Whitman Volleyball Stock Shoots Higher

News Release Date:
Tuesday, August 30, 2011

WALLA WALLA, Wash. -- Last fall's Whitman College volleyball team came within one victory of finishing fourth in the Northwest Conference, which was an admirable accomplishment for a Missionary roster lacking a single junior or senior.

Seniors remain a non-existent commodity this fall, but coach Carolyn Papineau is anything but downbeat on the eve of her fifth season at Whitman.

Carolyn Papineau

Papineau, in fact, is all smiles as four battle-hardened juniors and a returning sophomore phenom are providing plenty of leadership for a roster that has swelled from 11 to 16 players.

"Our juniors are prepared mentally and physically to take this program forward," Papineau says. "The leadership and steadiness they are bringing to the court in preseason will make a huge difference down the stretch.

The level of play in our gym right now is significantly higher than it was at this time a year ago. We have a lot of work to do, but it's a solid starting point."

The juniors are middle blockers Corie Brewer and Olivia Nielson, outside hitter Carrie Cecil and right-side hitter Rachel Shober.

"All four have been with the program from their first days at Whitman, so they understand what we are working toward, and they are confident in their knowledge of our system of play," Papineau says. 

Courtney Brewer

"With six first-year players joining the program this fall, it's a tremendous plus to have the juniors showing them the degree of daily focus and preparation it takes to compete at this level."

The roster also features a strong sophomore class led by outside hitter Jillian Davis, who made a big splash a last season as a rookie, leading the conference in kills while becoming the only first-year player to net All-NWC First-Team honors.

Davis also became the first Whitman player named NCAA Division III West Region Freshman of the Year by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, and she earned AVCA All-American Honorable Mention recognition.

All in all, Papineau says, this is the "largest roster we've had in my time here, and it's creating great competition in our gym. We're continuing to build our confidence and expectations.

"We want to win a Northwest Conference championship, which is something this group of juniors has been talking about since their first season," she says. "They are putting in the work every day to get better. We work on controlling our side of the net and on challenging one another.

"Nothing comes easy in the NWC, but this group will be ready to compete. We will take this season one day at a time."

Papineau expects to field a more balanced attack this fall, in great part because sophomores Rachel Cline and Taylor Aschenbrenner are maturing as setters.

"Both Taylor and Rachel worked last spring to bring consistency to their play, and it's paying off for them. They also worked a lot with our middles to establish a connection with that position."

A more balanced attack should translate this season into more quality swings for Davis.

"Jillian's court vision is excellent, she sees holes in the defense, and her volleyball IQ is extremely high," Papineau says.

"Jillian is a fantastic young woman, player and teammate, and our team looks to her for court leadership. She knows she needs to elevate her game every year to stay at the level of success she had in her first season in our very tough conference.

"She's embracing that challenge, and ultimately she'll decide the upper limits of her game."

Brewer (5-foot-11) and Nielson (6-foot) give Whitman a matching set of talented blockers in the middle of the floor.

Jillian Davis

Brewer led the NWC in hitting percentage in her first season and then earned all-conference Honorable Mention recognition as a sophomore. She averaged more than two kills per game last fall and ranked second in the NWC in total blocks, trailing only Nielson.

"Corie is one of our fiercest competitors and is always ready to go," Papineau says. "She wants to be on the floor for every minute of every match, and it's hard getting her off the floor because of her all-around skills.

"Corie has also embraced a leadership role as she's matured as a player. It's quite clear she leads this group with the intensity and focus she brings to practice."

Nielson finished with 101 blocks last season, averaging nearly one per game.

"Olivia started realizing last season who she can be as a volleyball player," Papineau says. "She closed out the season with some very strong performances and gained a lot of confidence. She's continuing to push herself in practice every day to make this team better.

"She's one of the best blockers in the conference because she looks at all the right things and is quick to the ball."

At 6-foot, Cecil casts an imposing shadow as an outside hitter. She was second on the team in kills last season, averaging 2.30 per game.

"Carrie is long and plays taller than her height," Papineau says. "We've been working on her development as an outside, and she continues to improve every season.

