Golden Grizzlies Show Improvement Over Course of Tough Season

Heading into the 2005 season, Oaklandís volleyball team had a team of veteran players that had two years of experience under head coach Dave Schmidlin. That combination of experience gave the team expectations of improvement over the 2004 campaign and a move up the Mid-Con standings. The team did achieve that improvement, but a key preseason injury and a tough early season schedule took its toll on the overall record as OU finished at 6-26. In the Mid-Con race the Golden Grizzlies did move up a spot in the final standings to finish sixth at 5-9. That represented an improvement of two victories over 2004 and left OU just two games out of the final playoff spot for the Mid-Con Tournament.

Senior Heather Lippert earned All-Mid-Con honors for a second straight year and finished her career among Oakland's all-time blocking leaders.

Oaklandís season got off on the wrong foot before the team even reported for preseason training when senior Erin Palmer (Centerville, Mich.) injured her knee over the summer and was lost for the season. One of the teamís top returning hitters, she was expected to play an important role for the Golden Grizzlies over the course of the season and her loss was a blow to the team from the get-go.

Another factor that Oakland faced at the start of the season was its schedule. The Golden Grizzlies faced a brutal start to the season, one that saw the team play in four tournaments in the first month, facing 16 straight matches on the road to start the year, fully half of the schedule.

With the loss of Palmer, Oakland was forced to make some changes to the lineup that was not expected early in the season, and it took awhile for the mix of veterans and new faces to gel. After dropping the a pair of matches to start the season, Oakland seemed to find its stride at the Akron tournament where OU picked up one win in three hard fought matches. The Golden Grizzlies dropped the first two matches to West Virginia and host Akron, but was within five points in each game. The first win of the season came against Elon, with Oakland coming back after dropping the first game to take the win. Freshman Adrienne Leone (Clinton Township, Mich.) showed she was more than ready to make the switch from high school ball to college, putting together a solid effort over the weekend that saw her total 37 kills and 25 digs, good enough for a spot on the all-tournament team.

Senior Becca Moller became just the third OU player to reach 3,000 career assists..

Leone proved to be Oaklandís top outside hitter over the course of the season. Despite some injury trouble that kept her out of six matches, the freshman put together a season that saw her put up 264 kills, 215 digs and 306 points, to finish second on the team in each category.

Oakland could not parlay the victory over Elon into anymore wins, and the Golden Grizzlies saw the tough schedule take its toll. OU dropped nine straight matches before opening Mid-Con play, on the road, at Western Illinois at the end of September.

In Macomb the Golden Grizzlies took a 2-1 games lead over the Westerwinds only to that lead evaporate as WIU came back to win in five games. Oakland had five match points in the final game, but could not hold on. The Golden Grizzlies rebounded in Kansas City, however, squaring their conference mark at 1-1 at the start of Mid-Con play with a four-game win at UMKC. Chelsea Licavoli (Clinton Township, Mich.) tied the school Division I record with five aces and Heather Lippert (Walled Lake, Mich.) had 13 kills to lead OU to the win.

Returning home for the first time, Oakland squared off against IUPUI. Much like the Western Illinois match, OU took a 2-1 lead only to see the Jaguars come back to take the final two games, both of which came down to the wire. Oakland bounced back the next day with a victory over Chicago State, Lippert leading the way with 23 kills and a school record 14 block assists.

Another of Oaklandís freshman class, Leah Dupuie (Leonard, Mich.) emerged over the weekend, putting away 31 kills in the two matches. Her steady play over the course of the season was a pleasant surprise for the Golden Grizzlies, and she finished the season with the top hitting percentage on the squad at .244. She also racked up 83 blocks, second on the team and was fourth in kills at 178, number that bode well for the future of OU volleyball.

After Chicago State, Oakland was only able to pick up one win in the next seven matches, taking down Centenary in three games on the road behind 31 combined kills from Lippert and Leone. Included in that stretch was another tough five-game loss, this time to UMKC, that saw the Golden Grizzlies take a 2-0 lead only to see the Kangaroos come back to take the match.

Lauren Duquette smashed the school record for digs in a season, recording 475.

The UMKC loss seemed to take some of the steam out of the season for OU, as the Golden Grizzlies were able to get only two more wins the rest of the way. Still, the team finished on a high note, taking a 3-0 win over Centenary in the final match of the season behind 19 kills from Lippert.

Oaklandís senior class all went out with solid seasons, with Lippert earning her second consecutive All-Mid-Con honor after leading the team with 348 kills and 138 blocks while hitting a career-high .236. In just three seasons, Lippert placed her name among OUís all-time leaders in kills, attempts, aces and blocks among DI players. Becca Moller (Columbiaville, Mich.) closed out her career as a four-year starter at setter, becoming just the third Oakland player to reach 3,000 assists, finishing second all-time with 3,462 to her credit. Whitney Lane (Kentwood, Mich.) saved her best for last, putting together her finest season and finishing among the team leaders in kills, aces, digs and blocks.

As far as the freshman class was concerned, another name emerged during the season, that of Lauren Duquette (Clinton Township, Mich.). She took over as the teamís starting libero in the first match of the season and never looked back, finishing with a school record 475 digs to finish third in the conference. She also added her talents to OUís offense with her serving, which resulted in a team-high 26 aces.

When all was said and done, Oakland did show improvement over the course of the season, taking another step towards a berth in the Mid-Con Tournament. While a group of four outstanding seniors was lost, the play of the Golden Grizzly freshman class showed that the OU recruiting process is bearing fruit and the team can look forward to more improvement in 2006.

Oakland University 2005. All rights reserved.

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