Volleyball: 2010 Season Preview
August 25, 2010
Expectations are always high for the Texas State volleyball team, and the 2010 season will be no different for head coach Karen Chisum’s squad. The Bobcats were picked to win the 2010 Southland Conference Championship in the Preseason SLC Coaches Poll after capturing the tournament crown a season ago.
Over the past 30 seasons, Chisum has built Texas State into a perennial contender for conference championships and NCAA Tournament berths. Chisum has accumulated seven conference tournament championships and six regular season conference titles during her tenure and anticipates her 2010 team to challenge again for both.
“In terms of goals and expectations, we’ll always talk to our players about winning the conference regular season, winning the conference tournament and going past the first round in the NCAA Tournament,” Chisum said.
Coming off a 2009 season in which the Bobcats made their seventh NCAA Tournament appearance, Texas State will seek to build on that experience and make a deeper run in the national tournament this season. In order to do so, Chisum will need to blend her seven returnees from a season ago with 10 newcomers, including one of the most talented recruiting classes in Texas State history.
“A typical recruiting class for us is three or four players,” Chisum said. “But this year, we have a large group of newcomers, and that’s what is exciting to me.”
Of the seven returnees, three have been integral parts of Bobcat championship teams over each of the past three seasons. AJ Watlington, Melinda Cave and Shelbi Irvin are seniors who have helped Texas State to team titles in their first three seasons with the program and will look to become the first student-athletes in Texas State history to win a Southland Conference championship in each of their four seasons.
Watlington, Cave and Irvin have each earned the respect of their teammates while developing unique styles of leadership, which should bode well for a team with eight freshmen.
“Melinda is the caretaker – she’s going to pat her teammates on the back and pick them up,” Chisum said. “AJ is a great competitor and isn’t afraid to get in their faces, and Shelbi leads by example. Out of those three, you see three different leadership styles, and they work well together.“
Texas State’s fourth senior, Mo Middleton, joined the Bobcats a season ago as a junior and made an immediate impact. The MVP of the 2009 Southland Conference Tournament, Middleton will be counted on for another standout season. Middleton has meshed well with her fellow seniors to give the Bobcats four veteran players to lead the team.
“Mo fits right in with that group of fourth-year seniors,” Chisum said. “The four seniors are going to be great role models for our newcomers.”
With the graduation of four-year starter Jessica Weynand, the Bobcats will have a hole to fill on the left side. However, Chisum is confident that with the return of Middleton and sophomore Matti Schumacher along with newcomers Preslie Alexander and Amari Deardorff, the void will be filled.
Middleton, a 5-foot-11 native of Phoenix, Ariz., was a Second Team All-SLC honoree a season ago after finishing second on the team with 322 kills. She also led the team with 32 aces and helped out in the back row with 201 digs. The Bobcats’ most experienced outside hitter, Middleton notched a career-high 18 kills on three separate occasions last season.
Schumacher, the only other player on the roster with collegiate experience on the outside, gained valuable experience during her freshman season. A 6-foot sophomore, Schumacher appeared in 37 sets and posted 49 kills and 16 blocks last year. Chisum will look for Schumacher to take the next step in her development this season.
“Matti had a very good spring for us and gained some confidence,” Chisum said. “She is very athletic, a good jumper and hits a heavy ball.”
Alexander (6-foot-1) and Deardorff (6-foot-2) both bring good height and the ability to play multiple front row positions to the table. Entering the season, the duo will be looked at to help on the outside but could also see playing time in the middle or on the right side. Chisum believes they could make an impact right away.
“Preslie has a very high volleyball IQ and loves to be in the gym,” Chisum said. “Amari has great court vision, hits the ball hard and is very versatile.”
First Team All-SLC performer Amber Calhoun headlines Texas State’s group of middle blockers after a breakout 2009 season. Calhoun finished second in the conference in hitting percentage (.327), while also leading the team and ranking fourth in the conference in blocks (1.04 blocks per set). A 6-foot-1 junior from Houston, Calhoun will look to improve upon her impressive 2009 numbers this season.
“Amber got a vast amount of experience last year and is very strong in the middle,” Chisum said. “She gives us a lot of on-court experience.”
Competing for regular playing time in the middle, opposite of Calhoun, will be a trio of freshmen – Madeline Gaffney, Ashlee Hilbun and Rachel James. Each player had a sparkling prep career, and how each is able to transition to the college game will determine who sees the majority of the time on the court. Regardless, Gaffney (6-foot-2), Hilbun (6-foot-2) and James (6-foot-3) provide the Bobcats the luxury of depth and height in the middle.
“In the front row, the middle is where we have the least experience,” Chisum said. “Amber will be our starting middle, but after her, it’s a big question mark. Madeline has a big block, Ashlee is quick and agile, and Rachel is a solid attacker and blocker.”
Right Side Hitters
Cave and Watlington have been staples on the Bobcats’ right side since their freshman years, and the 2010 season will mark their fourth season as the team’s right side tandem.
