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Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic: Florida Fanalysis

September 5, 2011

The Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic opens Friday, Sept 9th, when Florida will face Texas and Penn State will take on Stanford (8:30 p.m. ET).  In this post, we’ve included Quick Views and team rosters for all four teams (in alphabetical order), plus a Fanalysis of Florida by Thrill of the ‘ville, a longtime Florida fan who kindly agreed help us out with a fan’s perspective on the Gators.  We hope to have Fanalysis segments on Texas, Penn State and Stanford in the coming days.

Quick View: Florida

Undefeated Florida (6-0) has plowed through six opponents this season, including three in the 2011 Campus USA Credit Union Invitational (September 2nd and 3rd) without dropping a set.  If that weren’t impressive enough, the Gators limited their three opponents in the 2011 Campus USA Credit Union Invitational to a collective -.018 hitting percentage.

There were plenty of accolades to go around, but after the Clemson match, Florida head coach Mary Wise singled out 6-1 So. MB Chloe Mann, who tallied nine kills, five blocks, and tied tournament MVP 6-2 Sr. OH Kristy Jaeckel for a match-high 12 points:

Chloe played the match of her life today.  She really brought her A-game and took full advantage of her starting opportunity. She is the best jumper on the team. She looks like an experienced player out there and she never looks lost. Our ability to hold Clemson to .024 had a lot to do with the play of Chloe in terms of stabilizing the front-row blocking.

In addition to Mann and Jaeckel, Florida standouts included 5-9 So. S Chanel Brown, 6-2 Sr. RS/S Kelly Murphy, and 5-7 Fr. RS-Fr. L Taylor Unroe, all of whom were named to the All-Tournament Team.

After Florida’s August 30th match against Florida State, Coach Wise had pointed to  the “glaring concern” that the Gators “didn’t block balls.’’

Teams that win championships, conference championships, teams that win big matches, they do it with blocking. It will be a major focus in practice.

Florida is coming off a disappointing 2010 season, when it was ranked #1 in the country for much of the season, only to fall to 16th-seeded Purdue, 3-0 (26-28, 15-25, 19-25) in the NCAA Regional Semifinals in Austin Texas.  This year the Gators are looking to improve on that performance, with the ultimate goal of capturing the first national title in the program’s history.  In addition to Brown, Murphy and Unroe, Coach Wise will be looking to 6-1 Sr. MB Cassandra Anderson, 6-2 Jr. RS Tangerine Wiggs, and 6-1 Sr. OH Stephanie Ferrell.

Fanalysis

DigNittany: Let’s set aside the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic for a minute and focus on the big picture. Your Gators are undefeated and haven’t lost a set this season. It’s obviously early, but do you believe an NCAA title is within reach for this year’s team, and if so, do you see any differences between this year’s squad and last year’s squad that bolster your confidence?

Thrill of the ‘ville: Its true Florida hasn’t dropped a set but I think it is a bit misleading to focus too much on that fact this early in the season. The quality of Florida’s opponents so far has been subpar compared to many other schools’ schedules. Wins over schools like Jacksonville, FAU, Boston College, etc. are not that helpful in terms of measuring where this team stacks up to the rest of the nation.

Another reason why I believe not dropping a set should be taken with a grain of salt is that the Gators match with FSU was highly contested and could have easily swung in the Seminoles’ favor. That is why this upcoming weekend is extremely important for Florida: it will really show how realistic the goal of a national championship is as they’ll be seeing some of the best in the nation. We’ve already seen teams like PSU, USC, Texas, and Nebraska take an early loss, so it would appear the field is wide open this year. It’s time to find out if Florida is part of the elite group that can prevent the trophy from returning to its annual destination of Happy Valley.

DigNittany: 6-1 So. MB Chloe Mann and 5-7 Fr. RS Fr. L Taylor Unroe are new to Florida’s starting line-up this season, but both seem to be playing exceptionally well. What are your impressions of them so far and what do you look for from them in the Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic?

Thrill of the ‘ville: Chloe has played in quite a few sets so far this season but has shared her spot with Betsy Smith, who has been granted the starting spot in most matches. Nothing against Betsy, but I am honestly very surprised that Chloe hasn’t been given more time, as she really has taken advantage of the opportunities she has been given.

Back to my early point, however, it can’t be for certain that her numbers weren’t inflated by weaker competition. Personally, I think she’s a very solid athlete with tremendous upside who really just needs an opportunity to showcase her talent. So in the Nike Big Four, I’m looking to see if the starting job will be handed over to her and if she can continue to perform at the level she has been so far this season.

