Volleyball looks to secure No. 2 seed in final home weekend

After splitting its its final road trip of the season, the JU volleyball team (17-8, 13-5) will try to lock up the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament by hosting its final two home matches of the season this weekend. JU will open things against Kennesaw State (16-10, 10-8) on Friday at 7 p.m. before ending the weekend against Mercer (10-17, 8-10) on Saturday at 5 p.m. In the first meeting this season, the Dolphins defeated the Owls, 3-1, on Oct. 3 to give JU a 5-0 advantage in the all-time series. Against the Bears, JU won a 3-0 decision on Oct. 2 and will look to stay undefeated against Mercer at home (7-0). The contest against Kennesaw State can be viewed live on ASun.TV by logging onto The match against Mercer is not available through any live media. Friday night’s match against the Owls will also be Senior Night. The Dolphins will have a pregame presentation for senior middle blocker Nicki Kent, outside hitter Brooke Singleton and senior libero Shelley Walroth.

Dolphin notables
JU had its eight match road winning streak snapped with a 3-2 loss at was the longest winning streak on the road since joining the A-Sun (6, 2003)...the loss to ETSU was also its first in a five-set match, running its record to 3-1...JU had its 13 match winning streak and home winning streak snapped with a 3-0 loss to Lipscomb on Oct. 30...the winning streak was the longest under head coach Shaun Kupferberg, surpassing a seven-match run in 2007...the winning streak was also the longest for JU since joining the A-Sun in 1998, surpassing 11 by the 2003 squad...the 13 straight home wins were the longest in the Division I era (1985-current)...JU’s 6-0 home streak this season was the best start since the Dolphins joined the A-Sun.

Injury bug plagues Dolphins
Injuries are always a part of any sport and they affect every team each year, but the Dolphins’ injury report in 2009 has lit up like a game of Operation. Entering the year, senior middle blocker Nicki Kent was already plagued with a chronic lower back injury but a knee injury on Sept. 25 forced her to miss three matches, and is still limited. Freshman middle blocker Alison Loeppky had stepped up to fill the void left by Kent’s missing time but was sidelined for six matches with a finger injury suffered on Oct. 9. Junior outside hitter/middle blocker Brittany Lehman has been enjoying a break out season from the outside and also has been used to fill in defensively in middle until an abdominal strain on Oct. 9 has put her on limited status as well. Throw in the nagging ankle injuries to junior setter Hannah Munneke and sophomore outside hitter/middle blocker Kathryn Kane during the team’s road trip through Georgia (10/2-3) and JU might have to start pulling people from the stands to complete a roster.

Walroth counting down
Senior libero Shelley Walroth made her way into the top 10 spots in NCAA history and also set some new JU and A-Sun records along the way. In the NCAA career standings, Walroth moved into ninth place all-time with 2,378 and needs 77 more to move into the top five. She is also eighth on the NCAA career digs per set list with an average of 5.48. After tallying the JU single-season record for digs as a freshman, Walroth surpassed Julie Heipp - 1,324 (1991-94) on the career list last season with 25 against Georgia Southern on Sept. 30, 2008. This year, Walroth added A-Sun records to her belt by overtaking Ann Mullins of Lipscomb (1,969) for career digs with 21 against Sam Houston State on Sept. 5. She then set the conference single-match high with 46 at FGCU on Oct. 17 and the conference four-set record with 40 at Campbell on Nov. 6. Walroth’s sister, Julie, tallied 2,095 career digs to set the program record at Evansville (2004-07). The younger Walroth already holds the family single-season record, and surpassed her elder sibling with 12 digs against Stetson, to become the undisputed head of the family. As a junior, she earned first team all-conference and A-Sun Defensive “Player of the Year” accolades while also garnering 2008 AVCA “Libero of the Year” Honorable Mention honors after ranking fourth in the nation with 5.87 dps. Walroth, who also set a JU record with her 46 digs performance at FGCU, currently leads the A-Sun with an average of 5.43 digs per set. She has also moved up in the national rankings by tying for eighth with her digs per set average. Walroth has also proven to be one of the most consistent players in JU history by ranking fourth in career matches played (434).

Munneke back to her old tricks
Last season, JU got off to a sluggish start and made a lineup change to get a spark for the rest of the season. This year, the Dolphins had another slow start but a different change is creating the same results. In 2008, the Dolphins went 2-4 in a 6-1 formation until head coach Shaun Kupferberg went to the chemistry lab and conjured up a 6-2 lineup for the first time in his career. The new look led to an 18-6 finish as setters Hannah Munneke and Ashley August contributed to a balanced attack. In 2009, the Dolphins started out in the 6-2 but got off to a 6-5 start. Kupferberg decided to go exclusively to Munneke in a 6-1 format and the junior has flourished since then. Since taking over the lead setter spot, Munneke is averaging 11.26 assists per set and the Dolphins are 11-3. JU has also found its way into the top five offensively by ranking fourth in hitting percentage (.215), which is the highest mark under Kupferberg. No stranger to the lead role, Munneke set a program record in 2007 with 1,356 assists and ranked third in the A-Sun with 11.61 assists per set en route to all-freshman team honors. With her resurgence, Munneke has found her way into the JU all-time career list by surpassing Erin Donivan (2,793 - 2002-05) with 44 at ETSU on Nov. 7.

