Season Preview: Veteran Team Enters 2012 Season

Junior Mel Mandelbaum enters her third season at the helm of the Tulane offense

Junior Mel Mandelbaum enters her third season at the helm of the Tulane offense

Aug. 23, 2012

Conference USA Release (PDF)

NEW ORLEANS - When the 2011 season ended on a sour note, the work began to get better for the next season and for the 2012 Tulane volleyball team that workload spread across ten roster members that were there for the November 22 loss to Southern Miss that ended the 2011 campaign.

Head coach Sinisa Momic enters his fourth season at the helm of the program and will have a roster that includes all six starters from a season ago. Momic will look to a veteran lineup that includes three seniors, four juniors and six sophomores to move the program back into contention in Conference USA. Just one player was added to the 2012 roster, sophomore Shefali Arora, and the positional depth chart includes a pair of setters, three defensive specialists and a host of attackers.

With nearly every player entering their second season wearing the Olive and Blue, it will be the coaching staff that might have the biggest adjustment to make. Momic saw his coaching staff add two new faces to the fold over the summer, when Alan Segal was named the assistant indoor/head sand volleyball coach in July and former All-Conference USA performer Stephanie Serna moved into an assistant coaches role.

The duo of Mel Mandelbaum and Lilly Wolfe will return to lead the attack from the setting position. In her third season on campus, Mandelbaum has already moved her name into the record books with 1,594 assists in 57 matches played to sit eighth on the assist charts. Her per-set average of 7.59 assists ranks seventh all-time and if she can keep up her average of just nearly 800 assists per season, Mandelbaum can move into sixth on the list. Wolfe was a big part of the Tulane five-two system from a season ago and racked up 463 helpers. In two season at Tulane, Wolfe has accumulated 608 assists and ranks 14th all-time.



A trio of defensive specialists will contend to time on the court for the Green Wave, who lost starting libero Nikki Osuna to graduation after a remarkable senior campaign. Osuna accounted for 30-percent of the teams digs, while Arora, Amber Bennett and Madison Nieberlein have not seen any action since arriving on campus. Arora and Bennett each saw action in the spring on the court during the inaugural season of the sand volleyball program in the spring, while Nieberlein was a member of both the indoor and sand rosters in 2012.

Opposing defenses will have to compete with a variety of options when the Olive and Blue are on the attack, as seven returning players logged at least 100 kills in 2011. That group is headlined by junior Cori Martone who was named to the Preseason All-Conference USA squad after earning Second Team All-C-USA as a sophomore. In two seasons, Martone has posted 651 kills to go along with 156 blocks and 776 points in 60 matches played. Her 2.95 kills per-set average is 14th all-time at TU and she set a career-high with 21 service aces in 2011.

Seniors Izabela Grot and Milica Jovic will look to continue their ascending movement on the all-time kills chart. After leading the team in kills in 2010, Grot ranked second on the squad with 235 last year. Her career total of 598 is tied for the 25th most in school history, while Jovic sits in 24th with 600 kills in three seasons on the right side for the Olive and Blue. Jovic has accumulated 191 total blocks, which sits 17th on the charts, and her 0.66 blocks per-set average is 19th in the history of the program.

Anna Wruck was a Conference USA All-Freshman selection last year and was one of the top blockers in the conference during her rookie season. Her per-set blocking average of 1.04 ranked 123rd in the NCAA and she was the first Green Wave player to boast a blocks per-set average of over 1.00 since 2006 and she started every match of her rookie campaign. Fellow freshmen Grace Weaver and Olivia Utt also were major contributors at the net Utt topped the 100-kill mark during her first season on the Uptown campus - totaling 107 - and ranked fourth on the squad with 49 blocks as a middle hitter. On the outside, Weaver chipped in 137 kills, a team-best 24 service aces and 203 digs.

Not to be overlooked are juniors Azarri Badawi and Milena Dragovic. Badawi has logged 260 kills in two seasons, with a career-high 135 as a freshman, and can also add to the Green Wave defense as she recorded a career-best 110 digs in 2011. In limited time last season, Dragovic recorded 23 kills and 38 digs after a freshman campaign that that featured 56 kills and 13 digs.

Tulane will open the season on Friday, August 24 when they take to the court versus Nevada at 4:30 as part of the Fairfield Inn North Baylor Classic. The tournament will continue on Saturday, August 25 with a 10:00 a.m. match versus Texas A&M Corpus-Christi and finish with a tilt against host Baylor at 7:00 p.m.