Of the 16 players on Sacramento State's roster heading into the 2014 season, 10 are new to the team, including a school-record eight freshmen. In addition, the team will have new starters at one middle hitter spot, rightside hitter, setter and libero.
However, despite a relatively inexperienced roster, the Hornets do return three starters from a year go in outside hitters Lovett and Morgan Stanley, as well as middle blocker Courtney Dietrich. In fact, the returning six players, a list which also includes Aikels, middle blocker Kendall LaVine and defensive specialist Lexie Skalbeck, combined for 64 percent of the team's kills from a year ago (922 kills).
Lovett and Stanley formed one of the more formidable outside hitter duos in the Big Sky Conference last year as the pair combined to average over six kills per set while hitting a very respectable .221. Lovett led the Hornets in kills (361), kills per set (3.25), attempts (936), points (407.5), and points per set (3.67) while Stanley was tied for second on the squad in kills (313), and third in digs (227), aces (27) and total points (362.0).
Dietrich started 19 of the final 20 matches of the year as a true freshman and finished the season with averages of 1.40 kills and 0.80 blocks per set while LaVine appeared in 26 matches, including eight starts. Skalbeck was one of four Hornets to appear in all 31 matches a year ago, and could start at libero this year. Entering her third season, Aikels, who is the longest tenured player on the team along with Lovett, averaged 1.58 kills per set.
The Hornets finished the 2013 season with a 15-16 overall record and a 10-10 mark in the Big Sky. The team was eliminated from Big Sky Tournament contention on the final day of the regular season for the second straight year. Sacramento State finished in a tie for sixth place in the final standings, but missed on a postseason spot after losing out on a tiebreaker with Northern Colorado.
Sacramento State was a strong team offensively last season, as the team finished with an average of 12.33 kills per set and a .230 hitting percentage. That hitting percentage was the best mark in seven years, and tied for the fourth best mark since the program joined the Div. I ranks in 1991. The Hornets also ranked among the top 50 teams in the nation in serving (1.44 aces per set).
One area the Hornets will have to improve is defense where the team finished near the bottom of the Big Sky in digs (13.03 dps), blocks (1.96 bps) and opponents hitting percentage (.238).
This year's schedule includes 31 matches, including 12 at home, 12 on the road and seven on neutral floors. Previously an 11-member league, the Big Sky is expanding to 12 teams this year with the addition of the University of Idaho. The league will now split into a pair of six-team divisions. Teams will play other teams in their own division twice, and every team in the other division once (three at home, three on the road).
In the South Division, Sacramento State joins Idaho State, Northern Arizona, Portland State, Southern Utah and Weber State. The North Division is comprised of Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana, Montana State, North Dakota and Northern Colorado.
The top eight teams with the best conference record regardless of division will qualify for the Big Sky's postseason tournament. In years past, only six teams qualified. The tournament host and No. 1 seed will go to the team with the best conference record while the No. 2 seed will be the first-place team from the other division.
|1||Kennedy Kurtz||Fr.||5-10||Tucson, Ariz.
||Hannah Meadows||Fr.||5-7||Sparks, Nev.|
• Sacramento State has two setters on the roster, comprised of freshmen Kennedy Kurtz and Hannah Meadows. Both setters have played well in preseason camp according to seventh-year head coach Ruben Volta, and the team will employ either a traditional 5-1 offensive attack or a 6-2 look that uses both setters throughout the season. Either way, a freshman will start at setter for the Hornets for the first time since Katie Aprile in 2010. Hannah Hettinga, who graduated last year, had been the team's starting setter each of the last three years.
• Kurtz, who stands at 5-foot-9, will give the Hornets one of their most athletic setters in recent memory. She helped lead Ironwood Ridge High School in Arizona to three straight Div. II Section V titles and back-to-back semifinal appearances at the state championships. As a senior, she was named honorable mention all-state, the Southern Arizona Player of the Year, first team all-section, first team all-Southern Arizona and team MVP for a Nighthawk squad that finished 36-9 overall. She was also a star for the track and field team where she broke school records in the 100m hurdles, 300m hurdles, 4x100m relay and 4x400m relay. In fact, her 4x400m relay squad won the state championship in 2012.
