Houston Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 25, 2008

When the University of Houston volleyball team opens the 2008 season, Friday, there will be a lot of new names on the roster. The Cougars will welcome seven newcomers to the squad and with the new additions, UH fans will see a lot of new faces on the court this season.

That leaves head coach Bill Walton with the task of assembling a starting five that will look to improve on last seasons' 13-15 record and sixth place finish in Conference USA.

"The group of girls that we have this season is much better on paper than last year by a large margin. We have the senior leadership and we have the ability to replace the players that left last season with equal or greater value and skill," Walton said.

With the beginning of the season just four days away, below is a position-by-position preview.

Houston will have five athletes competing for the three outside hitter spots.

In her final season, Justine Farmer will headline the group of outside hitters. Farmer was a First Team All-Conference USA selection a season ago and led the team with 606 kills. Her 5.51 kill per game average was third best in the NCAA. The El Paso native was an AVCA Midwest All-Region selection and an AVCA All-America Honorable Mention. Throughout her career she has set two UH career records in kills (1,666) and total attempts (4,587) and ranks second in four other categories.

"Justine, of course, was First Team All-Conference USA so the skills required for that position, hitting, passing and defense she has proven," Walton said.

Joining Farmer will be Barbara Freitas and Kinsey Cave, both returnees from last season's squad.

Freitas, a senior, will look to add leadership among the hitters with Farmer. She saw limited action last season as a junior college transfer from Western Nebraska CC but a strong spring puts her in contention to fight for a starting spot.



Rounding out the returnees at the outside hitter position is Cave. She made eight starts as a sophomore and was among six players with at least 100 kills last year. She returned for a solid sophomore campaign last year after battling injuries her freshman year.

Two talented freshmen will complete the five Cougar outside hitters. Ingrida Zauere and Nataliya Panova, both international players, will look to challenge for playing time immediately. Zauere comes from Latvia and has competed at the FIVB, the Federation internationale de Volleyball, finishing ninth in the Under-21 World Championships. She also has a great deal of experience in beach volleyball.

Panova also has a great deal of international experience and has played club volleyball in an international setting. Walton notes that the first two weeks of practice will be interesting to see which newcomer will make a bid for a starting position.

"Based on what we know of Ingrida and Nataliya and the three returnees we should be improved at those three positions this upcoming year. I am looking for an increased performance from last year. We have improved the position through recruiting and through our strength and conditioning program in the spring."

The Cougars bring experience into the middle hitter position this season. Looking to handle the majority of duties at middle hitter this season are Erin Rice and Lucy Charuk.

Rice enters her junior year on the heels of her best spring as a Cougar. She finished the 2007 season leading the team in blocks with 121 for the second consecutive year. Rice's block total was also third in Conference USA. She moved into second place in the career record books with a 1.25 block per game average.

"Erin is in the best condition of her career since coming here so we are expecting a lot out of her. It should be her best year. This is her third year, she understands the position, her attitude is great and she is in great condition," Walton said.

Charuk missed most of the 2007 season with a stress fracture in her foot. When she was injured she was leading the team in hitting percentage and despite returning for the end of the season she was unable to return to her early season form. Charuk has spent the summer playing for Team British Columbia in Korea and has erased any signs of injury. When the 2008 season opens she will be the most game-ready of the Cougars.

"We expect for Lucy to be one of our top servers, blockers and attackers. We should see the number of sets she gets in the production go way up," Walton said.

Providing back-up for the middle hitters will be junior Malia Vavao, while Freitas and Zauere could split duties at middle and outside hitter.

The setter position may be the most secure for the Cougars this season with the return of senior Kelsey King and the addition of junior transfer Alik Cardoso de Sa.

King led the team last season in assists with 683 despite missing multiple matches due to illness and has been a familiar face on the court for the Cougars the last two seasons. In her final season with Houston she will look to compete the entire season, something that she has not been able to do in the two previous years.

"Kelsey looked great in the spring. I want to say that Kelsey will have a great senior year but she hasn't made it one year yet. We thought that since what has happened the last two years that we would add a junior in Alik," Walton said.

Cardoso de Sa is a junior college transfer from Barton County Community College (Kan.) and is expected to compete immediately for playing time at setter. She was named to the All-Conference First Team in two seasons at Barton and an All-America Honorable Mention in 2007. The advantage she brings to the team this season is the experience that Kelsey lacks.

"Alik is taller than Kelsey, probably jumps a little better than Kelsey, has long arms and is left-handed. She also has two years of collegiate experience, where Kelsey really only has one year. Kelsey is older but Alik has more experience," Walton said.

There will be competition at the libero spot during fall practice. Amanda Carson is the returning starter and Krysta DeAngelis and Jennifer Peyton will challenge for the starting spot.

Carson finished last season leading the team with 479 digs. Her dig total was the fourth most in C-USA and the seventh most in a single-season in the Cougar record books. DeAngelis comes to Houston from Lone Tree, Colo., where she was a three-year letterwinner and finished fifth in the state in 2007.

Peyton transferred to Houston from Southern Miss. An injury prior to the start of the 2007 season forced her to take a redshirt.

"Amanda is the only one with college experience and she has one year under her belt so it will be hard for the other two to unseed her but I think that the first week of practice we will give the other two players a chance to prove that they are the best defensive players," Walton said.

Houston spends the first three weeks of the season on the road, opening play at the Marquette Kickoff on Sept. 29-30. The Cougars open the tournament against host Marquette and will also face Tennessee and UT-Chattanooga.

Following the Marquette tournament, UH will travel to Las Cruces, NM for the New Mexico State Tournament, Sept. 5-6, for matches against Florida Gulf Coast, New Mexico State and Utah. NMSU, a 2007 opponent, is one of four opponents that advanced to the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Cougars will return to Texas for the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational on Sept. 11-12. UH opens the tournament against Georgia and will close out the weekend against Texas and Texas State, both 2007 NCAA participants.

Both New Mexico State and Texas traveled to Houston last season for the Houston Invitational, taking home wins against the Cougars with scores of 3-1 and 3-0, respectively.

The 2008 home opener for the Cougars will be on Sept. 17 against Lamar. After the single match, Houston will host the Flo Hyman Invitational on Sept. 19-20. UH will welcome Stephen F. Austin, Loyola Marymount and Arizona in the tournament.

The Cougars will host a single match against Sam Houston State on Sept. 23 before opening conference play.

Houston begins the Conference USA season on the road against Tulane (Sept. 26) and UTEP (Sept. 28) before a weekend series against Tulsa (Oct. 3) and SMU (Oct. 4) at the Athletics/Alumni Center. In between, Houston will host Texas State in a mid-week game on Oct. 7.

UH will stay in Houston for the next five matches, hosting UCF, Southern Miss on Oct. 17-18 and UTEP and Tulane on Oct. 24 and Oct. 26, while traveling across town to Rice on Oct. 21. The Oct. 26 match-up against Tulane will air on CBS College Sports TV, the Cougars lone TV appearance of the season.

Closing out the month of October, Houston will travel to Dallas for a match against SMU on Oct. 31 and then to Tulsa on Nov. 1 in the last road trip of the season. Houston returns home for matches against Memphis and UAB, with the final conference game of the season on Nov. 13 against Rice.

The 2008 Conference USA Volleyball Championship will be Nov. 20-23 in Memphis, Tenn. Following the tournament, Houston will return to Houston to host a single match against TCU on Nov. 29.

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