Aug. 23, 2012
WASHINGTON - The Georgetown University volleyball team will begin its 2012 season on Friday night with something they have not had much of during Head Coach Arlisa Williams' seven-year tenure at the helm of the program; depth.
Despite the lack of depth in previous seasons, Williams and her Hoyas have steadily, though quietly, improved finishing .500 or better in three of the last four seasons. Now with strong competition throughout the lineup, the team will look to take the next step when they travel up Foxhall Road to Bender Arena to play American University in the annual D.C. Challenge at 7 p.m. on Friday night.
For leadership, the team will turn to senior captain Lindsay Wise, who has been among the BIG EAST's best middle blockers during her first three seasons on the Hilltop.
"She's such a caring, nurturing, responsible individual, who everyone is comfortable going to when things get tough," Williams said. "You're not going see her yelling and grabbing jerseys. That's not her personality, but she is out there working hard and loving her teammates and when I get on them, that's exactly what they need."
Wise has been a rock for the Hoyas, playing each match at middle blocker since arriving on campus in 2009, while finishing among the team leaders in kills and blocks in each season. Last year she finished third on the team with 235 kills and tied for the team lead with 101 block totals. Wise is joined in the middle by sophomore Dani White, who emerged as a freshman, hitting .304, the seventh best mark in the BIG EAST, while tying Wise with 101 block totals. Behind the Hoyas starters will be Femi Sobowale, a freshman from Lakeland, Fla.
"Lindsay and Dani both have a high contact point, they are both fast blocking, they both improved significantly on their blocking moves and that's something that we worked on last spring," Williams said. "It's just fun watching how fast they are and how high above the net they play. We also have Femi, who is a raw physical kid, who loves to compete and loves to win. She is just learning how to do it at this level."
Williams has plenty of options on the outside with sophomore Alex Johnson, who returns after a strong freshman season that saw her lead the team in kills.
"Alex (Johnson) brings us a high level of experience," Williams said. "She played at a high level in club and then had over 300 kills for us as a freshman. She came back in good shape, she played this summer and she wants to be the best player in our gym. You can see that by the way she carries herself in the weight room and in the gym every day.
Junior Brooke Bachesta will also find her way onto the court after a strong 2011 season.
"Brooke Bachesta hits at a high contact point, is a strong blocker and really just a true O1."
Though what has made this unit among the team's strongest is the return of redshirt sophomore Liz Riggins and the emergence of freshman Lauren Saar, who was once recruited by Williams and her staff as a libero.
"Four days into preseason before Liz's freshman year I looked at her and told our staff she was our best pin-hitter," Williams said, before injuries to teammates moved Riggins to the middle. The she got hurt in the spring of 2011 and missed all of last year and now we're knocking the rust off."
"I saw Lauren Saar in the spring of 2010 and she was about 5'8 and I said, "She's going to be a really good libero," Williams remembered. "We pushed hard for her knowing with Tory Rezin's departure we'd need a great ball control player in this class. Then she had a three inch growth spurt and is a phenomenal outside hitter. She low error, she passes nails, she has every shot in the book and can take a rip when it's there."
The Hoyas also feature talent on the the right side, with several players competing for playing time, including redshirt junior Annalee Abell, a two-year starter who comes back in the best shape of her career. Bachesta could see time outside or on the right side and freshman Alyssa Gerardi will also compete for playing time after a strong training camp.
"We converted Annalee from middle to right side, so she can run first tempo or higher balls, that it makes her harder to guard," Williams said. "She worked all spring on her blocking, so she'll be a force to be reckoned with blocking wise. She has so much passion and has learned how to channel that to help our team get better. Also, we can look at Brooke at either pin. She's such a physical player, she hits at such a high contact point and Alyssa is extremely intelligent, she works really hard and she's dialed into her teammates. It's just fun to have all these options."
The Hoyas lose two important players, as the program's all-time digs leader, libero Tory Rezin and setter Ashley Malone, who leaves the Hilltop with the third most assists in program-history have both graduated. But while the losses will be difficult to replace, Williams expects her team to be able to fill those voids and show improvement throughout the rest of the lineup.
"Two key positions will be difficult to replace," Williams admitted. "However, we have such talent in our gym. Our returners really bought in this spring and you will see MacKenzie Simpson and Whitney Jencks really step into that libero role. Whitney is passing nails and MacKenzie is getting better passing every day and brings excellent defense."
The Hoyas will add versatility to those positions with freshman Emily Gisolfi, who has shown an ability to play three positions, including defensive specialist, libero and setter during training camp.
"She's going to go out, work hard and holds herself to such a high standard. She's going to really good for us," Williams said.
At setter, the Hoyas will turn to junior transfer Haley Lowrance, who earned All-Centennial Conference honors at Haverford last season.
"Haley came in, having run a college offense at Haverford and just understands the nuances of the game and makes great decisions with the ball and has shown great hands," Williams said.
With a roster deep at every position, the Hoyas are primed to continue its gradual improvement. They'll need to be improved with a difficult schedule that has the Hoyas, ranked 127 in the RPI last season, playing 11 teams with an RPI of 100 or better, including seven teams that advanced to the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The Hoyas will see four of those tournament teams on its non-conference schedule during the opening month, as they play American (August 24), Delaware (September 11), Michigan State (September 15) and Liberty (September 18). They will also have to contend with Cincinnati (November 2), Louisville (November 4) and Marquette (October 26) toward the end of its BIG EAST schedule.
"Every year our goal is to get better," Williams said. "It's like being on a healthy diet. Slowly but surely you change the way you do things, you change your culture and you make sure you are doing it the right way. We have the players that are here for the right reasons and buy into what we're doing. What we're doing is playing with passion and purpose every time we step onto the court, demonstrating an outstanding work ethic and striving for excellence every day."
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