After the undefeated A-Sun squads earned their first losses over the weekend, the JU volleyball team (10-5, 6-2) can control its own destiny for the remainder of the conference schedule beginning with a showdown against first-place Florida Gulf Coast (8-6, 7-1) on Friday at 7 p.m. at Hanover Hall.
The Dolphins, who are off to their best start since 2000 (10-5), conclude their road trip against Stetson (2-13, 0-8) on Friday at 7 p.m. The Stetson will be availble through Hatter Vision and livestats on gohatter.com.
A new wrinkle is paying off
In seven years of coaching, JU head coach Shaun Kupferberg has had a great deal of success running a 5-1 formation but a versatile squad in 2008 created an experiment which has payed huge dividends for Kupferberg and the Dolphins.
The standard lineup, which is used by most programs, keeps the setter in through all rotations and would call for an occasional substitution during a serve.
After a 2-1 start to the 2008 season, JU went stagnant with three consecutive losses and the coaching staff decide to try and shake things up.
Kupferberg went to the chemistry lab and conjured up a 6-2 formation for the first time in his career. The new look incorporates two setters but instead of leaving them in throughout the match, he substitutes two players (OH & S) after three rotations. The outside hitter would replace the setter on the front row and the new setter would start with a serve and rotate two more times in the back row. Due to the versatility of having two setters (sophomore Hannah Munneke and freshman Ashley August), Kupferberg has the ability to keep an extra swing in the front row, increase the size of his block and strengthen his defense on the back row.
Through the three game slide (Sept. 5-9), JU hit .155 (97-51-297) with an average of 9.7 kills, nine assists, 11.3 digs and one block per set. Opponents hit .317 (139-46-317), with 13.9 kills, 12.8 assists, 12.6 digs and 1.5 blocks per set.
Since making the lineup change on Sept. 12, JU is 8-1 with a .260 hitting percentage while averaging 13.4 kills, 12.3 assists, 16 digs, and 2.4 blocks per set. Conversely, opponents are hitting .097 with 10.3 kills, 9.3 assists, 14.7 digs and 1.3 blocks per set..
Walroth moves up to second in the nation
Junior libero Shelley Walroth broke her own single-season digs record at JU with 672 last year and is now setting her sights on becoming only the 26th player in NCAA history to surpass 2,000 career digs.
After tallying the JU single-season record for digs, Walroth surpassed Julie Heipp - 1,324 (1991-94) on the career list with 25 against Georgia Southern on Sept. 30.
With all the JU records in her possession, her targets are now the A-Sun, NCAA and family bragging rights . Her sister, Julie, tallied 2,095 career digs to set the program record at Evansville (2004-07).
The younger Walroth currently holds the family single-season record but sits at 1,574 in her career and needs 522 to become the undisputed head of the family.
In the A-Sun record book, Kaena Apana of ETSU holds the single-season record with 750 and Liz Kane of Mercer is the career holder with 1,843. Walroth is currently 270 off the pace for the career record.
In the NCAA, the Division I record for career digs is 2,791 by Paula Gentil of Minnesota from 2002-05. Walroth would need 1218 more digs in order to surpass the mark.
Walroth, who leads the Atlantic Sun Conference in digs, ranks second in the nation with an average of 6.13 digs per set - trailing only Brittany Stowers of Northern Arizona (6.34). Listed below is a look at the top five liberos in the national standings....
Something else to ponder...with Walroth
Junior libero Shelley Walroth ranks second in the nation in digs per set (6.13) but eight of JU’s 15 matches this season have gone only three sets.
Out of the remaining seven matches, five are four sets in length and only two have gone the full five sets. Despite the lack of opportunities, Walroth has notched at least 20 digs in 10 matches and at least 30 digs in three matches (including a career-best 38 against Lipscomb).
Senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf started the year off in a blaze as she tallied three-consecutive double-doubles. The next three matches, however, went the complete opposite as she failed to tally double-digit kills and JU went on a three-match slide.
Things look like they are back to normal again for the senior swinger as she led the Dolphins to three consecutive wins at home (Sept. 12-14) and two straight road wins (Sept. 19-20).
