Volleyball earns five A-Sun all-conference selections

Nov. 14, 2007


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After tying a program record with eight conference wins this season, the JU volleyball team was honored for its individual efforts after earning a program-record five selections on the Atlantic Sun Conference team.

Senior middle blocker Melissa Merchant was named first team all-conference and junior outside hitter Sara Bendorf was named to the second team. Middle blocker Abby Gruenbacher, setter Hannah Munneke and outside hitter Aidan Yeager were each named to the all-freshman team. Merchant and Bendorf became the first JU duo to earn honors since Radka Dimitrova (1st) and Brooke Ahrens (2nd) in 2002. The five total selections were the most since joining the A-Sun in 1998.

Florida Gulf Coast junior outside hitter Ana Kokanovic was selected "Player of the Year", East Tennessee State senior libero Kaena Apana earned "Defensive Player of the Year" honors, Lipscomb freshman setter Stefine Pease was named "Freshman of the Year" and FGCU head coach Jaye Flood was voted "Coach of the Year."

"We are very excited to have five players recognized on the all-conference team," said JU head coach Shaun Kupferberg. "We have a very well rounded team and it's nice to have some of our players honored for their individual skills."

Merchant, who led the A-Sun in blocks for the second consecutive year, is currently 12th in the national rankings with an average of 1.57 blocks per game and also ranks in the top 10 in total blocks with 160. Merchant also re-established herself in the JU record book by claiming the match high block record with 15 at ETSU on Sept. 21. In the career record book, she is second with 258 block assists and fifth with 293 total blocks. In comparison, Merchant has yet to complete her second season with the program and each other player has tallied at least three seasons worth of stats.

"Melissa came in as a raw athlete last year and has worked very hard to improve her technique and over the last 12 months no one has worked harder and accomplished more," Kupferberg said. "She is an emotional leader on our team and has been very consistent, which is vital with such a young team surrounding her."

Bendorf led the Dolphin offense for the second consecutive year despite missing the final four matches of the year due to an elbow injury. She ranked ninth in A-Sun with 3.38 kills per game and was second on the squad with 259 digs and 3.01 digs per game. One of only two A-Sun players to average over three kills & digs per game, Bendorf led the squad with 17 double-digit kills, including season-high 22 three times, and 10 double -doubles on the year.

"Sara did a great job of bouncing back from an injury last year despite not having a preseason," Kupferburg said. "She really stepped up her play this year and developed into a well-rounded player."

Gruenbacher ranked third in the conference and led all freshmen with 98 total blocks, including a season-high 13 total blocks vs. New Orleans. She also ranked second on the squad in hitting percentage (263) and went over .300 on 13 occasions, including a season-high .450 (10-1-20) vs. Gardner-Webb. Gruenbacher was also fifth on squad in kills (192) and kills per game (2.02).

Munneke ranked third in the A-Sun with 11.61 assists per game while also leading all setters in service aces (35) and blocks (58). She set 50 assists on four occasions and 60 assists three times, including a season-high 68 assists at UNC-Asheville, and tied for the team lead with 10 double-doubles. Munneke currently sits at 1,218 assists on the year and is 26 away from surpassing Erin Donivan (1,244) for the top spot in the single-season record book.

Yeager was the top freshman hitter and blocker in A-Sun after ranking fourth in the conference with 1.05 blocks per game and 2.76 kills per game. She was also third on squad in hitting percentage (.236) which was tops among all A-Sun freshmen outside hitters. Yeager had a season-high 20 kills and a11 blocks against New Orleans and hit a season-best .519 against Stetson.

"Abby did a great job of controlling our block this year and making good decisions on the floor," said Kupferberg. "Hannah stepped in and took a leadership role on the team which is something that you don't normally see from a freshman. Aidan put up some nice numbers and is going to be a special player as she continues to develop."

JU, who enter the A-Sun Tournament as the No. 3 seed, will open the weekend against No. 6 Gardner-Webb on Thursday at 5 p.m.