Rebuilt and Ready

Aug. 14, 2002

With four seniors and four starters returning, the Jacksonville University volleyball team will look to build upon a challenging 2001 season that was riddled with injuries. The Dolphins will look to senior middle hitter Brooke Ahrens (Benson, Ill.) and junior outside hitter Radka Dimitrova (Sofia, Bulgaria), their two biggest impact players from a year ago, to lead the way in 2002. Ahrens led JU with 303 kills last season, while Dimitrova was second with 290.

JU will have more depth this season with the return of sophomore outside hitter Kelly Ryals (Gainesville, Fla.), who redshirted last year with a knee injury. Sophomore outside hitter Candice Rose (Mechanicsville, Md.), who missed nine matches in 2001, and a talented group of newcomers will also be looking to make an impact in 2002.

Replacing Carrie Bosworth, who graduated as the third all-time leader in assists at JU with 3,134 and the single-season record holder with 1,149, will be a tough challenge, but one that can be met with the new crop of setters.

Head coach Robin Mignerey was pleased with the job senior Kristin Withrow (St. Petersburg Beach, Fla.) did running the offense during spring workouts. Withrow was a reliable backup last season, tallying 110 assists in 78 games, including a couple of starts. Challenging Withrow for the starter's role will be junior transfer Melissa Buillon (Alvin, Texas) and freshman Erin Donivan (Sarasota, Fla.).

"All three are similar - they are very quick and athletic," Mignerey said. "They have all run a quick-tempo offense before and with their mobility and consistent set location, it will just be a matter of who is going to step up."

The Dolphins should be solid in the middle with the return of all-conference candidate Brooke Ahrens. She is a physical, dominant player who is not only a great hitter, but a great blocker as well.

Candice Rose is an athletic, strong all-around player, who had an impressive spring workout. Mignerey projects freshman Danielle Neville (Greenwood Village, Colo.) to be a great front-row player because of her size and tremendous blocking ability.

Senior Alesha Rodriguez (Cleveland, Ohio) was third on the team in kills last season and has three years of experience playing with Withrow since they were teammates at Florida Community College-Jacksonville. Rodriguez is an aggressive player, who has great ball control and is solid on defense.

Radka Dimitrova should be a fixture on the right side. She is a big blocker and can hit well from anywhere, while Kelly Ryals adds consistency and ball control on the outside. Senior Kristy Smith (Carleton, Mich.) should be a solid contributor as well.

Freshman Lindsay Ward (Fernandina Beach, Fla.) has a long, lean build and will be looking to make the transition from the middle to the outside. Once she fine-tunes her skills, Mignerey expects Ward to challenge for significant playing time.

JU's defense will be aided by scrappier outside hitters and setters. Bigger players will bring better blocking, and the return of Ryals should help the Dolphins dig more balls. Mignerey feels she has a great combination of big, athletic players and consistent, quick ball control players on both sides of the ball. The Dolphins should also have more depth than last season, as they finished the season with just seven healthy players.

JU hosts its season-opening tournament against Xavier, Eastern Washington and Eastern Michigan, which could be the toughest of its three tournaments. The Dolphins then hit the road for nine-straight road matches starting with Florida State and including The Big Orange Bash hosted by Clemson and a tourney at Valparaiso.

The Dolphins begin conference play with six-straight Atlantic Sun Conference matches at home. Defending A-Sun champion UCF and Florida Atlantic should be tough late-season road tests in preparation for the A-Sun Championship Nov. 22-23 in Orlando, Fla.

Five Dolphin opponents made the NCAA Tournament last season, but Mignerey enjoys the challenge. "We got off to a rough start last year, but it helped us in conference play," Mignerey said. "When we play tougher non-conference opponents with bigger, more athletic girls, we are able to improve right from the start of the season, instead of waiting until conference play."