Whits Aim for More Volleyball Victories
News Release Date:
Saturday, August 29, 2009
WALLA WALLA, Wash. – After closing last season on a high note, winning three of its final five Northwest Conference matches, the Whitman College volleyball team is primed to continue those winning ways this fall.
“We have a strong core group of returning veterans and a big group of talented first-year players,” third-year Whitman coach Carolyn Papineau says. “We are very excited about the chance to build on the success we enjoyed at the end of last season.”
| Carolyn Papineau
“This is a stronger team all across the board – at every position,” Papineau says. “We have an incoming class of players with a high level of competitive experience, which gives us a lot more options. All possibilities are before us right now. We’re going to have a lot of fun creating a new level of success for Whitman volleyball.”
With just eight healthy players on hand to start last season, Whitman struggled through a long campaign, finishing with a 3-22 record overall, which included a 3-13 mark in the NWC.
“We were short-handed and young with no seniors, but for the most part, we were in our matches and competitive,” Papineau says. “It took us awhile to get over the hump before we made a nice turn-around during the second half of the conference season.
‘None of our players gave up. They were tenacious, stayed with the program and developed some great team chemistry as the season played out. They earned the positive outcomes that came their way at the end.”
Now sporting a roster of 13 players, led by seniors Alex Graves and Breanne Robirds, Whitman completes its early preparations when it hosts Walla Walla Community College in an exhibition at 7 p.m. next Tuesday, Sept. 1.
| Alex Graves
For its official season openers, Whitman travels to Thousand Oaks, Calif., to play four tournament matches Sept. 11-12. The Missionaries then start NWC play at home, hosting Willamette and Linfield on Sept. 18-19 in newly renovated Sherwood Center.
Graves and junior libero Kelsie Butts are in their second seasons as team captains. “Alex and Kelsie are incredible competitors, and they do a super job in their leadership roles,” Papineau says. “They did a lot to establish good team chemistry over the summer months. They made sure everyone stayed on track with their conditioning and that the new players felt welcome.
“To some extent, Kelsie and Alex have complementary strengths, which makes them a strong combination as co-captains,” Papineau adds.
“Kelsie is a very driven athlete who sets the bar high in terms of effort, focus and determination on the court.
"Alex brings a lot of maturity and a high level of volleyball IQ to the team. They are both aware of the importance of team dynamics and the challenges facing first-year players coming into a college program.”
Graves, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter, had a break-out season last fall, making the All-NWC Second Team while finishing among the conference leaders in three key statistical categories. She was second in the NWC in kills (3.89 per game), fourth in digs (4.24 per game), and eighth in service aces with 28 in 89 games.
Graves, a biology major, also was one of only two NWC players who received ESPN The Magazine's Academic All-Distrtict honors in the College Division of District VIII, which includes all NCAA DII/DIII and NAIA schools in the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Alaska, Hawaii, California, Utah, Nevada and Arizona, as well as British Columbia.
“Alex will hit on the outside again for us, and now that we have a stronger all-around team to put on the floor, we’re looking forward to seeing what kind of senior season Alex can have,” Papineau says. “We're going to have many offensive threats coming from different parts of the floor, so she won’t have to shoulder so much of the load. We should get Alex more high quality swings this season.”
For her part, Graves is “working on expanding her range of shots and becoming an even better all-around player than she was a year ago,” Papineau says.
Butts, a junior who played her prep volleyball at Southridge High School in nearby Kennewick, Wash., put together a strong season last fall. As Whitman’s libero, she led the team in digs, averaging 4.44 per game, which ranked her third in the NWC in that statistical category.
“Kelsie is working hard on extending her defensive range,” Papineau says. “She tries to get better every day – every time she touches the ball -- and she’s ready to take her game to a higher level this fall.”
| Kelsie Butts
Robirds, the team’s only other senior, is in her second Missionary season after playing for two years at Northwest College (Powell, Wyo.). She was third in kills for Whitman last season, and fourth in digs.
“Like all of our returning players, Brea starts the season in great physical shape,” Papineau says. “She has a lot more spring in her legs, and she’s hitting the ball well in training.”
