New Look Cougars To Take Court In 2001
The University of Houston has a wealth of new faces for the 2001 campaign, but there's also significant experience at some positions and the familiar athleticism of a Bill Walton coached team that has helped the Cougar volleyball program average over 21 wins per year for each of the last seven seasons. Mix in a demanding schedule that includes the annual C-USA Tournament to be played at home in Hofheinz Pavilion, and the 2001 will certainly be something to see.
A new setter will be running the Cougar offense in 2001. Junior Donna Sellen returns with Division I experience and familiarity running Walton's system. In addition to passing out 125 assists last season in a supporting role, Sellen was in fact the starting setter on opening day. New to the team is freshman setter Mirela Vasconcellos. Vasconcellos is an international standout from Brazil who played club volleyball for Asics Metro in Clarksville, Maryland.
Perhaps some of the biggest news the UH Athletic Department received late last spring was that outside hitter Jennifer Wittenburg had been granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA. The Houston native was one of the dominating players in the country last season, averaging over 6.16 kills and 4.17 defensive digs per game. She was one of only two players in the nation to rank among the NCAA Top 20 in both kills and digs, but a foot injury sidelined her for almost a month. The 6-foot-3 standout from nearby Cy Falls High School has had to endure a host of injuries that have limited her to just 54 matches in five years. Her presence on a young Houston team gives the Cougars experience and a "go to" player for the game's new rally-scoring format. Wittenburg is back but Houston enters the season with a key player already on the sidelines due to injury. Senior Gabi Carbone had knee surgery in the spring and is expected to miss the early part, or perhaps all, of the 2001 campaign A healthy Carbone, who posted over 160 kills and averaged 3.94 digs per game, would have returned to her role as a starting at outside hitter. That outside is now open and after Carbone the most-likely remaining position for an experienced player to start is at one of the vacant middle hitter spots. That player will more than likely be junior transfer Jenny Tanneberger. Tanneberger joined the team after playing two years at the University of Texas where she posted 220 career kills and 82 blocks in over 50 Division I matches. Tanneberger, Wittenburg and the setter are three resolved starting positions. The other three (an outside, a middle and a rightside hitter) are open heading into fall practice but Walton has multiple options. The versatility of five remaining Cougars on the roster gives him an opportunity to find the best combinations of consistency and chemistry. Not only does junior Jane Anne Karasek have two years of Division I experience, she could play either outside or middle. She started UH's NCAA Tournament match in California last season and she is versatile enough to be a candidate for multiple-roles in 2001. If needed, sophomore Monica Prince can help the team by moving from her middle blocker spot a year ago to outside hitter. Freshman Nicole Meusborn is no stranger to playing inside or middle and she may see significant playing time after a standout prep career at nearby Cypress Creek High School. With more experience freshman Loure Dews, an athletic middle from Brazoswood High School, could provide plenty of firepower for years to come. Kristy Nilson is an early candidate for duty on the right side. Nilson is a prep star from Salt Lake City, Utah, who led her high school to the state championship last season. Other candidates may get a look here as well. The Cougars will have a decidedly new-look in 2001, and there is some more experience and talent on the sidelines working through injuries. The Cougars have an outstanding middle in Amanda Baggett, but the sophomore has battled injuries in each of the last two seasons. Her ability to play at full speed would have a sizable impact on the starting lineup. Cielisse Schroeder meanwhile is an athletic, local product who is recovering from surgery and will redshirt the 2001 campaign.
Another Rugged Schedule
Houston routinely plays one of the toughest schedules in the country and this year is no exception. Within the gauntlet, 16-game C-USA regular season schedule, the Cougars must play each of the league's three other NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago (South Florida, Louisville and Cincinnati) on the road. East Carolina and TCU are on the schedule as new members in C-USA volleyball. UH also has a host of rugged non-conference challenges. The most eye-opening foe is 2001 Final Four participant Hawaii, who the Cougars will meet in Hofheinz Pavilion on October 3. Houston will also face NCAA Tournament teams Texas A&M (twice), Florida, Kansas State and Washington State as well as district-ranked teams UConn, Arkansas, Samford and Montana State. Emotion-charged matches against regional opponents include SMU, Stephen F. Austin, Lamar and crosstown-rival Rice in the annual battle for the "volleyball city championship."
Your Host With The Most!
Mark your calendars that from November 15-18, the University of Houston will host the Conference USA volleyball championship tournament at home in Hofheinz Pavilion. The top 12 finishers in the newly-restructured 14-team conference will play the familiar single-elimination format culminating with the televised championship match on Sunday, November 18. The winner of the tournament will earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.