Volleyball opens 2007 season at Orange and Green Challenge

Aug. 23, 2007


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After two weeks of preseason preparation, the JU volleyball team will makes its 2007 debut on Friday, Aug. 24 at 4 p.m. against Butler in the first day of the Orange and Green Challenge in Coral Gables, Fla. The Dolphins will complete the weekend with a match against host Miami at 12:30 p.m. and against Hofstra at 5 the Knights Sports Complex on Saturday.

Dolphins selected third in A-Sun Poll
After reaching the final match of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship for only the second time in program history, the Dolphins were selected to finish third in the 2007 A-Sun Preseason Coaches Poll.

Belmont, which won the 2006 championship, was tabbed the preseason favorite with 132 points (six first place points) while East Tennessee State (one first-place vote) and JU (one first-place vote) rounded out the top three. Florida Gulf Coast (three first-place votes), North Florida, Lipscomb (first-place vote), Campbell, Mercer, Gardner-Webb, Stetson, Kennesaw State and USC Upstate rounded out the rest of the field, respectfully.

Head coach Shaun Kupferberg
Shaun Kupferberg enters his second season at the helm of the Dolphin volleyball program after five successful seasons as the head coach at Northwest University.

In his inaugural year at JU, Kupferberg went through growing pains with his new squad but eventually enjoyed the fruits of his labor at the end of the season as JU advanced to the A-Sun Tournament Finals for only the second time in program history.

His five-year record at Northwest was 91-52, with only one losing season (his first) during that time frame. During his tenure, he led Northwest to its highest national ranking ever (10th) and to its first-ever regional championship match.

Youth movement
No statement will ring more true for a program than the Dolphins in 2007. Joining five returners, one of which with more than one season with the program, will be seven new players (two transfers, five freshmen).

The new faces are sophomore transfer Nicki Kent (Wyoming) and junior college transfer Kesley Clark (Miami Dade CC) along with freshmen Abby Gruenbacher (Wichita, Kan.), Brittany Lehman (Colleyville, Texas), Hannah Munneke (Santa Barbara, Calif.), Alexa Napoleon (Naples, Fla.) and Aidan Yeager (Martinez, Ga.).

Due to a young squad, several players will get the opportunity to play in non-conference action as the coaching staff determines who will see time when the conference season rolls around.

The willey veteran
Senior outside hitter Katie Hendrian has come full circle in her fourth year with the Dolphins.

Once the baby-faced addition to a veteran squad in 2004, Hendrian is now the longest tenured player on the squad.

In her first year, the Dolphins won the 2004 A-Sun Championship en route to the program's first NCAA Tournament bid in the Division I era.

Last season, she enjoyed a career year by ranking third on the squad with 98 blocks and 44 assists while also finishing fourth with 243 digs and fifth with 253 kills.

Due to the nagging injuries to Melissa Merchant in fall camp, Hendrian has seen more time at the net.

Last line of defense
Sophomore libero Michelle Walroth will direct the Dolphin defense in 2007 after setting a program record with 571 digs in her first year with the program. Her total shattered the previous mark of 465 by Terri Hallenbeck in 1987.

An A-Sun all-freshman team selection, Walroth also set a program record with 34 digs in a four-game match against North Florida, surpassing the previous mark of 30 by Cheryl Rothwell vs. Louisiana-Lafayette in 1997.

Presence at the net
Senior middle hitter Melissa Merchant made quite an impression in her first season with the Dolphins last year.

A transfer from North Idaho College, Merchant led the A-Sun with 141 blocks and an average of 1.27 blocks per game. She also tied a program and conference record with 12 blocks at East Tennessee State. The marked helped the Dolphins set a new program record with 23 total team blocks.

Offensively, she ranked second on the squad with a .234 hitting percentage and was third with 256 kills.

Although she has been slowed by an abdominal strain in fall camp, Merchant will be counted on for her presence on a young Dolphin squad.

New face on the sidelines
Along with seven new members of the squad, Kelly Hopkins will join the Dolphin coaching staff but is more familiar with her surrounding than one thinks.

Most recently a volunteer assistant coach with Sudden Impact Volleyball Club in Redmond, Wash., Hopkins was the head assistant under Shaun Kupferberg for three season when he was the head coach at Northwest University.

In her time with the Eagles, the squad went a combined 65-24 (.730) and also finished 41-13 (.759) in Cascasde Conference play. In her final season with the program, the Eagles set a program record by going 28-4, including a 16-2 conference mark, while also earning the program's highest national ranking (10th) and its first regional championship appearance.

In her collegiate career, Hopkins played four years at Northwest as a defensive specialist from 1999-2002. In her final two seasons, she played under Kupferberg before later joining his staff.