Blend of Youth and Experience Will Propel Oakland Volleyball in 2005

Entering his third season at the helm of the Oakland volleyball program, head coach Dave Schmidlin has worked hard to construct a foundation that the team can build upon to place the program among the best in the Mid-Continent Conference. After two seasons of work, the Golden Grizzlies are now ready to move forward and begin their climb up the Mid-Con ladder.

Oakland finished the 2004 season with a 5-24 record and a 3-11 Mid-Con mark. With a roster that was short on players and a tough early season schedule, the Golden Grizzlies struggled to find their rhythm at the start of the season. Despite the lack of wins, the team showed more consistency over the second half of the season and found themselves in most of its contests. With a pair of all-conference caliber players returning and the team’s lack of depth solved with nine new faces on the roster, the Golden Grizzlies should be in a position to get the season started off on a positive note.

Senior Heather Lippert will look to continue her All-Mid-Con form from the 2004 season.

“After two years we have established a culture that will enable us to build on our successes,” remarked Schmidlin. “With nine new players most of the team has not been around to experience losing over 40 matches over the last two years. When we do lose a few matches I don’t think that this team will let that manifest itself into a losing attitude. All of our new players come from winning programs at one level or another, so we don’t have that specter of losing hanging over our head. With so many new faces this group is going to look forward, not backward.”

Indeed the team will have almost a completely different look in 2005. After having just three new players on last season’s squad, the Golden Grizzlies will welcome nine new players to the fold this season; three juniors and six freshmen. With only five returning players, the new group will be counted on to contribute right away.

“Our new players will play large roles in a couple of different ways,” said Schmidlin. “Obviously there are going to be some new kids on the court. While they may be inexperienced in terms of not having played in a Division I volleyball match, they are coming in hungry to show what they can do and will provide us with the versatility and depth that we did not have last season.”

Flexibility will be a key ingredient to the Oakland game in 2005. “We have a number of players who are capable of playing multiple positions,” said Schmidlin. “No one is going to be pigeon holed into a position. We are going to be much more flexible, not only with our players on the court, but with our players coming off the bench as well.”

While the team will be a young one in 2005, the Golden Grizzlies do have a trio of returning seniors that the squad can turn to for leadership and experience. Leading the group is Heather Lippert (Walled Lake, Mich.), a second team All-Mid-Con selection a year ago. Last season she evolved into one of the top middle hitters in the Mid-Con, leading Oakland in kills and blocks while also finishing near the top in hitting percentage and aces. With her all-around abilities she will play a key role in both OU’s offense and defense in 2005.

With three seasons of starting experience as OU’s setter, Becca Moller (Columbiaville, Mich.) has worked extremely hard in the off season and looks to be set for her best season yet. A solid all-around player as well, she ranked sixth in the league in assists and led the team in hitting percentage and double-doubles.  Her 2,417 career assists rank seventh all-time at OU and is second among Division I players.

Senior Becca Moller is seventh all-time at OU in assists.

Erin Palmer (Centerville, Mich.) did nothing but impress in her first season at Oakland after transferring in from the junior college ranks. She finished among the team leaders in virtually all categories and should play a large role again, provided she recovers from a knee injury sustained over the summer.

Not only do the Golden Grizzlies return three senior starters, there is also a fourth senior in Whitney Lane (Kentwood, Mich.). She played well down the stretch for OU after battling injuries at the start of the season. With her solid play in her limited opportunity last season and senior experience, she will be looking to play a larger role in 2005 and provide the squad with another experience player that can help guide the young squad.

Only one other player returns with experience from last season, and that is sophomore Chelsea Licavoli (Clinton Township, Mich.). It was an impressive first season that culminated in a selection to the Mid-Con all-freshman team. Splitting her time between an outside hitter and the libero, Licavoli showed that she should be a force to be reckoned with in the future. She finished among the team leaders in kills and digs and finished an impressive second in the Mid-Con in aces per game, totaling a school DI record of 42.

With the versatility of the team being one of the squad’s strengths in 2005, look for Schmidlin to implement a new three-middle system to capitalize on that versatility. Adrienne Leone (Clinton Township, Mich.) and Leah Dupuie (Leonard, Mich.) are a pair of freshmen that should step in and join Lippert at middle hitter. Leone hails from Fraser High School, a school that has been a volleyball powerhouse in Michigan, and was an all-state selection as a senior as well as winning a pair of state championships. Dupuie comes from Romeo High School, where she was named All-Region. Freshman Nikki Pawson (Blissfield, Mich.), an honorable mention all-state and three-time all-conference performer from Class C Champion Blissfield High School, also joins the program, providing for even greater depth.

Sophomore Chelsea Licavoli set a school DI record with 42 aces and was named to the Mid-Con All-Freshman team.

With 12 varsity letters under her belt at Clarkston High School, Stephanie Parkin (Clarkston, Mich.) could be one of the most athletic players that Oakland has seen under Schmidlin. One of those versatile types, she could play a role at both outside hitter and as a back-row player.

Adding needed depth and challenging for the starting position at setter is another member of Oakland’s freshman class, Geri Geml (Harrison Township, Mich.). She totaled over 1,000 assists last season at L’Anse Creuse High School, the 2005 Class A State Semi-Finalist, earning all-state, all-region and all-conference honors along the way.

Another area that has improved in terms of depth for the Golden Grizzlies is among the squad’s defensive specialists. Coming into the program with junior college experience at nearby Mott Community College are Jillian Hauk (Owosso, Mich.) and Jenny Dodson (Burton, Mich.). Dodson was second in the MCCAA in digs last season with 847, while Hauk totaled 680. Both players totaled over 1,000 digs and 500 kills in their two seasons at Mott. Also bringing JC experience to the fold will Katrina Calianno (Imlay City, Mich.) who played at Oakland CC for a season.

 Rounding out the back row players will be another of Oakland’s freshman class, Lauren Duquette (Clinton Township, Mich.). A teammate of Licavoli’s at Chippewa Valley High School, she averaged over 150 digs a season during her prep career.

“Depending on how quickly the new players get acclimated to the Division I game, we are in a position to jump into the top half of the conference from a talent standpoint,” says Schmidlin. “Our experience level will be the only thing that could hold us back. We will need all 15 players to step up and play at a higher level.”

 While the team is young, Oakland does have the talent that can compete with the rest of the teams in the Mid-Con. With the depth and versatility of the team this season, it will be a challenge for Schmidlin and his staff to put the pieces together and find the right combination that can spell success for the Golden Grizzlies. If the team and the staff can find the answers in the early portion of the schedule, they should be ready to make a statement when the Mid-Con portion of the season rolls around.

Oakland University 2005. All rights reserved.

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