starting out knowing what is expected of them from the coaching staff, and that experience and the improvement that the team has shown could have the team knocking on the door when the Mid-Continent Tournament comes around at the end of the season.

Oakland University 2004. All rights reserved.

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