• Meadows, a 5-foot-7 native of Sparks, Nev., was a four-year member of the varsity team, three-year starter, and two-time team captain at Spanish Spring High School in Sparks. She helped lead the team to combined overall record of 100-30, a 50-14 league record and the school's first-ever state championship in 2012. As a senior, Meadows was the High Desert League Player of the Year after finishing first among team leaders in assists and aces, second in kills, and fourth in digs. Often times, she would set while her rotation was the in the back row, and play outside hitter when she rotated to the front row.
|3||Morgan Stanley||So.||5-11||Parker, Colo.|
|8||Lauren Aikels||Jr.||5-11||San Diego, Calif.|
|9||Shannon Boyle||Fr.||5-11||Ridgefield, Wash.|
|11||Sloan Lovett||Jr.||5-9||Durango, Colo.|
|14||Lauren Kissell||Jr.||6-0||Stockton, Calif.|
|17||Holly Frazier||Fr.||5-9||Stockton, Calif.|
• Sacramento State has seven players on the roster that could see time at outside or rightside hitter, including the return of starting outsides Sloan Lovett and Morgan Stanley. While Lovett and Stanley have all but locked up the starting nods at the two outside hitter spots, rightside hitter is still up in the air, and will likely fall to returning sophomore Kendall LaVine or freshman Shannon Boyle.
• Lovett started all but one match at outside hitter last year while leading the team in virtually every statistical category. In fact, among Big Sky leaders, she ranked fifth in kills per set (3.25), and seventh in points per set (3.67). The Durango, Colo., native led the Hornets in kills in 14 of the 30 matches she played, posted double digits in kills in a team-high 22 matches and had a streak of 10 consecutive matches with at least 11 kills from Sept. 27-Oct. 31. Perhaps most impressive about Lovett's season is the dramatic improvement she made from her freshman to her sophomore season, including averaging 2.00 kills more per set, and increasing her hitting percentage by 169 percentage points to a respectable mark of .228.
• As a true freshman last year, Stanley appeared in all 31 matches, including 30 starts as a full rotation outside hitter. The Parker, Colo., native finished with averages of 2.79 kills, 0.24 aces, 2.03 digs and 0.33 blocks per set while hitting .214. In addition, she posted seven double-doubles (kills and digs) while recording double figures in kills on 16 occasions and double digits in digs eight times. Stanley had at least 17 kills on four occasions, including a season-best 18 in a win at Montana State.
• Junior Lauren Aikels returns for her third season with the program. Last year, the San Diego native appeared in 23 matches, including three starts on the right side and one start at outside hitter. Aikels finished the season averaging 1.58 kills and 0.40 digs per set, including a match at Boise State she tallied a season-best 11 kills to go along with a .269 hitting percentage.
• Junior Lauren Kissell, who wasn't added to the roster until the middle of August, brings impressive credentials to Sacramento State. A six-foot native of Stockton, Calif., Kissell was a first team all-state selection last year at San Joaquin Delta College after spending her freshman season (2012) at Cal State Fullerton where she was named to the Big West Conference all-Freshman Team. At Delta, she finished second in the state in kills (462), third in kills per set (5.13) and 19th in hitting percentage (.350). As a freshman, she started 18 matches and finished with averages of 1.75 kills and 0.61 blocks per set for a Cal State Fullerton squad that finished 15-16 overall and 9-9 in the Big West Conference.
• Boyle, who will likely play on both the outside and right side this season, earned 12 varsity letters while playing volleyball, basketball and softball at Ridgefield High School in Washington. As a senior, she was the 2A Greater St. Helens League Player of the Year after leading the Spudder volleyball squad to its second straight league championship, a district runner-up finish, and an appearance in the state tournament. An all-league selection all four years, including first team each of her final three seasons (honorable mention as a freshman), she was also a three-time first team all-region selection.
• A 5-foot-9 graduate of Lincoln High School in Stockton, true freshman Holly Frazier rounds out the list of outside hitters. During her final two seasons at Lincoln, she helped the team combine for a 44-25 overall record, a 20-0 mark in the San Joaquin Athletic Association, two league championships and two appearances at the CIF Section playoffs. She was a second team all-league selection as a senior after averaging 2.52 kills and 1.03 blocks per set.
|2||Courtney Dietrich||So.||6-1||Chelan, Wash.|
|4||Kendall LaVine||So.||6-3||Boulder, Colo.|
|5||Madeline Cannon||So.||6-1||Sacramento, Calif.|
|7||Lana Brown||Fr.||6-0||Redding, Calif.|
|16||Erin Cochran||Fr.||6-3||Fremont, Calif.|
• The Hornets have five middle blockers on the roster, and all five are underclassmen. Sophomore returners Courtney Dietrich and Kendall LaVine combine with Santa Clara transfer Madeline Cannon and true freshmen Lana Brown and Erin Cochran to make up the list. Both Dietrich and LaVine have experience in a starting role as Dietrich started 25 matches a year ago and LaVine started eight times. Dietrich and Cannon could begin the season as the starting middles while LaVine could start on the right side.
