Aug 29, 2013
ANNAPOLIS, Md. --- The Navy volleyball team will open its 2013 season this weekend when the Midshipmen play host to the Kristen Dickmann Invitational on Friday and Saturday. Elon, Illinois-Chicago (UIC), UNC Wilmington and Navy will compete in a round-robin tournament in the Wesley A. Brown Field House.
Friday's matches feature UIC playing Elon at 4 p.m. and Navy facing UNC Wilmington at 7 p.m. Saturday's slate begins with Navy challenging UIC at 11 a.m. followed by Elon taking on UNC Wilmington at 1 p.m. UNC Wilmington will return to the court for a 4 p.m. match against UIC, then Navy and Elon close out the weekend with a 6 p.m. match.
Navy's match Friday against UNC Wilmington will be streamed live and for free on NavySports.com through the Patriot League Network. Additionally, live statistics from each of the six matches will be available at NavySports.com.
There is no admission charge for any of the matches this weekend or for any Navy home volleyball match this season.
All fans without a Department of Defense identification cards will need to either park outside of the Naval Academy and walk through the security checkpoint or else ride the free shuttle bus to and from the matches. The shuttle bus will originate from and return to Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium (parking is $5. per vehicle) on both days (3-10 p.m. on Friday, 10 a.m.-10:30 p.m. on Saturday). For directions, shuttle bus location and answers to other game day related questions, please visit the following link:
Game Day Information.
Third-year Navy head coach Larry Bock has five of his starters from last season returning to the team this fall. Headlining this quintet are 2012 First-Team All-Patriot League honoree Erin Fortner (Sr., Villa Hills, Ky.) and last season's rookie of the year in the Patriot League Alex Karika (So., Cranberry Township, Pa.). Joining opposite hitter Fortner and setter Karika from last season's starting lineup are middle hitters Alex Cassel (Jr., Sandy, Utah) and Katie Sylakowski (So., Escondido, Calif.) and outside hitter Olivia Yeager (So., Lutz, Fla.).
A total of seven letterwinners and 11 players in all return from last year's Navy squad that posted a 7-7 record in the Patriot League and placed fifth in the final league standings. Those marks were the best for the Mids since the 2007 campaign.
Navy added to its depth this season with seven players from the Class of 2017 joining the team. That means 14 of Navy's 18 players on the roster are either freshmen or sophomores. Even with a significant number of returning players to the team this year, the fall training camp for the Mids consisted of a great deal of instructions on basic principles.
"Our biggest gains this fall were positional," said Bock. "We planned on having our ability to command the ball to be better, but somehow, someway our blocking is better. That is a nice surprise. We suspect our improved ball control will benefit our hitting, and right now our setting is off the charts good. We are really deep at setter."
Bock sees the opening weekend of the season as being both a measuring stick for the progress the Mids have shown thus far this season as well as lessons to be learned that can't necessarily be taught in a practice setting.
"This first weekend is about learning to compete," said Bock. "We want to get in a lot of reps for as many people as possible. Wins and losses are a byproduct that will come for this group. Wins are what we are striving for this weekend and in every match, but to attain that we have to improve at being able to compete at match level speed, effort, execution and intensity."
Navy's first opponent, UNC Wilmington, is coming off of a 2012 season that saw the Seahawks finish the year with an overall record of 11-17 and a 3-9 mark in the Colonial Athletic Association. After tying for seventh place in the CAA a year ago, UNC Wilmington was tabbed to place eighth in the league this year.
The Mids and the Seahawks have not faced each other since 1996. UNC Wilmington won that match and holds a 6-1 advantage in the long-dormant series.
UIC enters the 2013 season after posting a 19-13 record and tying for second place in the Horizon League with a 10-4 mark last season. The Flames placed fifth in the league's pre-season poll this year.
Saturday's match will be the first between the Mids and the Flames.
Navy's final opponent of the weekend, Elon, finished in second place in the North Division of the Southern Conference with a 9-7 record last season. The Phoenix compiled a 16-16 record overall a year ago, and were predicted to place sixth in the conference -- no divisional breakdown -- this year.
Elon has won the lone two matches in the series with Navy. Those two meetings took place in 2006 and `09.
Navy has played host to a tournament every year since becoming a Division I program over two decades ago. This year marks the fourth 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.
"There are a number of reasons why naming our tournament after Kristen is such a positive experience for our team and program," said Bock, who coached Kristen's sister, Cassie, when he was the head coach at Juniata. "The larger ones are we truly want our team and players to emulate Kristen and everything she brought to Navy volleyball and the Naval Academy as a whole. It helps our team that she remains part of our legacy. Her energy and every day positive life force should be unforgettable to all of us who new her. This weekend keeps those memories at the forefront for us."
A member of the Elon team is sophomore Chelsea Rafetto, who knew Kristen and whose older sister was a high school teammate of Dickmann's. Additionally, Chelsea was a recipient of the Kristen Dickmann Memorial Scholarship, a one-time, $1000 scholarship Unionville High School (Kennett Square, Pa.) awards annually to a member of its graduating class who was going on to play a collegiate sport but who did not receive a college scholarship.