Aug. 27, 2008
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The 2008 Navy volleyball team has no shortage of goals to strive for this season, a year that gets underway this weekend when the Midshipmen play host to the Trident Classic Friday and Sunday in the Wesley Brown Field House.
* After missing the Patriot League Tournament in four consecutive years from 2000-03, this year's team will be attempting to qualify for the tournament for the fourth time in the last five years.
* While advancing to the league's four-team postseason does mark a successful regular season campaign, the Mids also want to advance out of the semifinal round and into the title tilt for the first time since 1999.
* Navy also is looking to continue its strong play against non-conference foes this year. The Mids have tallied 10 or more wins against non-league programs three times in the last four years and have posted an overall non-conference record of 45-19 during this time.
* The Mids have enjoyed a great deal of success over the years in its longtime home arena, Macdonough Hall, but Navy will split its home matches this season between Macdonough (Monday-through-Thursday matches) and the new $52 million Wesley Brown Field House (Friday-through-Sunday matches). Carrying over the program's home court advantage to its new facility will be a key to the success to the season.
* Additionally, the Mids are looking to rebound in its series against Army. Navy won the Star Match between the two service academies three times in a four-year span from 1999-2002, but has earned the coveted Star just once (2005) in the last five seasons. This year's Star Match will be played Oct. 25 in Annapolis.
A nice mix of veteran experience and talented newcomers has been assembled in order to meet the previously mentioned and many other goals set by the squad.
Players Returning / Lost -- 8 / 7
Letterwinners Returning / Lost -- 7 / 6
Starters Returning / Lost -- 4 / 2 + Libero
Navy returns more than half of its players, letterwinners and starters from its 2007 squad that posted a 21-12 record on the year and finished in fourth place in the Patriot League with an 8-6 record.
Individually, five of Navy's returning players appeared in over 100 games last year, while collectively the group tallied well over 600 games and 200 matches played a year ago. In comparison, among the seven players from last year's team who are not on the squad this season, only Rachel Dougherty and Aimee' Burns logged appearances in at least 100 games.
"We have a good core group of players returning from last year," said head coach Mike Schwob, now in his 13th season at the Navy helm and just 11 wins shy of 200 for his career. "You never want to have players go through an unsuccessful season, but many of our returning players did just that in 2006 and they learned a lot from it. They saw the dedication and effort needed for us to cross the fine line from our struggles in `06 to our successes in `07. Now, they want to pick up where they left off at the end of the last season and take the program to greater heights this year."
Though Navy lost many talented players who had helped the program to its many successes over the last few years, without question the biggest loss to the team from a year ago is the untimely passing of Kristen Dickmann. The 19-year-old freshman, who was expected to challenge for a starting defensive specialist position this year, passed away in her sleep this past May.
"Kristen was a major part of our team, and that doesn't even come close to discussing what she did as a volleyball player," said Schwob. "We all are still feeling her loss as a person. We can remember the drive she had to continually be a better person, better student and better volleyball player and we can put that into every aspect of our lives. I think we will see that drive displayed by our team this season."
New Players -- 7
Though just over half of Navy's 2007 roster returns this season, nearly as many players are gone from last year's team. This means the talented group of seven newcomers will be looked upon to fill the gaps created by the absence of seven players who contributed mightily to the success of the team in 2007.
"I think our new players complement our returning players very well," said Schwob. "We have insurance and depth at every position. They come in with a great deal of success on the club and high school levels, so we have confidence in their abilities."
(Key: L=returning letterwinner; S=returning starter)
* Meredith Biri (L/S) -- 99 gms., 1.34 dpg
* Aimee' Burns (L/S) -- 111 gms., 3.14 dpg
* Kristen Dickmann -- 14 gms., 0.57 dpg
* Liz Grider (L) -- 60 gms., 0.87 dpg
* Janie Baird
* Holly Berger
Four of the seven players who are gone from last year's team played one of the defensive specialist positions, including two-year starters Meredith Biri and Aimee' Burns. A position that was one of Navy's strengths heading into the 2007 season is now one of its biggest question marks as the 2008 campaign rolls around.
This provides two of Navy's newcomers, Janie Baird and Holly Berger, a great opportunity to step up and take hold of the DS positions right away. Seeing how the duo responds to the opportunity is something Schwob is anxiously looking forward to as the season begins.
"We have two new players at this position in Janie and Holly," said Schwob. "They are good athletes who bring a lot of speed to the floor. We need for them to provide steady ball control for us right from the first match of the year."
* Jenny Rudewicz (L) -- 42 gms., 2.74 apg, 0.83 dpg
* Marissa Watson (L/S) -- 111 gms., 10.99 apg, 2.50 dpg
If defensive specialist is the position with the biggest question mark on the team, then setter is the position with the biggest exclamation point as the Mids return 2007 starter Marissa Watson and backup Jenny Rudewicz.
Watson tallied over 1,200 assists in her first season as Navy's primary setter last year and will serve as the captain of the Mids this season. Rudewicz, meanwhile, saw action in 24 matches last year and provides a nice change of pace to Watson.
"Marissa and Jenny are two different setters, but they share the ability to make a great set to our hitters and provide them an opportunity to score a point," said Schwob.
