Aug. 22, 2012
HOUSTON — Under new head coach Kaddie Platt, the University of Houston volleyball program will open its 2012 season this weekend when it travels to Columbus, Ohio to take part in the Sports Imports DC Koehl Classic hosted by Ohio State on Friday and Saturday.
The Cougars will open play on Friday against Toledo at 10:30 a.m. CT, followed by a 4 p.m. match against host-Ohio State. The team will wrap up the tournament on Saturday against Oregon at 12:30 p.m.
“We are excited about finally getting the season underway,” said Platt. “Our team has become a very cohesive group over the last two weeks and we are looking forward to competitively playing other teams.”
After two weeks of preseason training and a Red & White Scrimmage under their belts, the Cougars are prepped and ready to take their competitive urge on the road. Rotated around, the team was able to break down its systems in a competitive-like atmosphere last Saturday in front of 250 fans.
“Preseason has gone well for us,” Platt said. “The team has been working hard to learn new techniques and systems. It is a lot to adjust to and they have been committed to learning the new systems of Houston Volleyball.”
Made up a very strong inside presence, Houston will look to content with any of the strong and dominant inside forces this season. Veterans make up the middle in seniors Chandace Tryon and Stephanie Nwachukwu, while classmate Katie Norris and sophomore Kadi Kullerkann will threaten on the outside.
“We are an athletic team and will have a good presence at the net,” said Platt. “The team is very competitive and that will go a long way as we take on several Top 25 teams this season.”
Of Houston’s eight returners, three will play their final season for the Cougars in seniors Norris, Nwachukwu, and Tryon. Also representing the senior class is transfer Abby Simmons from the University of Utah.
Norris and Tryon return for the Cougars, following solid junior campaigns, both being named Second Team All-C-USA. Nwachukwu also returns with a strong presence inside and an impressive career, being named with a C-USA Academic Medal all three years.
“These seniors have done a great job developing relationships with the new players and being role models for how we do things here at Houston,” said Platt. “They have high expectations, are extremely competitive, and work hard…with these qualities we will develop to our full potential.”
NEWCOMERS MAKING NOISE
Houston welcomes 10 newcomers to this year’s squad. Joining Simmons as transfers are sophomores Kaiti Waters and Taylor Whileyman. The newcomer class also makes up six freshmen in Shelby Vance, Sydney Alexander, Katey Kyle, Olivia O’Dell, Emily Howard, and Destiny Patterson.
“Abby has done a good job, her and Caitlin [Ogletree] are making each other better by working hard every contact,” said Platt. “It sets a great example for the rest of the team about how to compete and be a good teammate. Olivia O’Dell and Natalie Keck are also great examples of getting the best out of their teammates, while Emily Howard is making great strides this along the net.”
Looking to work the setter position this season will be Simmons and sophomore Ogletree. The duo brings experience to the offensive-controlled position. Simmons transfers in for a final year from the University of Utah where she played three years for the Utes. Ogletree returns as an All-Freshman honoree last season and led the Cougars with 1,215 assists.
“Abby and Caitlin are doing a fantastic job of controlling the offense and making their teammates better,” said Platt. “They both have great qualities, while will allow us to see both of them on the court this season.”
Norris will lead the hitters along the net, while Kullerkann will bring a year of experience to the squad and use her 6-foot-4 presence to be a strong offensive force for the Cougars. Also competing on the outside will be Nwachukwu, who will also work the middle.
“Katie and Kadi are great attackers and have a great presences at the net,” said Platt. “Stephanie will be able to contribute from both positions for us this season, which will allow our offensives systems to rotate.”
The middle this season will be led by Tryon and Nwachukwu. The two combined for 540 kills and 164 blocks last season. Tryon finished second-best on the team with a .314 hitting percentage, while Nwachukwu was close behind at .216. Also looking to see action as a middle blocker will be Howard.
“Chandace and Stephanie are a dynamic middle duo with great lateral speed along the net and can both get up and attack from anywhere on the court,” said Platt. “We are fortunate to have a strong newcomer class and I see Emily competing for some playing time in the middle as well.”
Returning with a year of experience is Keck, who will lead the defensive communication at the libero position. She finished 2011 with 499 digs. Also looking to see action in the defensive specialist role is junior Meredith Ware and O’Dell.
“Keck is a great communicator and competitor. She has done an impressive job leading the team this preseason and demands her teammates to be their best,” said Platt. “Meredith has also done a good job developing relationships with the new players, which helps with learning new systems, while Olivia has come in with a great competitive spirit and has added some much need ball control for us.”
PLAYING THE RANKS
Houston has no easy test ahead of them during its non-conference schedule, as the Cougars will face off against six AVCA ranked teams during the 2012 season. After finishing ranked amongst the Top 10 in the nation a year ago, Pepperdine and Florida State poll in at No. 11 and No. 12, respectively. Oregon sits at No. 20, while Ohio State, who the Cougars will meet twice this year, are ranked No. 24. Receiving votes were defending C-USA Champion Tulsa and Missouri. Of those six teams, Houston will play four at home this season, including a stacked Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup featuring Florida State, Pepperdine and Ohio State on Sept. 14-15.
“Our non-conference schedule is very tough, but ultimately we will use it to prepare for Conference USA play and help us see what we need to do to do to be a Top 25 team nationally,” said Platt.
1 AWAY FROM 500
Platt’s first win as the leader of the Houston Volleyball program will be one to remember as the 18-year veteran coach is one win away from her 500th career victory. After spending 17 seasons as head coach at Houston Baptist, Platt will look to continue the winning tradition for Houston.
RETURN OF THE CHAMPIONSHIP
After a two-year hiatus, the Conference USA Championship makes its return appearance. Tulsa will host the tournament Nov. 16-18 at the Reynolds Center in Tulsa, Okla.
Toledo will open its season up against the Cougars. The Rockets are coming off a 10-18 season in 2011 and return 10 of its letterwinners from a year ago. Toledo finished sixth in the West Division of the Mid-American Conference with a 6-10 conference record. The team will welcome four newcomers under fourth-year head coach Greg Smith.
Houston and Toledo will meet for the first time in program history.
ABOUT OHIO STATE
Ohio State will play its first game of 2012 against Houston. The Buckeyes enter the 2012 season ranked No. 24 in the AVCA poll and are coming off a 21-15 overall record in 2011 and a 9-11 finish in the Big Ten for seventh place. The team welcomes back 10 returning letterwinners, while welcoming five newcomers.
Houston and Ohio State will meet twice this season as the two will face off in Houston’s Flo Hyman Collegiate Cup on Sept. 15. The Cougars own the all-time record at 7-1, but lost in the last meeting, 3-2, in 2006.
Oregon will meet Toledo on Friday before taking on the Cougars for its second match of 2012. The Ducks poll in at No. 20 in the AVCA rankings after a 21-10 2011 season and a 14-8 record in the PAC-12 Conference for a sixth place finish. Oregon returns five starters and welcomes six newcomers to the squad.
Houston and Oregon will meet for the fourth time in program history as the Cougars own the all-time record at 3-0. The last meeting came in a 2-0 win for Houston back in 1978.
Following the weekend tournament, Houston will travel to Nashville, Tenn. to take part in Lipscomb’s Tournament on Aug. 31-Sept. 1. The Cougars will open the weekend against Missouri at 10 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 31, before meeting Appalachian State later that afternoon at 5 p.m. Houston will wrap up the three-game weekend, playing host Lipscomb on Saturday, Sept. 1 at 2:30 p.m.