Feb. 24, 2009
ROCHESTER, Mich. - The Oakland University volleyball program took great strides during head coach Rob Beam's first year at the helm, strides that showed up in the win column as Oakland went from just one win in 2006 to eight wins in 2007. In 2008, the Golden Grizzlies continued to make across-the-board improvements, keeping the win total steady while battling injuries to key players all season.
The Golden Grizzlies finished 8-21 on the season, improving to 5-11 in Summit League play.
Indeed, the continued bites of the injury bug turned the Oakland volleyball program into a virtual MASH unit. Senior libero Lauren Duquette and senior outside hitter Amy Golem, as well as freshman outside hitter Ashleigh Slemmer all missed extended periods of time due to various injuries.
Duquette suffered a broken wrist early in the season, but after taking a few matches to heal, Duquette soldiered back onto the court and battled through the remainder of the season. The Clinton Township, Mich. native performed at a high enough level to be named to the all-Summit League second team and concluding her career as Oakland's all-time leader in four statistical categories; service aces (95), service aces per set (.260), digs (1,805), and digs per set (4.93).
"Statistically, she was actually better this year with a broken wrist and two casts on her arms than she was last year," said Beam. "Her courage in the face of adversity as a leader for our program and as an example of what a Golden Grizzlies volleyball player should be has been remarkable. We're going to miss more than the defense, the stats, and the serve-receive. There's this heartbeat that she provides that we'll miss."
Despite the departure of Duquette, Beam knows his back line will be secure in the coming years due to the emergence of sophomore Brittany Dunn as a defensive specialist. The sophomore averaged 2.54 digs per set and became Oakland's most effective server, posting 23 service aces on the season.
"Brittany was spectacular," said Beam. "She became our best server and also did a great job in serve-receive and in defense, and really made the position her own in a different way and performed exceptionally well in that role."
Joining Dunn in securing the back line while also serving as one of OU's most effective passers was senior Kelli Fiedler. The Port Huron, Mich. native saw action in 38 sets and averaged one dig per set. "Kelli Fiedler was really instrumental in a lot of ways," said Beam. "She's probably one of our best passers in terms of consistency, and given that we had three primary passers injured at one point in the season, her ability to come in and affect the match in serve-receive was really crucial."
The 2008 season was also the swan song for senior middle blocker Leah Dupuie. The Addison Township, Mich. native finished her career as OU's all-time leader in sets played (405) and block assists (332), and ranked fourth in kills (789), fifth in block solos (38), and second in total blocks (370). The senior hit .224 with 181 kills, and averaged 1.05 blocks per set with her 108 blocks on the season.
"The presence that Leah brings has been underappreciated in the league," said Beam. "She's one of only three players that is in the top ten in hitting efficiency, and also blocking more than a ball per set. Anyone will tell you that is the measure of a great middle blocker, and we have certainly had two fantastic years with her in the middle since I've been here. I think she's also done a great job teaching some younger players to follow in her footsteps."
Another versatile player that played her last game in an OU uniform this past season was Stephanie Parkin. Parkin assumed a number of roles with the injuries to Slemmer and Golem, hitting .195 and racking up 195 kills, third on the team. The Clarkston, Mich. native finished her career ranking third in OU history in sets played (377), eighth in kills (583), 10th in attack percentage (.077), tied for seventh in block assists (146), and tied for ninth in total blocks (153).
"I think Stephanie was really the one that took over a lot of the pressure and relieved a lot of the pressure for the team when Amy got hurt," said Beam. "She became the six-rotation player, she serve-received in every rotation she played. She played in the middle, the back, and dug a lot of balls. She took on some outside and right-side hitting and was a key blocker for us. It's hard to overstate how important she was in that time. The other thing that's really impressive about Stephanie is that she had a hitting efficiency that was twice as good as she had any other year in the program. That's a testament to her work ethic and how much she wanted to help our team win."
And despite her injury, once Golem healed she once again proved that she was a force to be reckoned with on the outside. Despite being limited to 68 sets, the Dearborn, Mich. native racked up 204 kills, second on the team, averaging team-best 3.00 kills per set and hitting .141. At the end of her two-year career, Golem ranked 10th in the OU record book in kills (503), but finished as OU's all-time leader in kills per set (2.92) and fourth in hitting percentage (.165).
"Amy has been one of the most consistent outside hitters in the league for the last two seasons," said Beam. "Certainly her presence as a six-rotation player was something we did miss for a while. I think our team did a great job using multiple reserve roles, using defensive specialists, using front-row specialists and putting together a very good season until Amy got healthy. As she got stronger and more conditioned to play, we saw her take on that leadership role again as one of the best outside hitters in the league."
Another player that excelled on the outside was Adrienne Leone. The junior from Clinton Township, Mich. led the Golden Grizzlies in kills (253) and hit .161 on the season, and entering her senior campaign has 798 career kills, ranking third in the OU record book. Her .138 hitting percentage for her career ranks sixth all-time at Oakland.