As for Taylor, there was a lot of hype surrounding her prior to attending Florida, so it was quite disappointing that she had to sit out the 2010 season with an injury. Thankfully, she was able to get healthy and get some superb training from strength and conditioning coach Matt Delancy to get prepared for this year. The work she put in during the offseason is very noticeable and has really paid off so far, as she has begun to fill the passing void that was left by the graduation of some of Florida’s best passers the last few years. Although she has been pretty solid for the Gators so far, I truthfully think she has room to improve and has yet to hit her peak. That’s not a knock on her talent – she’s very talented – it’s just that she doesn’t have much experience under her belt. So, with that in mind, the thing I am looking for from Taylor at the Nike Big Four is continued improvement. The more experience she obtains the better she will become.

DigNittany: Florida opens the tournament Friday night against Texas, which is coming off back-to-back losses to Minnesota. What are your keys for that match, and do you think the Longhorns will be a tougher opponent after the Minnesota weekend?

Thrill of the ‘ville: The main keys to this match will be serving/serve receive and passing. Florida’s early opponents have shown that the Gators’ passing is not nearly as consistent as it should be. If Texas can identify and expose weaknesses in Florida’s passing it could be a long night for the Gators’ back row.

As for the Longhorns, they really need to have an improved serve receive. Minnesota, especially Dixon, served Texas tough and that created some issues for the Longhorns. If Florida learned anything from watching those two matches, I would have to assume that is what they took away from it. This is good news for the Gators as they have some players, like Unroe, who can serve some tough balls that could create major issues for Texas.

The Minnesota matches were a stumbling block for Texas, but Elliot is a veteran coach and knows how to get his team back on track, which could mean trouble for the Gators, as the Horns will be working extra hard in practice and out for blood this weekend.

DigNittany: Do you think either Penn State or Stanford team presents a tougher match-up for your Gators, and if so, why?

Thrill of the ‘ville: I think both Penn State and Stanford are tough match-ups, as we’re looking at two teams that are very talented, well coached, perennial powers. So what makes these two teams different? On the one hand, you have Stanford, which will be playing at home in front of what should a very large, energetic crowd. And on the other hand, you have Penn State, which, when it traveled down to Gainesville for the NCAA tournament in 2009, beat Florida on their home floor in front of one of the largest crowds the Gators have ever had…and then repeated the performance in 2010 in the inaugural Nike Big Four Volleyball Classic. I think Stanford is extremely talented, but Russ and Penn State just know Florida so well that if I had to choose, I’d pick the Nittany Lions as the tougher match-up.

DigNittany: So, what are your predictions for the tournament?

Thrill of the ‘ville: My main prediction is that anyone lucky enough to attend this tournament will be in for a treat. I am confident it will live up to its billing as the “Big Four” and will feature fantastic volleyball. As for individual matches, I see the Gators escaping the Texas match with a late run in the fourth to earn the win 3-1 and a date with Stanford Saturday night. It will be a different story against the Cardinal, as Stanford will provide Florida with a reality check in the form a 3-0 sweep.

DigNittany: Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. We appreciate it.

Florida 2011 Team Roster

21 Cassandra Anderson MB 6′ 1″ Sr. Bakersfield, Calif. (Bakersfield)
16 Simone Antwi MB 6′ 2″ Fr. Lorton, Va. (South County)
5 Chanel Brown S 5′ 9″ So. Tempe, Ariz. (Valley Christian)
1 Stephanie Ferrell OH 6′ 1″ Sr. Los Angeles, Calif. (Locke/Hawaii)
19 Elissa Hausmann DS 5′ 5″ Sr. Tampa, Fla. (Gaither)
6 Kristy Jaeckel OH 6′ 2″ Sr. Littleton, Colo. (Heritage)
10 Chloe Mann MB 6′ 1″ So. Gainesville, Fla. (Eastside)
11 Madison Monserez DS 5′ 8″ Fr. Orlando, Fla. (Bishop Moore)
12 Kelly Murphy S/RS 6′ 2″ Sr. Wilmington, Ill. (Joliet Catholic Academy)
30 Holly Pole DS 5′ 8″ Fr. Ocala, Fla. (Vanguard)
17 Noami Santos-Lamb OH 5′ 11″ Fr. Carolina, Puerto Rico (Carvin)
14 Betsy Smith MB 6′ 2″ Jr. Atlanta, Ga. (Wesleyan)
55 Taylor Unroe DS 5′ 7″ R-Fr. Muncie, Ind. (Burris)
13 Sundai Weston S 5′ 8″ Jr. Naples, Fla. (Gulf Coast)
4 Tangerine Wiggs RS 6′ 2″ Jr. Seattle, Wash. (Holy Names Academy/Washington State)

Quick View: Penn State

Heading into the the Rockvale Outlets/AVCA College Volleyball Showcase on August 26th, Penn State had more questions than answers regarding the 2011 Penn State team.  Three of these questions were: 1) How will Penn State’s  passing measure up to recent teams? (Penn State having lost 2010 backcourt defensive stalwarts Alyssa D’Errico and Cathy Quilico;  2) who will provide backcourt defense ? (Same story, with the added question of whether 2010 starting setter Jr. Kristin Carpenter would reprise her 2010 role, or whether 5-11 Fr. S Micha Hancock would play her way into the starting setter’s job, allowing Carpenter to move to libero); and 3) Who will fill the middle hitting spots (where the departure of All-American Arielle Wilson — the latest incarnation of Penn State’s quick sliding middles — had left a big void, with no clear-cut candidate to take her place).

