WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 19, 2008
Volleyball begins A-Sun Tourney on Thursday
Junior middle blocker Nicki Kent
Junior middle blocker Nicki Kent
With the A-Sun Tournament field set, the JU volleyball team (19-9, 14-6) will begin its quest for the second conference tournament title in program history this week in Macon, Ga. The No. 3 Dolphins begin the tournament against No. 6 Campbell (7-22, 5-15) on Thursday at 5 p.m. at the University Center. The winner of the contest will face No. 2 Belmont (23-7, 16-4) on Friday. Every match this week can be seen live on ASun.TV and extensive postgame information can be found on judolphins.com. 

A-Sun Tournament
The Dolphins will compete in their 10th consecutive A-Sun Tournament this week having reached the tournament final in each of the past two seasons. Entering the tournament, No. 1 Lipscomb (20-10,17-3) and No, 2 Belmont (23-7, 16-4) will have a bye in the first round as the top two seeds. No. 3 JU (19-9, 14-6) will face No. 6 Campbell (7-22, 5-15) and No. 4 Mercer (18-10, 13-7) will take on No. 5 ETSU (11-19, 7-13). The Dolphins hold a winning record this season against ETSU and Campbell (2-0). JU split its series against Belmont and Mercer (1-1) and dropped both matches against Lipscomb (0-2). Every match in the tournament can be seen live on ASun.TV and other postgame interviews can be found on atlanticsun.org.

Walroth fourth 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 1,826 in her career and needs 270 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 Anne Mullins of Lipscomb is the career holder with 1,969. Walroth is currently 144 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 966 more digs in order to surpass the mark. Walroth, who leads the conference in digs, ranks third in the nation with an average of 5.89 digs per set.

Something else to ponder...with Walroth
Junior libero Shelley Walroth ranks fourth in the nation in digs per set (5.89) but 16 of JU’s 28 matches this season have gone only three sets. In the remaining 12 matches, nine are four sets in length and only three have gone the full five sets. Despite the lack of opportunities, Walroth has notched at least 20 digs in 12 matches and at least 30 digs in four matches (including a career-best 38 against Lipscomb).

Defense leads the way
JU head coach Shaun Kupferberg sets a president on defense and the stats have proven that since his arrival in 2006. Now in 2008, JU has taken defense to a new level and has set the program up for another run in the postseason. 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. This year, the Dolphins set the standard by ranking first in blocks and opponent hitting percentage and second in digs. The yearly improvements can be attributed to a changing of the guard in recruits to fit Kupferberg’s defensive style and his change from a 5-1 format to a 6-2 set this year.

Hannah’s money
Sophomore 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 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). Despite splitting time in a 6-2 set with freshman Ashley August, Munneke has picked up the pace lately by tallying three double-doubles (vs. UNF, at Mercer, vs. FGCU) in JU’s last six matches.

Bendorf double-dipping
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. 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. Bendorf added two more double-doubles to her total against Seattle and Campbell to make it a team-leading nine on the year. She made the total 11 with double-doubles against Kennesaw State and Mercer. Now she sits at 12 with 17 kills and 12 digs against FGCU to end the season. In her third season, she is setting her sights on the JU career record book by needing 21 kills to surpass Farley Snow (994, 1989-92) for fifth on the all-time list. Bendorf did move into fifth all-time for attempts, surpassing Snow with 39 attempts at Lipscomb on Oct. 24 She is also on pace to become only the fifth Dolphin to surpass 1,000 career kills, needing only 37 kills to accomplish the feat.

Abby gains
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 108 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 and then some in 2008 by leading the squad with 110 blocks, 1.16 blocks per set and a .337 hitting percentage while also ranking third with 200 kills and 2.11 kills per set. In the career record books, she needs 11 blocks assists and 67 total blocks to surpass Carrie Windell (220 & 289, 1995-98) for fifth on the all-time list.  Gruenbacher did set new standards offensively by tallying a program-record for hitting percentage in 10-15 attempts with .818 (10-1-11) against UNF on Oct. 28, surpassing Katie Hendrian (.714) against Savannah State in 2004. She followed that effort with a career-high 19 kills and 11 blocks at Mercer on Nov. 8 to tally her first career-double-double. Her swing is definitely smoking lately after hitting .467 (8-1-15) against Stetson and .529 (10-1-17) against FGCU, to close out the season.