Sophomore Katie Miller, a 5-foot-7 outside hitter, returns after a solid rookie season. She was second on the team in kills, averaging 2.49 per game, and third in digs at 2.72 per game. She also was third in service aces with 22, trailing only Graves (28) and Butts (24).
“Katie has made some real gains over the past year with speed and quickness,” Papineau says. “She continues to demonstrate that she’s one of our better passers.”
One key to Papineau’s optimism for the season ahead is that Katie Richards, a 5-foot-7 junior setter, is back and healthy. She missed most of last season due to injury, and it was no coincidence that Whitman’s late season surge coincided with her return to the court.
“This will be Katie’s first full season as a setter, and she’s ready to assume that role,” Papineau says. “She brings quickness, mobility and speed to the position. We can run a quick offense because she has those skills. She’s also an offensive threat in the front row, and it’s always good to have a lefty at the net.”
| Katie Richards
While Whitman returns at least some collegiate experience at most positions, Papineau and her coaching staff will be plugging a void at middle blocker with one or more talented first-year players.
“That position is really up for grabs right now,” Papineau says. “We’re looking at multiple options, and we’re fortunate that our first-year players come from very good club volleyball programs.”
One of the newcomers in the mix is Courtney Brewer, a 5-foot-11 graduate of Alaska’s South Anchorage High School.
“Corie is working hard to learn our system and focus on techniques new to her,” Papineau says. “She has the strength, power and versatility to make an immediate impact.”
Others competing for time in the middle are 5-foot-11 Olivia Nielson (A.J. Dimond HS, Anchorage, Alaska) and 6-foot Carrie Cecil (Dana Hall School, Wellesley, Mass.).
“Olivia brings both speed and quickness to the middle position," Papineau says. "Her ability to move laterally is impressive. She has a tremendous upside as she develops her game.”
“Carrie gives us height in the middle that we haven’t had the past few years,” Papineau continues. "She has a great deal of raw athleticism and the potential to become one of Whitman's most accomplished volleyball players by the time her career is over."
Rachel Shober (Archbishop Murphy High School, Everett, Wash.) is a fourth first-year option in the middle.
“Rachel has a lot of experience at this position and her vision and footwork are excellent," Papineau says. "She’s very efficient in the middle and has good hands.
| Katie Miller
"Rachel has many strengths as a player in both the front and back courts, making it easy to plug her into multiple positions. We love her calm and focused demeanor on the court. She is competing for time on the right side as well.”
Other newcomers on the roster include Amanda Holberg, a sophomore defensive specialist and setter who didn’t play in her first year at Whitman, and Hannah Holloran, a 5-foot-9 first-year outside hitter from Tualatin (Ore.) High School.
Holberg, who played her prep volleyball at Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School, joined the Whitman program during last spring’s workouts. “Amanda played for a well coached high school team," Papineau says. "She plays excellent defense and has a very strong serve that will cause problems for the opposition.”
Holloran shows plenty of promise as a strong all-around player, Papineau says. “She passes and serves well, and she’s effective on the outside. She also brings a lot of energy and hustle to that position.”
Rounding out the roster are two more first-year players, Amara Kunishi and Sydney Mottice.
Kunishi, a setter who comes to Whitman from Hawaii's St. Anthony High School, is “doing a great job adjusting to the systems we use here,” Papineau says. “Her focus and effort has been exceptional as we’ve asked her to make a lot of fundamental changes.”
Mottice, a right-side hitter from Grandview (Wash.) High School, starts the season on the sidelines because of injury. “It’s possible that we’ll see Sydney on the floor for the last half of the season,” Papineau says. “Most of her previous experience has been on the right side, but she’s one of those players with the ability to play multiple positions.”
As Whitman readies for the season ahead, Papineau sees her team raising its level of play in a number of areas.
“What is probably most important is that our offensive game has broadened significantly,” she says. “We’re also going to be a much better blocking team. This team has all the tools to be successful. It will be fun to see this group develop over the course of the season.”
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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
firstname.lastname@example.org; (509) 527-5902