|Jaspers Open Season at La Salle Invitational This Weekend|
In 2011, the Manhattan College volleyball team had its second consecutive winning season, putting together a 16-15 overall record. However, the Jaspers just missed out on a trip to the four-team Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament after going 9-9 in conference play.
Getting back to the MAAC Tournament is one of fourth-year Head Coach Mark Jones's main goals heading into the 2012 campaign. Ten letterwinners, including five starters, from last year's team return this season. With seven talented newcomers, a combination of transfers and incoming freshmen, joining them on the roster, Manhattan has the personnel necessary to make a run at the MAAC title.
"This is the deepest team we've had since I've been here," Jones said. "We're at least two deep at every position, so more people will be able to get playing time or, more importantly, rest when they need it. We struggled in that area last season."
Another player who was a major difference-maker during her first campaign in a Jaspers uniform last year is junior Mariana Furquim. After one year at UNLV, Furquim transferred to Manhattan last season and ranked third on the squad with 2.50 kills per set. She had four double-doubles a year ago, including a spectacular 20-kill, 20-dig performance in a five-set home win over Marist on Oct. 16. Furquim earned MAAC Offensive Player of the Week honors for that effort. In addition, she tied for second on the team with 30 service aces last season and is the Jaspers' top returning blocker, having recorded 72 stuffs in 2011.
Sophomore Sarah Haselhorst and freshman Clare Bozzo will also challenge for playing time. Haselhorst saw action mostly in the back row last season, but was recruited to play all the way around and is more than capable of producing from anywhere on the floor. Bozzo helped Santa Catalina High School reach the NorCal State Tournament for the first time ever in 2010. She also has the versatility to move into the middle.
"We're definitely experienced at outside hitter," Jones said. "A majority of our points came from the outside last season and the returners can play all six rotations, which brings some consistency to the offense."
On the right side, three players will fight it out for the starting nod. Senior Alexa Lampasona is the incumbent starter. A member of Jones's first four-year graduating class, she has improved each season since her arrival in Riverdale. Last year, Lampasona appeared in every set and averaged 2.21 kills per frame.
Junior Ellie Wiekamp joined the program during the spring semester after missing all of 2011 with a shoulder injury. She was an honorable mention All-Orange Empire Conference selection after leading Irvine Valley College in both kills and aces in 2010. Fellow newcomer Sydney Volovski also figures into the mix. Volovski was named first team all-conference after leading Oswego High School outside Chicago to the regional championship last season. In addition, she won Junior Olympics and Pre-Nationals titles while playing club volleyball for Sports Performance in 2011.
"All three right sides have good experience," Jones said. "Alexa's been the starter for the last two years; Sydney has been consistent in practice; and Ellie can play all the way around, which is something we haven't had from this position in the past."
"This is probably the most competitive position on the roster," Jones said. "Nothing is set in stone. We've got a lot of experience in the middle. That maturity will definitely help."
The three junior transfers are Juliana Behrens, Katelyn Nugent and Karlee Anderson. Behrens comes to Manhattan after two seasons at the University of Cincinnati, where she helped the Bearcats win their first-ever Big East Tournament title last season. Nugent was a First Team All-NWAACC Western Region selection last year at Green River Community College in Washington after leading the team in both kills and hitting percentage for the second straight season. Anderson averaged 1.84 kills and 0.61 blocks per set while leading San Diego Mesa College to a share of the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference championship in 2011.
Senior Maddie Heck looks to bounce back after being limited by injuries during each of the past two seasons. She's shown flashes of brilliance while on the floor, which will make it hard to keep her out of the lineup when healthy. Sophomore Deandra Anderson is another viable option in the middle.
Senior Jamie Collareta also has experience running the Manhattan offense. She was the Jaspers' starter in 2010 and should provide a smooth transition when called upon.
"We have two very good setters with game experience," Jones said. "It's nice to have two players who've really matured into the position and can both do the job. There might even be some situations when they're both in the lineup."
Freshman Katie Lang gives Jones a third option at setter. Lang led Fontbonne Hall Academy to back-to-back Brooklyn Diocesan Championships in 2009-10 and was a three-time First Team All-Brooklyn selection.
Julie Bies has never missed a set in her Manhattan career. Bies enters her final season fourth on the Jaspers' all-time list with 1,315 career digs. Last season, she placed second on the squad with 332 digs while also posting 25 aces and 29 assists.
"Kelsey finished last year as the starter, but Julie will definitely have a spot on the floor," Jones said. "Whoever passes and plays defense consistently will play."
Haselhorst also saw time at libero in 2011. She could figure into the plans at the spot again this season.
The matchup with Lafayette is the beginning of a season-high six-match homestand that also includes five straight MAAC contests from Sept. 22-30. Manhattan then goes back on the road for nine of its next 12 matches before ending the season at home against Saint Peter's on Nov. 10.
"This schedule allows us to be competitive with a variety of teams," Jones said. "There are a few matches where we'll be challenged, but I also know that we can be successful. I'm confident that we'll have a great season."
Manhattan was picked third in the MAAC Preseason Coaches Poll, its highest ranking since 2007. The top four teams at the conclusion of the 18-match, double round-robin conference schedule will advance to the MAAC Tournament, which will be held at Fairfield on Nov. 16-17.
"No. 3 is the highest preseason ranking we've had, which shows we're getting that respect from the coaches," Jones said. "It's a long season and third place is a great goal, but we want to achieve more than that. With hard work, I think we can."