After going through fall practices and an Alumni Game, the real season begins as the the JU volleyball team opens the 2008 campaign at the Holiday Inn Invitational in Statesboro, Ga.
The Dolphins open the weekend against UCF on Friday at 5 p.m. before concluding the event on Saturday against Presbyterian (10 a.m.) and host Georgia Southern (7 p.m.).
JU’s match against Georgia Southern can be purchased to view on georgiasoutherneagles.com.
The back line of defense
Senior libero Michelle Walroth broke her own single-season digs record at JU with 672 last year and is poised to destroy the overall record with two full seasons remaining in her career.
Along with the single season record, Walroth is also on pace to destroy the Dolphin record book as she sits second in career digs (1,243) which is 82 short of surpassing Julie Heipp - 1,324 (1991-94).
Not only that, but Walroth ranked 27th in the national rankings to end the regular season to join her sister as one of the top liberos in the nation. Her sister, Julie, who just completed her senior season as a libero at Evansville finished fourth in the nation with an average of 6.33 digs per game.
Freshman setter Hannah Munneke (pronounced mun-ah-key) was thrown into the pool without much security in her first season with the program but she certainly didn’t sink.
In her first season, Munneke earned Atlantic Sun Conference all-freshman honors after ranking third in the A-Sun with 11.61 assists per game while also leading all setters in service aces (35) and blocks (58). She also led the squad with 12 double-doubles on the year.
She also set a new single-season assists record (1,356) surpassing Erin Donivan (1,244 - 2005) and is on pace to shatter the career assist record of 3,969 by Michelle Glover (1991-94).
Still big up front
Sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Abby Gruenbacher is also coming off a freshman campaign which earned her A-Sun all-freshman accolades but must fill the shoes of departed middle Melissa Merchant.
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.
JU picked fourth in A-Sun preseason poll
Despite reaching the final match of the A-Sun Championship for the second consecutive season, the JU volleyball team has been picked to finish fourth in the 2008 A-Sun Preseason Coaches Poll.
Florida Gulf Coast, which won the regular season title last season, was tabbed the preseason favorite with 115 points (nine first-place votes) while reining tournament champion Lipscomb and Belmont (one first-place vote) rounded out the top three. JU, ETSU (one first-place vote), Mercer, UNF, Stetson, Campbell, USC Upstate and Kennesaw State rounded out the rest of the field, respectfully.
Bendorf and Walroth named all-conference
Despite a fourth-place finish in the preseason poll, JU earned two selections to the preseason all-conference team - senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf (one of two unanimous selections) and junior libero Shelley Walroth.
Bendorf, who earned second team all-conference honors last season, led the Dolphin offense for the second consecutive year and ranked ninth in the 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 more than three kills & digs per game, Bendorf led the squad with 17 double-digit kills, including season-high 22 three times.
Walroth, who set a JU four-game match record with 35 digs against ETSU last season, broke her own single-season dig record with 672 digs in her sophomore campaign. She currently ranks second in the JU career digs list with 1,243 and is only 82 digs shy of surpassing Julie Heipp (1,324 – 1991-94) on the all-time list.
Head coach Shaun Kupferberg
Shaun Kupferberg enters his third season at the helm of the Dolphin volleyball program after five successful seasons as the head coach at Northwest University.
In his second year with the program, Kupferberg led JU to its most wins (19) since 1997 and tied for the most conference wins (8) in program history. The back-to-back appearances in the conference tournament final were also the first time a Dolphin squad had accomplished the feat since JU began conference play in 1983.
In his inaugural year at JU, Kupferberg went through growing pains with his new squad but eventually led JU to the A-Sun Tournament Finals for only the second time in program history.
His five-year record at Northwest was 91-52, with only one losing season (his first) during that time frame. During his tenure, he led Northwest to its highest national ranking ever (10th) and to its first-ever regional championship match.
After being joined on the sidelines by his former coach in 2007, head coach Shaun Kupferberg welcomes another familiar face to his staff in 2008.
Kelly Hopkins, who played under and coached with Kupferberg at Northwest, joined the sqaud last season and will assume the role of head assistant this year.
Joining both coaches on the sidelines in 2008 will be former player Alison Simmons. Simmons, who completed her colleigate career with nationally ranked Washington, played under Kupferburg and Hopkins as a freshman and sophomore at Northwest from 2004-05.
And some new faces
Among the new faces on the 2008 Dolphin roster will be two transfers and a pair of freshmen.
Junior Brooke Singleton (Illinois State) and sophomore transfer Brittany Turnbull (UCF) make their way to the First Coast along with freshmen Kathryn Kane (Wheaton, Ill.) and Ashley August (Wauconda, Ill.).