For the homestand, she led the squad with 34 kills, a 3.78 kills per set average and 10 blocks while also hitting .377 (34-5-77) with 18 digs, a two digs per set average and three aces.
On the road, Bendorf got back in the double-double groove with 17 kills and 11 digs against ETSU as the Dolphins won in Brooks Gym for the first time in three tries. Against USC Upstate, Bendorf tallied a match-high 17 kills and 10 digs to run her double-double total to five for the year. For the week, she finished with 34 kills, 4.86 kills per set, a .262 hitting percentage (34-13-80), 21 digs, three digs per set and three blocks in two matches.
Although the Dolphins had their six match winning streak snapped by Lipscomb on Sept. 27, Bendorf continued to double-dip as she increased her streak to four and her yearly total to seven. Against the Bruins, she finished with 19 kills and 11 digs before tallying a season-high 22 kills and 11 digs against the Bisons.
Sophomore middle blocker 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.
As a freshman, 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.
Gruenbacher is picking up the slack in 2008 by leading the squad with 51 blocks, 0.98 blocks per set and a .313 hitting percentage while also ranking third with 105 kills and 2.02 kills per set.
A change of heart benefits JU
Junior outside hitter Brooke Singleton is in her first year at JU after transferring from Illinois State, but it is the first time she is playing volleyball since high school.
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.
But after three years, Singleton decided she wanted an opportunity to return to volleyball and JU head coach Shaun Kupferberg was more than willing to oblige.
Arguably the best passer for the Dolphins, Singleton has started every set, leads the squad with 15 service aces and is third with 122 digs and 2.26 digs per set.
Aidan the cause
Sophomore outside hitter Aidan Yeager may not be the feature swing on the outside but she is quietly having a solid season as the first sub off the bench.
In her first year, Yeager was the top freshman hitter and blocker in A-Sun after ranking fourth in the conference with 1.05 blocks per game and 2.76 kills per game. She was also third on squad in hitting percentage (.236) which was tops among all A-Sun freshmen outside hitters.
This year, she ranks second on the squad with 38 blocks and is second with 115 kills and 2.30 kills per set.
Dolphins in the A-Sun rankings
In the team rankings, JU is first in opponent hitting percentage (.145) and assists (11.69 aps), second in blocks (2.07 bps) and is third in hitting percentage (.228), kills (12.63 kps) and digs (15.20 dps).
Individually, junior libero Shelley Walroth is first in digs (331) and digs per set (6.13), sophomore middle hitter Abby Gruenbacher is fifth in hitting percentage (.313), senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf leads the conference in kills per set (3.85) and is second in kills (208), sophomore setter Hannah Munneke ranks sixth in assists per set (7.22) and freshman setter Ashley August is ninth in assists per set (5.24).
JU is off to its best record after 15 matches since going 10-5 in 2000...the last Dolphin squad to go 10-5 was in 1997, which was the last JU team to win 19 games until last season...over the weekend, junior libero Shelley Walroth led the Dolphin defense with 42 digs and an average of 7.00 digs per set…senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf led the offense with an average of 25 kills and 4.17 kills per set but also tallied a team-best five blocks…sophomore middle blocker Brittany Lehman had an outstanding weekend by hitting a team-high .560 (15-1-25)…against UNC-Wilmington, Bendorf tallied a match-high 13 kills and Walroth notched a match-high 21 digs… Bendorf had her four match double-double streak snapped but finished with a .357 (13-3-28) hitting percentage…sophomore outside hitter Aidan Yeager chipped in with eight kills while Lehman had a match-high .750 (6-0-8) hitting percentage...sophomore middle blocker Abby Gruenbacher added a match-high three blocks while junior outside hitter Brooke Singleton had six kills, six digs and two block…against Campbell, Bendorf tallied a match-high 12 kills and four blocks while Walroth notched a match-high 21 digs…Lehman finished with nine kills and a.417 (9-1-17) hitting percentage. Lehman, who normally plays on the middle, played outside for an injured Yeager, who is out indefinitely…junior middle blocker Nicki Kent tallied eight kills, a .400 (8-2-15) hitting percentage and four blocks…Singleton chipped in with five kills, a match-high four aces and eight digs.