Senior Grace Weaver and the Green Wave volleyball team opened preseason camp with a pair of practices on Saturday at the Hertz Center.
NEW ORLEANS - Coming off a season which saw the Green Wave post the biggest turnaround in the nation and entering a new era as members of the American Athletic Conference, the Tulane University volleyball team opened preseason practice with a pair of sessions on Saturday at the Hertz Center.
After going 28-4 overall, finishing second in the regular-season Conference USA standings with a 12-2 league record and advancing to the C-USA Championship title match a year ago, the Green Wave return three starters among seven letterwinners in 2014 with the goal of showing continued improvement as Tulane makes the move to The American. With all 14 student-athletes on the 2014 roster in attendance, the Green Wave went through an array of drills to assess their talents, but a big portion of the day was spent teaching and reviewing fundamentals.
"The girls are excited," Tulane head coach Sinisa Momic said. "We have a new team and it's a new start with the new conference. Today was more about just assessing where everybody is. We used both practices to go through all of the skills to see where everybody stands, their level of fitness and their technical ability."
Headlining the list of veterans are seniors Olivia Utt, Grace Weaver and Olivia Utt. The trio was instrumental in helping the Green Wave post the nation's biggest turnaround as the team was just 6-21 in 2012.
Also back for the upcoming season are 2013 Conference USA Freshman of the Year Tea Juric along with fellow sophomores Miah Diirell, Lauren Etta, Ally Frank, Makenzie Frieden, Annie Shurtz and Sarah Strasner, and redshirt-junior Amy Lanski. Tulane will also welcome the talent of incoming freshmen Sarah Ray, Bianca Ryals and Maggie Singleton for the 2014 campaign.
"We were lucky last year in that we had freshmen that are sophomores now who really contributed in a big way," Momic said. "I also think there will be freshmen in this class who are also going to contribute in a big way. I think we're going to see a lot of improvement at those positions because last year's freshmen also played sand volleyball in the spring and I'm looking forward to seeing how much they improved."
One of the big questions for the Green Wave heading into the 2014 campaign is how the team will replace 2013 seniors Mel Mandelbaum and Cori Martone. Mandelbaum graduated ranking second in Tulane history with 3,684 assists and is one of just two players in school history to surpass the 1,000-assist, 1,000-dig plateau. Martone, meanwhile, finished her career ranked eighth in Tulane history with 1,375 kills to go with 277 total blocks (33 solo, 244 assists).
Tulane is not without the firepower to do so, however, as Juric returns following a rookie season that saw her lead the team with 446 kills and 3.98 kills per set to go with 285 digs and 36 blocks (2 solo, 34 assists). Weaver, meanwhile, paced the squad with 515 digs, 4.52 digs per set and 30 service aces while Strasner posted a team-high 106 blocks and 0.93 blocks per set while hitting a team-best .380 (221 kills and 47 errors in 458 attempts).
All told, the Green Wave return 75.3 percent of their blocks (172.0-of-228.5), 72.9 percent of their kills (1,248-of-1,713), 67.9 percent of their service aces (87-of-128) and 67.6 percent of their digs (1,196-of-1,770) from the 2013 season, but just 11.7 percent of their assists (187-of-1597). The setter position is currently a three-way battle between returners Etta and Frank, who combined for just 17 assists in limited action as freshmen a year ago, and Ryals who joins the Green Wave via Puerto Rico.
"Losing Mel [Mandelbaum] and Cori [Martone] is big," Momic added. "They both contributed in our first, second and third contacts, and Cori was one of our best blockers. We're going to have to find a way to fill in those spots. It's probably going to be a little different, but we have to see what type of play we need for this team to be successful. It's a little bit different, but we have a lot of good pieces. We just have to make sure we put them in order to make us successful."
Tulane will open the 2014 campaign on Friday, Aug. 29, when the Green Wave travel to College Station, Texas, to take on UTSA, host Texas A&M and Iowa in the Texas A&M Invitational. The Wave's first home match of the season is slated for Thursday, Sept. 11, when they play host to Southeastern Louisiana in the opening contest of the Allstate Sugar Bowl Collegiate Classic in Devlin Fieldhouse. First serve for that match is 7 p.m.
Season tickets for the 2014 Tulane volleyball team are available for $55 through the Tulane Athletics Ticket Office. The ticket office is located on the first floor of the James W. Wilson, Jr., Center and is open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For additional information, call (504) 861-WAVE (9283) or log onto the internet at www.TulaneGreenWave.com.