After placing second in the conference standings for the first time since 2005, the JU volleyball team (19-8, 15-5) will begin its search for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2004 as the Dolphins begin play in the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship on Friday in Fort Myers, Fla.
JU will await the winner of No. 3 FGCU and No. 6 Campbell, who will face off on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. at Alico Arena. The Dolphins will play the victor in the semifinals on Friday at 7:30 p.m.
Each contest can be viewed live on ASun.TV or followed on LiveStats by logging onto JUDolphins.com.
JU in the A-Sun Tournament
JU earned its first and only tournament title in 2004...the Dolphins enter the postseason with the No. 2 seed for the first time since 2005......under head coach Shaun Kupferberg, JU has reached the championship game twice (2006, 2008)...senior libero Shelley Walroth owns the tournament record for digs in a match (36 vs. ETSU - Nov. 17, 2006) and digs in a championship (65 - 2006).
JU had its eight match road winning streak snapped with a 3-2 loss at ETSU...it 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.
Four Dolphins earn all-conference honors
The Dolphins got two first team selections for the second straight year, a second team honor, an all-freshman selection and Defensive “Player of the Year” accolades on the Atlantic Sun all-conference teams.
Senior libero Shelley Walroth and senior outside hitter Brooke Singleton were each named first team all-conference, senior middle blocker Nicki Kent was selected to the second team and freshman middle blocker Alison Loeppky was named to the all-freshman squad.
Walroth, who was one of two unanimous selections, was also named conference Defensive “Player of the Year” for the second consecutive season. JU has now had two first team selections in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history.
Kent named A-Sun “Player of the Week”
Senior middle blocker Nicki Kent was nearly perfect in leading JU to the No. 2 seed in the A-Sun Tournament as she earned Atlantic Sun Conference “Player of the Week” honors for her efforts in a 2-0 week to close out the 2009 regular season.
She joins senior libero Shelley Walroth (Sept. 9) and senior outside hitter Brooke Singleton (Oct. 19) in receiving the weekly honor this year and the trio is the first triple-award winners for JU since joining the A-Sun in 1998.
In two matches, Kent averaged 2.0 kills and 1.57 blocks per set while hitting a blistering .560 (14-0-25) on the court. Against Kennesaw State, she tallied a match-high six blocks in a 3-0 win. Against Mercer, she helped spark a comeback 3-1 win by notching 12 kills, four blocks and a .706 (12-0-17) hitting percentage.
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 seventh place all-time with 2,426 and needs 29 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.
Walroth, who also set a JU record with her 46 digs performance at FGCU, currently leads the A-Sun with an average of 5.63 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 (441).
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.
Dolphins in the A-Sun rankings
In the team rankings, JU is first in opponent hitting percentage (.141)...second in assists (11.95 aps), kills (12.84 kps) and service aces (1.66 aps)...third in hitting percentage (.219) and digs (17.09 dps).
Individually, senior libero Shelley Walroth is first in digs per set (5.72) and digs (555)...senior middle blocker Nicki Kent is first in blocks per set (1.20) and fourth in hitting percentage (.317)...junior middle blocker Brittany Lehman is sixth in aces per set (0.35)...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) and aces per set (0.33)...junior outside hitter Aidan Yeager is 10th in kills per set (3.0).
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.
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.
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 11.46 assists per set and the Dolphins are 13-3. JU has also found its way into the top five offensively by ranking second in kills (12.84 kps) and third in hitting percentage (.219), which are the highest marks 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. She moved into fourth place in front of Kim Green (2,804 - 1986-89) with 58 against Mercer on Nov. 14.
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 297 kills and 3.06 kills per set and is second with 293 digs and 3.02 digs per set. Singleton also leads the squad with 11 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 1.20 blocks per set and also ranks fourth in the conference with a .317 hitting percentage.