A 6-foot-2 native of Placentia, Calif., Cave finished last season with 196 kills and 221 digs while earning Southland Conference All-Tournament Team accolades. During her three-year career, she has racked up more than 700 kills and 500 digs.
Watlington is a 6-foot native of Aledo, Texas, and was one of two players to appear in a team-high 122 sets last season. She finished 2009 with a career-high 231 kills and also added 64 blocks, while hitting at a .208 clip.
“Melinda and AJ have already proven themselves on the court,” Chisum said. “But they are hungry for another championship. They want to leave a legacy that no one else has here at Texas State.”
This season, the setter position is similar to last year. The Bobcats have three setters and just two spots in Texas State’s 6-2 offense. However, Chisum was able to find playing time for all three in 2009 and anticipates the same to be true this season.
Irvin, a 5-foot-7 senior from Houston, has three years of starting experience on her resumé and will be a mentor to Caleigh McCorquodale and Amy Bremer this season. Irvin finished with seven double-doubles during her junior season and led the team with 261 assists during conference action. She also ranked among the team leaders with 217 digs and 25 aces.
McCorquodale made the most of her playing opportunities as a freshman, and now looks to take over the starting spot opposite of Irvin as a sophomore. The 5-foot-7 McCorquodale totaled 299 assists as a freshman after appearing in 76 sets for the Bobcats.
Bremer, a 6-foot freshman from Houston, is one of the taller setters to come to Texas State in recent history and provides some flexibility to the Bobcats’ attack right away and in the future.
“We’re going to run a 6-2, but Amy’s height creates some interesting opportunities for us in the future,” Chisum said. “Shelbi and Caleigh both did a great job when they were on the court last year, and I expect them both to improve this season.”
The position with the most uncertainty surrounding it is likely at defensive specialist where there will be three new faces competing for the starting libero gig. Jennifer Neice, Danielle Sanchou and Erica Dryden are all newcomers to the Texas State program with aspirations of stepping into the starting lineup.
Neice, a junior transfer from East Tennessee State, was a two-year starter before making the move back to her home state, while Sanchou, a sophomore transfer from Ole Miss, is also returning home following one season with the Rebels. Dryden comes to Texas State from Clear Lake, Texas, where she excelled during her prep career.
“Jen and Danielle are both new to us this year, but they were both here during the spring and are good players,” Chisum said. “Erica will have an opportunity to compete in the back row, too, and it’s really wide open going into the season.”
Texas State will face seven teams that posted 20 wins or more in 2009, and square off against teams from 15 different conferences this upcoming season.
The Bobcats open up the 2010 non-conference slate with four tournaments. They will begin the season at the Hofstra University Classic on August 27-28. From there, the team will face some tough competition at the SMU Invitational (September 3-4), before heading back to San Marcos to play Prairie View A&M on Sept. 7 at 6:30 p.m. in the team’s home opener. Texas State will then host its annual CenturyLink Premier Tournament from September 10-11 when they will play Alabama, UT Martin and North Texas.
“The trip to Hofstra should be a great start for us – challenging, but realistic enough to win it,” Chisum said. “We look forward to hosting our home tournament, the CenturyLink Premier, at Strahan Coliseum.”
After a mid-week match versus UT Pan American on September 13 at 6 p.m., the Bobcats travel to Tucson, Ariz., to play in their last pre-conference tournament of the season at Arizona.
“The 2010 schedule is a good mix of competition levels and various conference opponents. We will be competing with opponents from 15 other conferences… maybe the most diverse schedule we’ve ever put together,” Chisum said. “We have opponents from the Big 12, Pac-10, WAC, Big West, Conference USA, and several other mid-major conferences. The pre-conference schedule will give us the opportunities we need to prepare for conference play.”
Texas State will open its Southland Conference schedule on the road at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on September 24 at 7 p.m. The Bobcats turn around and travel to UTSA to play the Roadrunners on the 25th at 3 p.m. The following week, Texas State will head to Lamar (September 30 at 7 p.m.), McNeese State (October 2 at 2 p.m.) and then play UT Arlington (October 6 at 7 p.m.).
After nine straight away matches, the Bobcats will return home on October 9 to host Northwestern State at 2 p.m. in the first of four straight home matches. Texas State will also play Sam Houston State (October 14 at 6:30 p.m.), Stephen F. Austin (October 16 at 2 p.m.) and UT Arlington (October 20 at 6:30 p.m.).
The Bobcats will face defending SLC regular season champion Central Arkansas in Conway on October 23. The following weekend the Bobcats travel to Sam Houston State (October 28 at 7 p.m.) and Stephen F. Austin (October 30 at 6 p.m.).
Texas State wraps up its conference schedule with home matches versus Nicholls (November 4 at 6:30 p.m.), Southeastern Louisiana (November 6 at 12 p.m.), UTSA (November 11 at 6:30 p.m.) and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi (November 13 at 2 p.m.).
The 2010 Southland Conference Tournament will be held in Huntsville, Texas, hosted by Sam Houston State on November 19-21 at Bernard G. Johnson Gym.