Aug. 13, 2006
NEW ORLEANS, La. - The 2005 Tulane volleyball season was tabbed by many as a rebuilding year as first-year head coach Liz Kritza fielded a team which featured seven true freshmen on its opening-day roster.
The season wound up being a bigger rebuilding process than anyone ever expected as Hurricane Katrina forced the team to relocate to College Station, Texas, and the campus of Texas A&M for the fall semester. While the team showed steady progress throughout the year, including advancing to the Conference USA Tournament semifinals for the first time since 1997, the lessons the Green Wave student-athletes, coaches and administrators learned in the aftermath of the storm helped form bonds that few teams truly experience.
"The experiences of 2005 were like nothing any of us have ever had to go through," Kritza said. "While we would much rather not have had that happen, I think it helped us in ways we will not fully understand for several years. But what it did right away was help the team come together and overcome adversity.
"We showed steady improvement as the season went on, and made a nice run in the Conference USA Tournament. We return the bulk of that team this year, and I think we can use that late run as a springboard into the 2006 season."
With five starters among the seven returning letterwinners - including Sara Radosevic, the 2005 AVCA All-American and the C-USA and AVCA Midwest Region Freshman of the Year, and C-USA All-Freshman Team honoree Luna Rebrovic - the Green Wave are loaded with young yet experienced players.
In addition to the two honor recipients, Tulane returns senior Sara Thorson and sophomores Ashley Bernards, Lauren Boatwright, Jen Linder and Bridget Wells. The Green Wave also welcome back sophomore Liz McGehee, who played in Tulane's season opener before transferring to Lehigh for the remainder of the fall semester.
Tulane added three true freshmen during the signing period for the 2006 season - setter/right-side hitter Rachel Lindelow, libero Jenn Miller and outside/right-side hitter Ksenija Vlaskovic.
"With only one senior on the team, we're obviously still going to be a very young team," Kritza said. "But the sophomores on this year's team played a lot last year. Four of them started, and two earned postseason accolades. With the players we return and the players we brought in, I feel we have put together a solid nucleus that will help us take the next step as a program."
The strength of the Green Wave team will once again be its pin attackers as one true outside hitter and a pair of swing players are back for another season. Radosevic headlines the group of returners, and is joined by veterans Thorson, and Wells. Rookie Vlaskovic joins the fold for 2006.
"This is the most experienced of the position groups on our team, and we expect our outside and right-side hitters to carry our offensive load," Kritza said. "Our offense is geared toward creating scoring opportunities against a single blocker, and all these hitters have the ability to put the ball away when they have that opportunity.
"We need major offensive production from our outside and right-side hitters, and all these players will carry additional defensive and passing responsibilities as well."
Her kills-per-game average was second in C-USA, ninth overall in the nation, and tops among NCAA Division I freshman hitters, outdistancing Princeton's Parker Henritze (4.73 k/g) by more than half a kill per game.
"Sara Radosevic is a highly-skilled outside hitter who has experienced success on every level," Kritza said. "She has improved her overall game by stepping up her first contact, and that enables our offense to run more efficiently. She has taken a leadership role in the offseason, and her goal is to lead the team in all areas in 2006."
Thorson has seen time at all three front-row positions during her career, and makes the most of her 6-3 frame to provide an intimidating block on defense. Last season, she played in 64 games for the Green Wave, and ranked third on the team in kills (145) and blocks (41).
"Sara Thorson is the only senior on the team and she wants to finish her career on top," Kritza said. "She is a formidable blocker and provides a solid offensive option for our attack. She has worked hard in the offseason, and I think she will be a big asset to us with her experiences both on and off the court."
The wild card among the Tulane hitters is Wells. As a true freshmen, she played sparingly, but showed flashes of potential late in the year. At 6-3 and a whip of an arm swing, Wells was dominant at times in the Green Wave's spring matches. Last year, she played in 61 games and finished second on the squad in kills (155) while posting 15 blocks.
"Bridget is a physical player who has really improved her all-around game," Kritza said. She can generate a lot of force with her size and is developing nicely into a very productive hitter on either pin. If she can continue her improvement throughout the season, Bridget has the potential to be a very big weapon for us up front."
The newcomer to the bunch, Vlaskovic is the latest import to the Green Wave program. She comes to Tulane following a stellar international career where she played six seasons for Pozarevac VBC, helping the squad improve from Serbian B1 League to A2 League standings. A three-year captain of her junior club team, Vlaskovic was also a member of the 2005 Serbia & Montenegro Youth National Team.
"Ksenija is a superior athlete who will be a very productive offensive player for us," Kritza said. "She jumps well and utilizes a fundamentally-sound arm swing. She will have to work hard to develop her serve reception, but with her athleticism, that will come in time. I look forward to watching her develop to get her skill level on par with her athleticism."
Monday: Middle Blockers & Setters
Tuesday: Libero/Defensive Specialists & Schedule