Dolphins in the A-Sun rankings
In the team rankings, JU is first in opponent hitting percentage (.141)...blocks (1.94 bps), service aces (1.61 aps) and digs (16.74 dps)...fourth in hitting percentage (.215), assists (11.81 aps) and kills (12.70 kps). Individually, senior libero Shelley Walroth is first in digs per set (5.63) and digs (507)...senior middle blocker Nicki Kent is first in blocks per set (1.17) and sixth in hitting percentage (.298)...junior middle blocker Brittany Lehman is sixth in aces per set (0.37)...junior setter Hannah Munneke is sixth in assists per set (8.73)...sophomore outside hitter Kathryn Kane is eighth in aces per set (0.33)...senior outside hitter Brooke Singleton is also ninth in kills per set (3.06 kps)...junior outside hitter Aidan Yeager is 10th in kills per set (3.0).

Defense leads the way
JU head coach Shaun Kupferberg sets a precedent on defense and the stats have proven that since his arrival in 2006. Last season, JU took defense to a new level as the Dolphin led nearly every A-Sun category. In his first season, the Dolphins ranked first in blocks, fourth in opponent hitting percentage and fifth in digs. In year two, JU ranked first in blocks, third in opponent hitting percentage and sixth in digs. Last year, the Dolphins set the standard by ranking first in blocks and opponent hitting percentage and second in digs. This year is following the same tune as the Dolphins lead the A-Sun in opponent hitting percentage while ranking third in digs and blocks.

Brook-E seeing double
Senior outside hitter Brooke Singleton, or Brook with an “E,” in hitting her stride in her second year with program after transferring from Illinois State. A two-sport phenom at Roseville High School, Singleton led the volleyball team to a 124-30 record, four straight regional title and currently ranks 13th in the state of Illinois in career kills. But in basketball, she was a three-time all-state selection, Roseville’s all-time leading scorer and a three-time all-area “Player of the Year.” After high school, Singleton hung up the knee pads and played three years of basketball at Illinois State where she helped lead the Redbirds to the NCAA Tournament in 2008. Last season, she enjoyed success as the Dolphins’ top passer but used most of the year to redefine her technique from the outside. This year has been a different story as she leads JU with 275 kills and 3.06 kills per set and is second with 262 digs and 2.91 digs per set. Singleton also leads the squad with 10 double-doubles and ranks ninth in the conference in kills per set.

No “Clark” in this Kent
Senior middle hitter Nicki Kent is coming into her own in 2009 after being in the shadows of former teammates Melissa Merchant and Abby Gruenbacher. Since her arrival as a transfer from Wyoming in 2007, Kent had mainly been used off the bench or as a serving specialist as she tried to find her niche. Now in her final season with the program, she is the main presence at the net for the Dolphins and the numbers are beginning to reflect it. More amazing is the fact that she has still been playing at a high level despite not being in perfect health. Already suffering from a chronic back injury, Kent has also had to deal with a knee injury suffered on Sept. 25 against FGCU. Kent currently leads the A-Sun in blocks with 1.17 blocks per set and also ranks sixth in the conference with a .298 hitting percentage.

Kane is able
With the slough of injuries on the Dolphin squad this season, several players have stepped up when the spotlight was shining on them. No person has stepped up her game more in the last portion of the year than sophomore outside hitter Kathryn Kane. With the rotating of players to fit the holes in the lineup, Kane has found her swing from the outside and the added offense is contributing to a dynamic attack for JU. After tallying a career-best 16 kills and 21 digs at Louisiana Tech on Sept. 4, Kane did not break the double digit kill mark until she registered 11 kills and 16 digs at UNF on Oct. 13. She followed that effort with 13 kills at Stetson (Oct. 16), 15 kills and 16 digs at FGCU (Oct. 17) and a career-best 17 kills at USC Upstate (Oct. 24). Along with her four match double digit kill streak, she hit a career-best .458 (13-2-24) at Stetson while also tallying a career-high five aces at UNF. During those four matches, Kane averaged 3.50 kills, 2.50 digs and 0.56 service aces while hitting .311 (56-10-148). She has continued her hot hand by notching double-doubles in consecutive matches for the first time in her career. At Campbell (11/6), she tallied a career-best 20 kills to go with 17 digs and then finished the weekend with 13 kills and 13 digs at ETSU (11/7).