Volleyball Preview: Youth Is Served

Aug. 13, 2003

The 2003 edition of Jacksonville University volleyball features seven new faces, including first-year head coach Courtney Dipert, who is in her first head coaching position after serving as an assistant at her alma mater, Florida State, and last season at Duke. While there will be six freshmen on the team, there is still plenty of veteran leadership returning from a squad that advanced to the Atlantic Sun Championship semifinals to give the young Dolphins a solid foundation.

JU will be significantly deeper with 12 players on the roster; however, the veterans will shoulder most of the load until the newcomers learn the system. Senior outside hitter Radka Dimitrova and sophomore middle blocker Danielle Neville each earned all-conference honors last year and will solidify the front line.

No one will be counted on more than Dimitrova, who dominated in 2002 by ranking third in the A-Sun with 442 kills, ninth with 307 digs and 10th with a .276 hitting percentage. Dimitrova, the only senior on the team, earned First-Team Atlantic Sun All-Conference honors in 2002 and needs just 102 kills to become only the third player in JU history to record 1,000 kills. To reach 1,000 career digs, she will have to match her defensive intensity from last season when she had 307 digs.

Junior Candice Rose showed flashes of greatness last season, recording nine double-digit kill efforts and finishing third on the team with 190 kills. Junior Kelly Ryals got off to a great start last year, leading the team with 18 kills and 18 digs in the season-opening victory over Xavier, but missed 14 matches following her second knee injury in as many seasons. Ryals, who is an active, vocal leader, returned at libero for 10 matches and led the team with 2.94 digs per game. Six-foot-one freshman Eva Stoilova, a teammate of Dimitrova's in Bulgaria, comes in with high expectations, while fellow freshman Kerstin Erickson will also help fill the voids left by the graduation of Kristy Smith, who ranked second on the team in digs, and Alesha Rodriguez, who was fourth in kills.

The only other returning starter for the Dolphins besides Dimitrova is Neville. Neville had a standout rookie season, leading the conference in blocks with 1.23 per game to land a spot on the Atlantic Sun All-Freshman Team. Neville also added 138 kills to go with the fourth-highest single-season block assist total (105) in JU history.

Sophomore Lindsay Ward, who saw limited playing time as a freshman, could have a breakout season after showing signs of maturity. Ward had a tremendous spring and has impressed the coaching staff with her off-season work ethic.

Six-foot freshmen Petya Borisova, also a teammate of Dimitrova's in Bulgaria, and Shannon Welch, who helped Brentwood High School capture four-straight Tennessee state titles, will help fill the void left by Second-Team All-Conference middle hitter Brooke Ahrens.

Sophomore Erin Donivan enters the season as the team's returning assist leader with 36 following the departures of Kristin Withrow (621 assists) and Melissa Bullion (618). Erin Hickman, a versatile 5-foot-11 freshman, will battle Donivan for the starter's role. Donivan saw most of her playing time at libero last season, finishing third on the team with 223 digs, and could see time there along with freshman Kelly Morrisroe.

JU has a home-friendly schedule, including its first seven matches at Swisher Gymnasium. The Dolphins will open the season by hosting the Hampton Inn/JU Invitational (Aug. 29-30), and the Hampton Inn/JU Classic (Sept. 12-13), featuring Big 12 foe Baylor and Xavier from the Atlantic 10.

The Florida State Classic (Sept. 19-20) will be a test for the Dolphins, taking on the Seminoles and Miami, which both advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year. JU begins A-Sun play on Oct. 3 at Campbell, which begins a four-match road stretch. The Dolphins play the other three Florida schools consecutively to wrap up the A-Sun season, traveling to DeLand to take on Stetson (Nov. 1) before hosting two-time defending conference champion UCF (Nov. 7) and Florida Atlantic (Nov. 8).

The Dolphins will tune up by hosting non-conference foe Georgia Southern before heading to the A-Sun Championship in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 20-22.