Editor’s note: This is the third in a series previewing the UC Davis fall sports.
Togetherness. It can go a long way.
So, knowing it lost 452 kills with the graduation of All-Big West powerhouse Allison Whitson, the UC Davis women’s volleyball squad is working to “out-team” its 2013 opponents.
“One of of the (hallmarks) of our team is we just work hard,” sixth-year Aggie coach Jamie Holmes told The Enterprise following another spirited practice session at The Pavilion on Tuesday. “We laugh easily, smile easily and work hard. I think we’re a total team.
“We will … out-together a lot of our opponents.”
Armed with a schedule that includes stern opposition, possessing a mix of veterans and talented freshmen and displaying enthusiasm and competitiveness, these Aggies are champing at the bit to get the season started.
“My goal is to schedule a few teams that are significant so that if we beat them, we hang our hat on that — if we don’t win the conference,” Holmes explains of her slate that includes Louisiana State, California, San Diego State and Oregon State.
Wins against Top 50 teams are helpful with strength of schedule (RPI), but 20 wins also turns heads, so when UCD sees Portland, Illinois State and Grand Canyon (all road matches), it has to be equally as sharp.
The Aggies, coming off a 17-14 season in which they went 11-7 in league play, have first to find a way to make up Whitson’s 452 points.
“With Ali, it was easy,” Holmes says. “Just chuck the ball up high and let her rip it.This year? We’re going to have to be a little more crafty.
“I think it is really a team effort. We’re bringing back Devon Damelio (All-Big West first team), who has become an easy scorer for us (368 kills in 2012). And her shot portfolio is expanded.”
Given that UCD is deep with middle blockers — like juniors Victoria Lee (202 kills and All-Big West honorable mention), Katie Quinn (167) and Valerie Brain (257 kills) — Holmes sees her team as being lethal at the net:
“Our middle-hitting is going to be a big deal for us. A two-year starter, Valerie Brain … we have to decrease her errors, but she can get kills pretty easily.”
Holmes says her women must “make up points through defense, blocking and at the service line … we’re trying to serve the ball tougher. A total team effort is how we’re going to have to do it.”
Knowing that it feels like an all-hands-on-deck kind of volleyball season, vying for playing time is at an all-time high, at least under Holmes’ watch.
“Seeing people competing with one another and themselves for starting positions and to be in one of those sixes (volleyball-speak for court time) is pushing everybody,” adds the coach.
Even if UCD is off to a terrific start, the mine field called the Big West Conference still looms. Teams like Long Beach State and Hawaii figure to be formidable.
Are the Aggies a legitimate contender for a BWC championship and a dance card at the NCAA Tournament?
“We can be,” Holmes says. “We have to continue working hard. Competitiveness and depth of our program is stronger than it has been since I’ve been here.”
Freshman Allie Wegener (St. Francis), Erika Conners (Parker, San Diego), Kendall Frisoli (Thousand Oaks), Aima Eichie (Rock Canyon, Colorado) and Kendall Walbrecht (La Cañada) help give Holmes her best-ever depth.
“It’s an extremely athletic incoming class,” the coach, a Bethany University grad continues. “They run fast, they jump high. An area that we need to see further development in is just the IQ of the volleyball game.
“They bring a tremendous amount of competitive athleticism. It’s a class that will, over their four years here at UC Davis, do some significant things for not only the record books, but the Big West and the NCAA at large.”
So, when the Aggies open Aug. 30 against San Diego at LSU, who will be playing where?
Holmes says she’s working on a starting six while “considering different types of lineups.” With 10 days to the first serve, Holmes adds, “Nothing is solidified yet.”
Notes: Holmes was born here and attended North Davis Elementary before her family moved. … The Aggies aren’t home until Sept. 10 when Sacramento State visits (7 p.m.). UCD entertains Cal on Sept. 19 (7 p.m.) and opens Big West play at Cal State Northridge Sept. 28. The conference home opener is Oct. 10 against UC Irvine. … Addie Hauschild-Willis and Chris Webb are assistant coaches with Bethany Gordon as the volunteer assistant. Strength and conditioning are the responsibility of Renee White, and Gary Grant is the team statistician. … The American Volleyball Coaches Association poll ranks Texas No.1. No Big West teams are in the Top 25, but Long Beach State is among those receiving votes.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at firstname.lastname@example.org