Volleyball Opens Season at Home this Weekend
Watch Friday's Navy-Providence match online
ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- The Navy volleyball team will open its 2014 season this weekend when the Mids play host to the Kristen Dickmann Invitational in the Wesley A. Brown Field House. Navy will face Providence Friday at 7 p.m. in the venue before taking on Southern Utah (11 a.m.) and The Citadel (6 p.m.) Saturday.
Admission is free to this weekend's tournament and all Navy home volleyball matches this year.
A free live video stream of Friday's Providence at Navy match will be available at NavySports.com through the Patriot League Network. Additionally, links to live statistics from all six matches can be found at the same web site.
The Mids posted an overall record of 13-16 last season and placed fifth in the Patriot League with a record of 9-7. It marked the second year in a row in which the Mids finished in fifth place in the league. Navy was tabbed to place fifth in the league in this year's pre-season poll.
Navy's 2014 roster features more new players to the team (eight) than returning 2013 players (seven, six of whom lettered). The Mids do have the luxury of returning their starting middle hitters from both the 2012 and 2013 campaigns. Team captain and lone senior Alex Cassel (Sandy, Utah) averaged 1.96 kills per set and hit .251 last season, while Katie Sylakowski (Jr., Escondido, Calif.) knocked down 2.13 kills per set and hit .296. The Mids also return their libero from a year ago in Alli Graf (So., Annapolis, Md.), who snared an average of 4.17 digs per set last season.
The trio of Cassel, Sylakowski and Graf are the lone returning members of Navy's starting seven players from the 2013 season, but an additional three players who appeared in at least 40 sets last year also are back this season. Defensive player Maeve Drummey (Jr., Silver Spring, Md.) averaged 1.41 digs per set in her 61 sets last year, outside hitter Gaby Smith (So., Virginia Beach, Va.) posted 1.78 kills per set over the course of her 51 sets and setter Star Steele (Jr., Tampa, Fla.) averaged 2.63 assists per set a year ago. Steele's assist average is a little deflated as a number of her 41 sets consisted of her taking the court as a front row blocker late in sets.
In all, Navy's roster consists of a total of four juniors and seniors and a combined 11 freshmen and sophomores.
"It is both exciting and scary that we are young," said Navy head coach Larry Bock. "Spectacular things in both directions have happened during training camp. We have had some great sessions as well as some that were less than good. All of that was very predictable heading into the first practice, but what we did not see coming are the levels of athleticism, ball control and energy we have witnessed on the court.
"We are continuing to fine tune our game and see if we can translate the good things we have seen in practices into competition. Very frankly, we are looking to win, as well as zero in on a true team identity."
Providence compiled a 12-20 record last season and placed seventh in its final season in America East Conference with a mark of 4-10. The Friars were tabbed to place 10th in the Big East Conference this year.
Back for the Friars this season are their leading attackers from last year in Mackenzie Ziegler and Kayla Fitzgerald. Ziegler averaged 2.72 kills per set a year ago, while Fitzgerald averaged 2.71 kills per set. Last year's starting setter, Jordan Wisler, also returns after she dished out over 1,000 assists (9.57 aps) during the 2013 campaign. Defensively for the Friars, Michelle Cruz is back after she grabbed over 500 digs (4.73 dps) last season, with Fitzgerald also hauling in 2.52 digs per set. An additional returner is Annie Russian, who ranked second on the team last year with an average of 0.64 blocks per set.
Navy holds a 3-1 advantage in the all-time series with Providence. The Mids and the Friars last met in 2010 when Navy won in four sets at Norfolk State's Spartan Classic. The Mids swept the Friars in 2006 in the lone previous match contested between the teams on The Yard.
Southern Utah posted a 4-27 record a year ago and tied for 10th place in the Big Sky Conference with a record of 3-17 against league foes. The Thunderbirds were tabbed to place 12th in the conference this season.
Just one of the team's top-three kill leaders from last season returns this year. Ann Clappier ranked second on the squad a year ago with an average of 1.96 kills per set. However, returning for the Thunderbirds this year are their starting setter (Joanna Christensen, 8.58 aps), libero (Sariah Pelaez, 3.68 dps) and leading blocker (Taylor Heine, 1.20 bps) from 2013.
Saturday's match between the Mids and the Thunderbirds will be the inaugural meeting of the programs.
The Citadel closed the 2013 season with a 5-28 record on the year. The Bulldogs also placed 11th in the Southern Conference with a 0-16 record in league matches. The program was picked to place ninth in the conference this season.
Back for the Bulldogs this season are Ise d'Angelo and Bailey Kernodle, who led the squad in kills last year with averages of 1.91 and 1.71 kills per set, respectively. The team's starting setter from a year ago, Rachel Keefer (6.95 aps), also returns, as do the team's leading blockers from last season in Lauren Hurt (1.08 bps) and Maureen Wilkinson (1.00 bps). Keefer also ranked second on the squad last season in digs with an average of 2.33 digs per set.
Navy and The Citadel have met on five previous occasions, with the Mids defeating the Bulldogs in each of those matches. Most recently, Navy won in four sets during a 2012 match held at the Pentagon. The Mids also emerged with a four-set win during the 2004 season in the lone previous meeting of the teams in Annapolis.
"On paper," said Bock, "this looks to be a pretty balanced field. Some rosters have a little more maturity than others. Providence is returning the bulk of both its starting lineup and its roster as a whole. They are clearly a program on the upswing with making the move back into the Big East Conference this year. They have a great coaching staff and a setter who has been in the heat of matches for a number of years.
"Overall, I think this will be a fun weekend of volleyball. I don't see any one team being about to blow out another."
Navy has played host to a tournament every year since becoming a Division I program over two decades ago. This year marks the fifth time the tournament has been named after Kristen Dickmann.
A defensive specialist as a plebe on Navy's 2007 team, Dickmann unexpectedly passed away in Navy's Bancroft Hall in the spring of 2008.
"One of the really cool things we have realized in our short time here is the depth of the legacy we have inherited in regard to Kristen and the Dickmann family," said Bock, who coached Kristen sister, Cassie, when he was the head coach at Juniata. "Kristen continues to be held in such reverence that this event has grown in importance for our team, program and the Naval Academy. We want to be truly great with honoring her and playing as she did."