Those questions remained after Penn State dropped a 3-1 decision to Oregon on Friday, August 26th.  But the following night, in front of a wildly enthusiastic Rec Hall crowd of 6,165, some answers may be starting to emerge.  The Nittany Lions, led by 6-1 So. OH Deja McClendon, 6-4 So. Ariel Scott, 5-11 Fr. S Micha Hancock (making her first collegiate start), 5-6 Jr. L Kristin Carpenter (debuting at libero), 6-6 So. MH Katie Slay, 6-2 Fr. MH Nia Grant (also making her first collegiate start), 6-2 So. OH Maddie Martin, and 6-5 Sr. RS/OH Katie Kabbes, clawed their way back from an 0-2 deficit to defeat Southern Cal 3-2.

This past weekend (September 2nd and 3rd) the young Nittany Lion tean  webt 3-0 in the Pittsburgh Invitational Tournament, sweeping Miami University (25-20, 25-18, 25-21), Pittsburgh (25-13, 25-12, 25-18), and New Hampshire (25-14, 25-11, 25-11).

Penn State is a very young and very inexperienced team.  This will be a challenging tournament for them, but a good measuring stick of where they stand against elite teams in 2011.

For Penn State’s individual and team statistics through 9-3-11, Click Here.

2011 Team Roster

Number
Name
Position
Eligibility
Height
Hometown
State/Nation
1Scott, Ariel

MHSo.6-4RidgewoodNew Jersey
2 Kabbes, Katie OHSr.6-4RaleighNorth Carolina
4Gonzalez, DominiqueDSFr.5-6San AntonioTexas
5Carpenter, Kristin S/DSJr.5-6MechanicsvilleVirginia
6Martin, MaddieOHSo.6-2TampaFlorida
7Grant, NiaOHFr.6-2WarrenOhio
8Denny, Erica
MHFr. (RS)6-5CentennialColorado
10Racibarskas, Marika SJr.6-0ChathamNew Jersey
11Dorton, Darcy

OHSo. (RS)6-2MuncieIndiana
12Hancock, MichaSFr.5-11EdmondOklahoma
13Shifflett, Megan DS/SSr.5-6Falls ChurchVirginia
14Whitney, AiyanaOHFr.6-5RidgewoodNew Jersey
15Harding, MaggieDSFr. (RS)5-6State CollegePennsylvania
16Slay, Katie
MHSo.6-6RaleighNorth Carolina
18McClendon, Deja

OHSo.6-1LouisvilleKentucky
23Longo, AliDSSo.5-6ChatfieldColorado
33Fuller, LaceyDSFr.5-6San DiegoCalifornia

Quick View: Stanford

Stanford remained undefeated with victories this past weekend over Notre Dame and Duke.  Against Duke, the Cardinal were led by 6-0 So. OH Rachel Williams, who totaled a match-high 24 kills on 60 attempts (with a .383 attack %), 22 digs and three blocks, and 6-2 So. MB Carly Wopat, who registered 14 kills on 33 attempts (no errors), 12 digs and six blocks, and 5-11 Jr. S Karissa Cook, who had a career-best 51 assists and a career-high tying 20 digs.  Williams was named the tournament MVP and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Wopat and Cook.

Although Stanford lost All-Americans Gabi Ailes, Alix Klineman and Cassidy Lichtman from last year’s team, the expectations for the Cardinal are always high, and this season is no different.  As Head Coach John Dunning noted in Stanford’s pre-season outlook:

Our goal is to be one of the teams in the country who has a chance to play for the national championship and one of the teams in the Pac-12 that competes for the conference championship.  I think everyone in our program would agree that this is one of those years that is a little harder to predict just how successful we’ll be because we have new people stepping up into bigger roles. That adds a huge amount of excitement for our program this year.

In addition to Williams, Wopat, and Cook, other keys players for the Cardinal include 6-1 Jr. MB Jessica Walker, 6-2 RS FR. OH Lydia Bai, 6-6 Jr. OH Hayley Spelman, 5-10 Jr. L Hannah Benjamin, and 5-10 So. DS Mary Ellen Luck.

Stanford 2011 Team Roster

No.

Name

Ht.

Pos.

Yr.