Not so “Little Nicki”
Junior middle blocker Nicki Kent is another valued member of the Dolphins since transferring from Wyoming last season. With the departure of middle blocker Melissa Merchant, sophomore Brittany Lehman moved inside next to fellow sophomore Abby Gruenbacher and both have seen the majority of starts. Kent may only have nine starts this season but she is making an impact in the stats. Kent currently ranks second on the squad with 1.02 blocks per set and is third with 63 blocks. She tallied a career-best eight blocks against FGCU (11/15) and has notched at least four blocks in eight matches. Kent has also been consistent in her opportunities by registering at least two blocks in the Dolphins’ last nine matches.

Aidan and abedding
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 228 kills, 2.45 kills per set and is second with 74 blocks and third with a .244 hitting percentage.

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, is second on the squad with 32 service aces, 246 digs and 2.48 digs per set.

Lehman moves inside
Sophomore middle blocker Brittany Lehman is another example of the versatile players on JU’s roster in 2008. As a freshman, she played mostly outside to finish the year ranked second on the squad with 2.70 kills per set and fourth with 259 kills. With the departure of middle blocker Melissa Merchant, Lehman moved inside next to fellow sophomore Abby Gruenbacher and the Dolphins have not missed a beat. Lehman currently ranks fourth on the squad with 58 blocks and is fourth with 0.66 blocks per set. She also ranks sixth on the team with 16 service aces, including a career-best five against Seattle (10/17).

“AA” adds more energy
Freshman setter Ashley August came to JU knowing that the Dolphins had the position covered heading into 2008. In the 5-1 offense, sophomore setter Hannah Munneke was from fresh off A-Sun all-freshman honors after setting the program single season record with 1,356 assists in 2007. But the JU coaching staff decided to change to the 6-2 after six matches to take advantage of the Dolphins’ versatility. Among those who have blossomed with the change has been August. Since joining the starting lineup on Sept. 12, August has racked up six double-doubles (assists, digs) including her first back-to-back double-dip effort against Seattle (20 assists, 11 digs) and Campbell (19 assists, 11 digs). The Dolphins have also gone 17-5 during that span.

Dolphins in the A-Sun rankings
In the team rankings, JU is first in blocks (2.21 bps), second in opponent hitting percentage (.141) and digs (15.89 dps) and third in hitting percentage (.224) and assists (11.76 aps). They are also fourth in kills (12.78 kps) and service aces (1.77 aps). Individually, junior libero Shelley Walroth is first in digs (583) and digs per set (5.89) and seventh in service aces (0.36 aps), senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf is third in kills per set (3.95) and kills (391), sophomore middle hitter Abby Gruenbacher is first in blocks (110) and blocks per set (1.16) and third in hitting percentage (.337), junior middle blocker Nicki Kent is second in blocks per set (1.02), sophomore setter Hannah Munneke ranks eighth in assists per set (6.60) and freshman setter Ashley August is 10th in assists per set (5.53).

Dolphin notables
JU completed the regular season with its best overall record (19-9) since joining the A-Sun in 1998…the Dolphins are in search of their first 20 win season since going 25-19 in 1988...Against Stetson, Senior outside hitter Sara Bendorf finished with a match-high 14 kills and junior libero Shelley Walroth added a match-high 29 digs…junior outside hitter Brooke Singleton finished with 13 kills, eight digs and three aces...sophomore middle blocker Abby Gruenbacher chipped in with eight kills and match-highs with four blocks and a .467 (8-1-15) hitting percentage...junior middle blocker Nicki Kent also tallied six digs, five kills and three blocks...against FGCU, Bendorf led the Dolphin offense with a match-high 17 kills while hitting .472 (17-0-36) and tallying her team-leading 13th double-double with 12 digs…sophomore outside hitter Aidan Yeager notched 13 kills, a .306 (13-2-36) hitting percentage and eight blocks…Gruenbacher tallied 10 kills and match highs with a .529 (10-1-17) hitting percentage and nine blocks…sophomore setter Hannah Munneke tallied her third double-double of the year with 32 assist and 13 digs…Singleton led the defense with a match-high 17 digs while adding six kills and three blocks…Kent also chipped in with eight blocks and Walroth had 13 digs.