FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 02, 2007
Youth Movement

Sept. 30, 2007

Shaun Kupferberg has enjoyed success as a head coach in the past, but in 2006, he was thrust into a new scenario and tried to make the most of a difficult situation.

With a new coaching staff, a squad of players that he had never seen play and his first Division I season approaching, Kupferberg rolled up his sleeves and got to work. What resulted was a message to the Atlantic Sun Conference about the future of Dolphin volleyball after JU reached the conference tournament finals for only the second time in program history.

"I had no clear expectations in my first year because I didn't know what I had when I arrived," said Kupferberg. "I tried my best to install my philosophy but I had to adjust because there wasn't enough time to start over."

Growing pains were to be expected throughout the year but the Dolphins began to click when it counted most. After a 4-8 start to the year, JU finished 13-7 and won two straight contests in the conference tournament before ending the season with a loss to Belmont in the final.

"In the end, we had a good year but I know we can do better," Kupferberg said. "Last year was one of the most challenging in my career but now we can focus on the future."

Kupferberg will also get the benefit of familiarity in 2007 with the addition of Kelly Hopkins to the staff. Hopkins, who will join second year assistant Whitney Kampfe, played for Kupferberg and was his assistant for three seasons at Northwest University.

"Kelly will make a definite impact because she knows what I expect," said Kupferberg. "She is an excellent coach for setters and will be instrumental in developing our program."

Outside

With a crew of versatile players making their way to the First Coast, the outside and middle positions will see a heavy rotation during the fall until someone emerges as a starter.

"We brought in seven new faces so I'm not going to know where everyone is going to be until we start fall camp," said Kupferberg. "This recruiting class is the group that will take our program to the next level but we have a lot of work to do."

Among the holes to fill on the outside in 2007 will be the departure of Eva Stoilova. The lone Dolphin to finish with more than 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs in her career, Stoilova ranked second on the squad with 3.13 kills per game in her final season.

Four-year starter Petya Borisova is also gone from the rotation after ranking third on the team with 257 digs in her senior season.

Another question mark for the Dolphin coaching staff will be the availability of junior Sara Bendorf. A transfer from Northwest in 2006, Bendorf led JU with 3.42 kills per contest until she was sidelined in the final 12 matches with a knee injury.

Among the new faces who will rotate to the outside for the Dolphins will be Kesley Clark, Abby Gruenbacher, Nicki Kent, Brittany Lehman and Aidan Yeager.

Clark, a junior college transfer from Miami Dade, brings the most experience after earning all-conference honors with 79 kills, 57 blocks and 89 digs for one of the nation's top programs.

Kent, a sophomore transfer from Wyoming, is also seasoned after finishing with 1.09 kills per game and a .263 hitting percentage in 65 games last season.

"Kesley is athletic, quick and has a good vertical to attack the ball," Kupferberg said. "Nicki was a solid player at Wyoming and has a lot of consistency in her play."

Gruenbacher (Wichita, Kan.), Lehman (Colleyville, Texas) and Yeager (Martinez, Ga.) will enter the season as true freshmen.

Middle

One of two positions expected to be filled heading into 2007 will be the return of senior Melissa Merchant in the middle.

Merchant, who transferred from North Idaho, made a major impact in her first season - leading the squad with 1.27 blocks per contest while also ranking third with 256 kills. She tied an A-Sun record with 12 blocks at East Tennessee State on Oct. 5.

"Melissa will be the leader in the middle and will be in charge of calling all of the blocking schemes," Kupferberg said. "Along with her defense, she has been working hard on her hitting in the offseason and I expect her numbers to improve."

A big void to fill along side Merchant will be second team all-A-Sun selection Stevenique Richardson. Richardson enjoyed a career season in 2006 after leading the squad with 313 kills and a .315 hitting percentage. Senior Katie Hendrian could see time in the middle after having a career year in 2006 with 2.12 kills and 0.85 blocks per contest.

Among the other names in the mix will be sophomore Nicki Kent and freshmen Abby Gruenbacher and Brittany Lehman.

Gruenbacher was named all-state, all-city and all-metro at Bishop Carroll High School as a senior.

Lehman earned all-state and all-district accolades at Grapevine High School after leading the Mustangs with 375 kills, 77 blocks, 75 aces, 604 digs and a .307 hitting percentage as a senior.

Setter/Libero

Another player expected to fill a spot before the start of the 2007 season is sophomore libero Michelle Walroth.

An impact freshman in 2006, Walroth rewrote the JU single-season record book with 571 digs while also garnering A-Sun all-freshman team accolades. Walroth was among the squad's best servers, finishing second with 36 aces.

"Shelley is the stable point of our defense and sets the tone for our goal to be a top notch serve receive program," Kupferberg said. "She will be in charge of running the back row this season."

Senior Katie O'Brien and freshman Alexa Napoleon (Naples, Fla.) will also be used in the back row during the season.

At setter, the Dolphins will make a youth movement as well with the reins being passed to freshman Hannah Munneke.

A three-year starter at Santa Ynez Valley (Calif.) High School, Munneke earned second team all-state, all-county and Los Padres League MVP honors as a senior.

"Hannah is a very athletic, quick and defensive setter," Kupferberg said. "She is also extremely competitive and that is a quality that I love to have in my setters."

There will be an open competition for the backup role to Munneke when the squad convenes in the fall.