"Adrienne has had three years of solid starting experience, and we saw more matches this year where she was starting to approach that premier outside hitting position in our league," said Beam. "She's as good a blocker and as good an attacker as there is in her position in this conference. When she's on she's very difficult to stop, and in all of our wins she's played a key role in terminating rallies and she's done a great job with her ball control and becoming a six-rotation player."
The Golden Grizzlies will also return three capable players that saw limited time in the 2008 season but figure to play an increased role during the 2009 campaign in sophomores Emily Hoffiz and Jessica Hardman, and junior Nikki Pawson.
Hoffiz, a native of West Bloomfield, Mich., played in 44 sets and notched 19 kills on the season, while also turning in eight blocks and 24 digs. "Emily Hoffiz has become the utility player that every team needs," said Beam. "She's someone that can do everything well, and she can do it under pressure with a poise that is much older than her sophomore standing. We have no reservations putting her in when the other team has match point to serve a ball, pass a ball, dig a ball, or even come into the match as an outside hitter. She's absolutely crucial to where we're going as a program."
Hardman, a native of Clinton Township, Mich., saw action in 31 sets and racked up 26 kills and 13 blocks on the season. "Jessica Hardman really got the most significant amount of playing time she's had in her career here," said Beam. "We saw some really bright spots, and we only expect greater things from her in the upcoming years."
Pawson, a native of Blissfield, Mich., played in just 13 sets while making the difficult transition from middle hitter to outside hitter, a move that will increase her role in her senior year."One of Nikki's most important roles this last season was providing a third middle attacker in practice, but also starting to transition into becoming an outside hitter for her final year," said Beam. "We were able to get her some experience on the outside in practice and we're looking forward to utilizing her attacking ability this coming fall. She developed quite a bit of this year in two completely different positions, from the middle to the outside. We're seeing great strides from her now in offseason workouts and she looks to be an outside hitter next year."
Meanwhile, the emergence of an immensely talented freshman class allowed the Golden Grizzlies to keep things going while injuries held upperclassmen out of the lineup. As the season wound down, Allison Bell moved into the rotation and gave onlookers a glimpse of things to come with her five-kill performance in the season finale against IUPUI. Jenny Jones emerged as a capable outside hitter during league play, averaging 1.02 kills per set while hitting .166. Before suffering a season-ending injury, Slemmer emerged as a top offensive threat, averaging 1.56 kills per set and hitting .171. And in a year that required players to step up and fill vital roles for the Golden Grizzlies, it was freshman Jenna Lange who stepped up and became OU's most efficient hitter. Lange, a native of Marlette, Mich., hit a team-best .224 while racking up 181 kills, ranking fourth on the team and averaging 1.76 kills per set. Lange also finished second on the squad with 86 blocks.
"Allison was awarded by her teammates the most improved player award for the team," said Beam. "Anyone that followed the program saw that maturation process. She has all the physical tools to be a premier player in our league. It was nice to see her consistent and steady improvement. Jenny Jones has so much experience coming in that collegiate volleyball was not overwhelming for her at all. She just stepped right in and did a good job on the right side and had some spectacular matches. I think we see even more great things for her in the future. Ashleigh Slemmer and Jenna Lange were very ready to play on the first weekend. They were both among our best players. I think Jenna played in all but one set this entire season, and that's impressive for a freshman. We expect Ashleigh to rebound from her injury and contribute at a very high level for the next three seasons."
Setting the table for the OU offense were a pair of talented sophomore setters in Katy Wilson and Samantha Filipek. Wilson returned from an injury-shortened freshman campaign to average 5.19 assists per set and dish out 535 assists on the year, while Filipek, a native of Washington Township, Mich., transferred in from Stony Brook and immediately contributed; averaging 3.91 assists per set and dishing out 403 assists on the year.
"I think we were able to run and utilize a 6-2 offense, which helps us with our blocking and creates more options with our attack," said Beam. "You have to have two consistent setters who are willing to accept the role that they're given, and both Sami and Katy did a great job. They brought completely different things to our team but both filled very important roles. Sami really helped raise our play as a first-year player, and you see that in our hitting efficiency and kill percentages, and other statistical measures all increased as well. I think a lot of that was due to Sami's performance."
While the Golden Grizzlies lose five talented seniors, the newcomers and a group of talented new recruits give Beam hope that his young, yet experienced squad will build on the progress of the past two seasons and compete for even higher stakes in the years to come.
"Our expectations were very high for this team for this year," said Beam. "I felt we performed admirably. I think that the most significant outcome for this year was our response to major injuries to players and watching our reserves step into leadership roles and watching them really take leadership of the program. I think that you saw that throughout the season, we got better and better each week and and that culminated in the first home sweep in six years against a team that made the Summit League tournament. That's something that we should be really proud of."