• Dietrich started 19 of the final 20 matches last season while hitting .247 and finishing with 1.40 kills and 0.80 blocks per set. The Chelan, Wash., native hit better than .300 on 14 occasions, including a season-best .538 with nine kills in a home win against Weber State. She was named the Big Sky Player of the Week on Oct. 28 after helping the team to home wins over Portland State and Eastern Washington, becoming just the second Hornet freshman to garner the weekly honor in the last 13 years.
• After redshirting at West Virginia in 2012, LaVine transferred to Sacramento State and appeared in 26 matches last season. The 6-foot-4 native of Boulder, Colo. finished with averages of 0.76 kills and 0.62 blocks per set and her average of one ace every 8.8 serves was the best mark on the team. LaVine had seven kills and a season-high .750 hitting percentage in a win over Lafayette, posted a .692 hitting percentage and season highs in kills (9) and points (10.5) in a victory against Central Connecticut, and had a season-best eight blocks in a home win against Montana State.
• After spending the 2013 indoor season at Santa Clara, Cannon transferred to Sacramento State in January and played for the Hornet sand team during the spring. A 6-foot-1 local product from Sacramento's Rio Americano High School, Cannon has put together one of the better preseason camps of any Hornet thus far. Prior to playing in 11 matches last year at Santa Clara, Cannon enjoyed success locally, as she was a two-time all-state and four-time first team all-league selection at Rio Americano. In addition, she was the starting middle blocker for the 2013 Northern California Volleyball Club (NCVC) that finished fifth in the nation and was coached by current assistant Jason Borchin.
• Brown, a six-foot native of Redding, hails from the same club program (Shasta Creations) that produced former Hornet and two-time Big Sky MVP Lindsay Haupt. Brown finished her remarkable four-year career at Shasta High School in Redding with totals of 965 kills, 679 blocks and a .373 hitting percentage. The 679 total blocks and 421 solo blocks are the all-time leading marks in the Northern Section. Moreover, in the National Federation of High Schools Record Book, the 679 blocks rank second all-time, and just one block shy of the all-time record. She was a two-time third team All-American for medium schools, and a two-time all-state selection.
• Cochran is the tallest player on the team at 6-foot-3 along with LaVine. The Bay Area product prepped at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, Calif., where she was middle blocker on the volleyball team, a post player for the basketball squad, and swam backstroke for the swimming team. In volleyball, she was a second team all-Mission Valley Athletic League selection during both her junior and senior seasons.
|6||Julia Wright||Fr.||5-6||Puyallup, Wash.|
|10||Lexie Skalbeck||So.||5-9||Portland, Ore.|
|13||Brigitte Murdock||Fr.||5-6||Reno, Nev.|
• There are three defensive specialists on the roster, comprised of sophomore Lexie Skalbeck and true freshmen Brigitte Murdock and Julia Wright. All three are battling for the starting nod at libero in preseason camp, with the likelihood that Skalbeck or Murdock gets the nod.
• Skalbeck was one of four Hornets to appear in all 31 matches last year as a true freshman, including one start at libero, and one start at defensive specialist. The Portland, Ore., native averaged 1.52 digs and 0.31 aces per set, had a 35-to-25 service ace-to-error ratio, and her aces per set average was the fourth best mark in the Big Sky. In her lone start at libero, she tallied a season-high 21 digs in a win over Fairleigh Dickinson, and finished the year with five matches in double-figure digs.
• Murdock prepped at Reno High School in Nevada where she was a two-time team captain and all-High Desert League selection. She had 69 digs in the 2014 Div. I Northern Regional semifinal match against Spanish Springs High School, and averaged 17 digs per match during her senior season. Murdock played club for the Northern Nevada Juniors, where she was teammates with current Hornet freshman setter Hannah Meadows.
• Wright played three seasons of varsity ball for Bellarmine Preparatory School in Tacoma, Wash., where she helped the Lions to a combined 78-7 overall record and 26-0 league mark. That includes back-to-back 4A state championships in 2012 and 2013. As the starting libero during her senior season, she was named first team all-Narrows League, first team all-area and first team all-city after helping the team to a 35-0 record, a state title, and a No. 4 ranking in the nation according to MaxPreps.