Hometown (High School)

1

Lydia Bai 6-2 Outside Hitter RS FR Irvine, CA (Arnold O. Beckman)

2

Carly Wopat 6-2 Middle Blocker SO Santa Barbara, CA (Dos Pueblos)

3

Morgan Boukather 6-1 Outside Hitter FR Newport Beach, CA (Corona del Mar)

4

Hannah Benjamin 5-10 Libero/Defensive Specialist JR San Diego, CA (Francis Parker)

5

Sam Wopat 6-1 Outside Hitter SO Santa Barbara, CA (Dos Pueblos)

6

Rachel Williams 6-0 Outside Hitter SO Los Gatos, CA (Archbishop Mitty)

7

Jessica Walker 6-1 Middle Blocker JR Houston, TX (Booker T. Washington)

9

Lauren Birks 6-0 Outside Hitter/Defensive Specialist FR San Diego, CA (La Jolla Country Day)

10

Kyle Gilbert 5-7 Libero/Defensive Specialist FR Encinitas, CA (Santa Fe Christian)

12

Stephanie Browne 6-4 Middle Blocker/Outside Hitter SR Danville, CA (Monte Vista)

14

Katherine Sebastian 5-9 Setter SR Pacific Palisades, CA (Harvard-Westlake)

15

Karissa Cook 5-11 Setter JR Santa Cruz, CA (Harbor)

20

Mary Ellen Luck 5-10 Defensive Specialist SO Houston, TX (Stratford)

21

Hayley Spelman 6-6 Outside Hitter JR Las Vegas, NV (Durango)

Quick View: Texas

Heading into its double-header with Minnesota this past weekend, Texas had a lot of positives.  They were ranked #4 in August 29th AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Poll.  6-2 Sr. MB Rachael Adams had been named as one of 30 NCAA volleyball student-athletes nominated for the 2011 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, and had averaged 4.56 points, 3.25 kills and 1.75 blocks per-set (with a gaudy .500 attack %) in the Burnt Orange Classic, earning Most Outstanding Player honors.  6-1 Fr. OH Khat Bell had averaged 3.00 kills/set, 3.88 digs/set and 1.00 blocks/set for the tourney.  Adams and Bell had been joined on the All-Tourament Team by 6-3 So. MB Haley Cameron.

All this was in line with the Longhorns’ high-expectations for the season, as Texas was voted pre-season #1 in the 2011 Big 12 Conference in a poll of the league’s head coaches.

This past weekend was a different story, as Texas dropped both  matches to the Golden Gophers, dropping Friday night’s match to Minnesota 3-0 (25-20, 25-20, 25-17), and following up with a second 3-0 loss on Saturday night (25-19, 25-21, 25-22), which left the Longhorns with a 2-2 record for the season (Minnesota is now 3-1).

Reports from fans who witnessed the matches are that Texas had difficulties with serving and serve-receive — not surprising for such a young team:  In addition to Bell (Fr.) and Cameron (So.), 6-3 Fr. Haley Eckerman, 6-3 RS So. Bailey Webster, and 5-11 So. S Hannah Allison are freshmen and sophomores who have seen significant action this season.

Longhorn fans have many reasons for optimism, but Texas (like most teams this early in the season) has several unanswered questions as they head to Palo Alto.

Texas 2011 Team Roster

NO. NAME POS HT. CLASS-EXP. HOMETOWN (LAST SCHOOL)

5

Rachael Adams MB 6-2 Sr.-3L Cincinnati, Ohio (Mount Notre Dame)

12

Hannah Allison S 5-11 So.-1L Siloam Springs, Ark. (Siloam Springs)

24

Ashley Bannister OH 6-1 Fr.-RS Sugar Land, Texas (Travis)

1

Khat Bell MB/OH 6-1 Fr.-HS Mesquite, Texas (North Mesquite)

20

Haley Cameron MB 6-3 So.-1L La Jolla, Calif. (La Jolla)

10

Haley Eckerman OH 6-3 Fr.-HS Waterloo, Iowa (East)

3

Madelyn Hutson UTIL 6-5 Fr.-HS Brentwood, Tenn. (Ravenwood)

4

Michelle Kocher S 5-10 Sr.-3L Wheaton, Ill. (St. Francis)

14

Sha’Dare McNeal UTIL 6-1 Jr.-2L San Diego, Calif. (Fallbrook)

16

Sarah Palmer L 5-10 So.-1L Kailua, Hawaii (Hawaii Baptist Academy)

18

Amber Roberson OH 6-2 Sr.-3L San Antonio, Texas (Wagner)

23

Bailey Webster OH 6-3 So.-1L Baltimore, Md. (St. Paul’s School for Girls)

15

Sydney Yogi L 5-2 Sr.-3L Honolulu, Hawaii (Punahou)

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