The Urbana University women’s volleyball program opened its 2016 preseason training with three brief practice sessions on Monday inside Grimes Center. Under the guidance of second-year head coach Tim Balice, the Blue Knights are loaded with talent as they aim for their first winning season in 10 years.
Here are five things you need to know as the volleyball team begins preseason practice:
Plenty of Experience
UU returns nine letterwinners from last year’s 13-17 squad, including four of its top five kill leaders. The returning core played 61 percent of the total sets a year ago, and features one senior, six juniors, and two sophomores. The first recruiting class for coach Balice features two transfers and four freshmen to round out the 2016 roster at 15.
Climbing the Charts
Junior OH Katlynn Dunlap is currently ranked seventh among UU’s all-time career leaders in kills with 799. The 2015 All-MEC First Team performer has averaged 400 kills during her first two seasons on the court for UU, and another year of similar production would elevate the Zoarville, Ohio native to fourth all-time.
Finding a Setter
Speaking of records, UU’s all-time leader in assists, Mary Hendricks, has graduated and the Blue Knights are looking to fill the void at setter. Plenty of capable talent exists on the roster with sophomore Caitlin Douglas and freshmen Alyssa Myers and Audrey Pumford. Balice was quick to note that he’s been impressed with Douglas through offseason workouts, but the starting spot remains open to competition. UU’s ability to overcome inexperience at setter will be a major key to success this year.
Turn the Tide
With a solid group of newcomers joining a loaded group of returners, the Blue Knights seem poised to put up their first winning season since 2006. UU averaged 24 wins per season from 2000 to 2007, and the most wins in a season since was 16 in 2009. Balice kept things stable in his first year by tying the best win total since UU joined NCAA Division II, along with a trip to the MEC Tournament, but the Blue Knights are hungry to leave their mark in 2016.
Coaching Staff Update
Balice recently announced coaching changes over the summer as Bryan Bastuba was promoted to the top assistant coach position, while Lauren McClarnon has joined the staff as a volunteer assistant.
UU will open the season on Sept. 2-3 at the Cavalier Classic, hosted by Walsh in North Canton, Ohio. The Blue Knights will take on Walsh, Bellarmine, Glenville State, and Davis & Elkins.
The home opener is set for Tuesday, Sept. 6, when the Blue Knights host local-rival Cedarville at 7 p.m. in the Grimes Center.