Aug. 27, 1997
Volleyball Team Readies For Jefferson Cup, 1997 Season
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - The University of Virginia volleyball team begins play this weekend as they host the 1997 Jefferson Cup. This year's tournament will feature Coastal Carolina, Delaware, Illinois, and Liberty. Of the five participating teams, four won at least 24 games in 1996, and Big Ten member Illinois (who won 13 games last season) comes from the talent rich midwest. Virginia won its last season's Jefferson Cup with a perfect 4-0 record.
After the Jefferson Cup, UVa takes tournament trips to New Mexico and Marshall. Those two tournaments will have the Cavaliers standing toe-to-toe with volleyball heavyweights such as Pepperdine, New Mexico, and Cincinnati. Virginia then returns to host its second tournament of the season, the Virginia Invitational, the weekend of September 19 and 20. "The Invitational" calls for Villanova, Northeastern, and Big 12 Conference power Iowa State to visit Charlottesville's Memorial Gymnasium (capacity 2,500).
September and October also calls for in-state rivalries, as Virginia travels to James Madison, William & Mary, Liberty (part of Jefferson Cup), and Virginia Commonwealth. Virginia Tech visits UVa, October 28, looking to end the Cavaliers one game winning streak in the hotly contested series.
On September 26, the Cavaliers open their Atlantic Coast Conference schedule against North Carolina State. Defending ACC champion Maryland comes to Memorial Gym on Friday October 3. The Terps were one of only four squad's appearing on UVa's schedule last year that the Cavaliers did not defeat at least once. The other highlight of UVa's home conference schedule comes when Georgia Tech visits on October 31. Last season, the Cavaliers defeated #22 Georgia Tech to record their first win over a ranked opponent this decade.
ACC coaches tabbed the Cavaliers to finish seventh this year in the annual preseason poll. However, Virginia head coach Melissa Aldrich Shelton hopes last year's 24-win season (24-11 overall, 7-9 ACC) will provide a building block for year's to come. "Last year was phenomenal for our program," remembers Aldrich Shelton. "We superseded all of our team goals and learned how to win in the process. That will help us again this season."
Virginia lost standouts Whitney Casey and Nikki Lawson. Both graduates were key contributors in Virginia's volleyball awakening. Stepping into their leadership roles this year will be fourth-years Amy Mitchell and Shannon Wahlers.
"Our senior class has been the hardest working tandem I've seen since I entered coaching," claims Aldrich Shelton. "They possess a tireless work ethic and this has allowed them to improve as players every season."
Mitchell will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest volleyball players to ever wear a Cavalier uniform. After three seasons, Mitchell is ranked in the top-10 of six categories at Virginia. She will anchor the right side of the Cavaliers front line.
"Believe it or not, as fantastic as Amy is, she still has room for improvement. Look for that improvement in her blocking and passing game," said Aldrich Shelton.
Wahler's role is less defined. Aldrich Shelton promises plenty of playing time for her fourth-year. "Shannon may start, she may see time in the middle or outside. But we know she will be a key contributor to our success as a team."
Joining Mitchell on the outside will be Claire Folga. UVa's most physical player, Folga reached double-figures in kills over the final 10 matches of the season. She is expected "to step in where Casey left off for us last season," says Aldrich Shelton.
Whitney Bilger adds her blocking skills and power to the mix from the outside. Red-shirt freshman Danielle Yanik, as well as incoming first-years Katie Jones and Kristi Winters, will challenge for the other outside hitter spot throughout the season.
The outside "is where we were hit the hardest by graduation. Thankfully, it is also the position where we are the deepest," according to Aldrich Shelton.
Patrolling the middle of the Cavaliers front line will be the three player rotation of Jessica Parsons, Tamara Shulman, Wahlers. Shulman, who had a stellar second season according to the coaching staff, will again need to prove herself after having knee surgery at season's end.
After Shulman went down last year, Parsons stepped up and showed why she is Virginia's most improved player. Parsons "has the potential to be the most dominant hitter on the team," according to Aldrich Shelton.
Expect Virginia's remaining two first-year players, Andrea Fischer and Deanna Zwarich, to earn some playing time as the season goes on.
"With Shulman's strength, Wahlers experience, Parson's power, and the incoming first-years, I like what we have in the middle," says Aldrich Shelton.
Just as the perfect wine complements fine cuisine, Mary Frances Scott compliments the Virginia's vast front-line arsenal. Scott is in the process of rewriting the standards associated with the setter position at Virginia.
Virginia's first player to make the three-year old ACC All-Freshman team, Scott is the quarterback of the UVa offense. Rarely do the Cavaliers earn a "side-out" without Scott notching an assist. She is coming off the second most prolific season in Virginia history when it comes to assists.
Aldrich Shelton cautions that, "everything Mary achieved last season was earned. But, we expect her to improve even more this season."
Amanda Wells will be the Cavaliers defensive specialist in 1996. She will also step into the quarterback role when Scott needs a break.
"Obviously, we are excited about what Mary has done as our setter. She is our most stable player who possesses more knowledge of the game than any second-year player in the ACC. We also expect to play well when Amanda steps in for Mary."
With last season now just a fond memory, Aldrich Shelton believes "there is no pressure on us, except from ourselves. We want to earn some respect in the ACC and we feel another successful season will do that for us. We're getting there, but we still have some work ahead of us."