"Marissa is as composed on the floor as you can get and has transformed herself into being a very tactical setter. On the other hand, Jenny sets a flatter, quicker ball and really picks up the pace of our offense."
* Rachel Dougherty (L/S) -- 111 gms., 4.50 kpg, 1.68 dpg
* Nikki England (L) -- 79 gms., 0.62 kpg, 1.22 dpg
* Barbara Beal -- 12 gms., 1.00 kpg, 0.83 dpg
* Aubrey Manes (L) -- 33 gms., 0.97 kpg, 0.70 dpg
* Jessie Sims (L/S) -- 107 gms., 3.31 kpg, 2.67 dpg
* Meryden Griffin
* Maida Kalic´
* Corrine Landis
Last year, Rachel Dougherty produced one of the top single seasons an offensive player has had during the three decades of Navy volleyball. The right arm of the Academic All-American knocked down a Navy record 500 kills last year on her way to earning First-Team All-Patriot League honors.
Though replacing 500 kills from the position is hard to do, the Mids do return four-year starter Jessie Sims who is less than 50 kills away from reaching 1,000 for her career. Additionally, Sims enters the 2008 season needing less than 150 digs to set a new Navy career standard.
"Jessie is a true six-rotation player who has an impact on the team at all six spots," said Schwob. "When we are scouted by opponents, Jessie very well may be the first person other coaches talk to their team about."
After a two-year apprenticeship at the position, Aubrey Manes appears ready to join the mix at outside hitter.
"Aubrey is a great athlete who lacked playing experience until our spring season," said Schwob. "If she can build upon how she played this past spring, I expect her to be one of the biggest surprises in the league."
In terms of raw talent, newcomer Maida Kalic´ may have the most on the team due to her having played volleyball for only a handful of years.
"Maida is a phenomenal athlete who has a world of potential," said Schwob. "She hasn't played much volleyball in her life, so she has no bad habits we need to break her of. There is a lot of work to do, but she is making tremendous strides with every practice."
Rounding out the hitters are Barbara Beal, Meryden Griffin and Corrine Landis. Beal is in her third year on the squad, Griffin sat out the 2007 season following her transfer to Navy from Rhode Island and Landis is entering her freshman year at Navy.
"Barbara has received limited court time and Meryden could only compete in practice for us last year, but they know the ins and outs of our program and are continually improving their levels of play," said Schwob.
"Corrine really impressed us with her play throughout our training period. We saw a lot of potential from her in a very short period of time that makes us excited about her prospects."
* Abbie Merkl (L/S) -- 100 gms., 0.98 kpg, 0.63 bpg
* Meghan Carpenter
After spending the majority of her freshman year in a reserve role, Abbie Merkl stepped into a more prominent position last year and appeared in 100 games on the season. Merkl was one of the top defensive players on the wings last year -- her 63 blocks was the highest recorded by a non-middle blocker -- and the recent spring season saw her offensive production rise, as well.
"Our expectations are high for Abbie this year," said Schwob. "She has always had a good block, but now her offense has come around and she has become a very balanced player. That is in no small part to her having one of the top work ethics on the team."
Entering the fall as the No. 2 RSH on the squad is Meghan Carpenter.
"As the season goes on and Meghan understands our system, we see her as not just providing support for us, but also competing for playing time," said Schwob. "We have a nice combination of players at this position with Abbie and Meghan."
* Lindi Conner (L) -- 57 gms., 0.79 kpg, 0.40 bpg
* Krista Eschelman (L/S) -- 102 gms., 1.68 kpg, 0.86 bpg
* Alexa Gibbs (L/S) -- 112 gms., 3.00 kpg, 0.74 bpg
* Kaitlin Roseti
Navy will enjoy a rare luxury this season as both of its starting middle blockers from last season, Krista Eschelman and Alexa Gibbs, return to the squad this year.
Both players were thrust into vital roles last year and they each responded. Gibbs averaged 3.00 kills a game and hit .311 a year ago, while Eschelman played her best volleyball at the end of the season and was named to the Patriot League All-Tournament Team. The Mids need both to continue to hold down the center of the court this season.
"We have two experienced players back in Alexa and Krista and the stability they provide and the developments in their games they made since last November are big reasons why we are excited about the year," said Schwob. "They have two different styles of play, which gives us two completely different looks when they switch into the front row."
The lone newcomer to the position is Kaitlin Roseti.
"Kaitlin needs to improve her quickness and ball control, but we see her developing into a solid player for us, and soon," said Schwob.
Patriot League Poll
1. American ... 97 points (13 first-place votes)
2. Army ... 87 (3)
3. Colgate ... 72
4. Navy ... 55
5. Bucknell ... 46
6. Lafayette ... 41
7. Lehigh ... 35
8. Holy Cross ... 15
The 2008 volleyball season begins this weekend when Navy plays host to the annual Trident Classic in the Wesley Brown Field House. The Mids will first play St. Francis (N.Y.) Friday at 7 p.m., then will close the tournament Sunday by taking on Bryant at 10 a.m. and USC Upstate at 5 p.m.
Admission is free to all Navy volleyball matches this weekend and throughout the 2008 season.