"She has become a very solid attacker for us, and she brings a level of focused learning that is hard to match. She has put a lot of work into all aspects of her game, and I'm amazed every season at her progress. This fall will be no exception."

Cecil is rehabbing an injury (foot) to start the season, however, and won't be ready for at least a few weeks.

"Carrie has been sidelined by a few injuries in the past and she always comes back as a better player," Papineau says. "She watches matches, learns from them and makes herself better. I'm certain she will make the most out of this break and work herself back into the rotation later this season."

Shober, a 5-foot-9 right-side hitter, made her biggest contributions last season on defense, averaging nearly two digs per game, and at the service line, where she was No. 3 on the team in aces.

"Rachel is stronger and more fit than she's ever been," Papineau says. "She put in a tremendous amount of work this summer to prepare herself. She has one of the most powerful arms in the gym this fall, and she's right in the mix for playing time at the Opposite position. 

"Rachel is also one of our best leaders. She brings a lot of intangible pieces to the team that makes it better. We like to have her on the floor for a lot of reasons."

Olivia Nielson

While Anna Conrad, 5-foot-10 outside hitter, gives Whitman a fifth junior in terms of academic standing, last season was her first on the collegiate court.

"Anna had shoulder surgery last spring, and she worked tremendously hard to get herself ready for this season," Papineau says. "Her fitness level is among the highest on the team.

"She is a strong player who's competing for playing time. She's working to make changes in her game to help make this team better. She's putting in the time to become better as a passer and defender, which will be part of her position."

Cline and Aschenbrenner, Whitman's two sophomore setters, shared the quarterbacking duties last fall as Missionary rookies.

Cline (5-foot-9) saw the most floor time and "brings great athleticism to the floor," Papineau says. At the same time, she adds, Aschenbrenner is making "nice strides in terms of her confidence and ability to run the team.

"It's great to have two setters battling at this position. Having these two in the gym, competing with each other, driving the team to get better in practice, is critical to our success this year. We need this from them throughout the course of the season to get us where we want to go."

Carrie Cecil

"It helps us every day in practice, and once matches start, it gives options for different situations."

Cline started 14 matches, averaging 7.79 assists while making 45 blocks and topping the team in service aces. Aschenbrenner made eight starts and averaged 6.98 assists.

"Both Rachel and Taylor continue to work on becoming more consistent and learning how to run the floor. They have a lot to learn in terms of strategy and decision-making at a high level. Both are up to the task, though, and we see improvements daily. The best is still ahead for both of them."

The sophomore class also includes:

Rachel Shober

Becca Gotz, a 5-foot-8 defensive specialist, was second on the team in digs last season, averaging 2.43 per game.

"Becca is rehabbing a knee, but she trained a lot this summer to get better at her position, and it's showing," Papineau says. "We need her skills as a primary passer, and she's been great in the early preseason.

Maddy Bell, a 6-foot middle blocker, played in 25 matches last season on the right side. "The middle is more Maddy's natural position and where she is most comfortable," Papineau says. "She has a very fast arm and gives us some real length in the middle.

"Maddy has no idea right now how good she can be," Papineau says. "She's starting to learn how her physicality can translate in some real assets for her and her team. She has good blocking instincts, and she's working every day to get better at the little things that will make her a great middle."

Her 2011 first-year class is a talented one with good size, Papineau says. Five of the six player range from 5-foot-10 to 6-foot-1.

The player who might make the biggest immediate impact, however, is 5-foot-1 Annie Sing (Olympia, Wash.), a libero and defensive specialist.

"We are really fortunate that Annie wanted to come to Whitman," Papineau says. "She has already elevated the defensive play in our gym; the difference is dramatic. She's quick, strong and has a lot of experience at her position."

Sing helped Olympia High School roll to a 21-3 record last season while earning All-Narrows League First-Team honors.

Taylor Aschenbrenner
Rachel Cline

"Annie's defense and ball-control skills will translate into a lot more opportunities for our offense," Papineau says. "We're going to have a lot more balance with her in the back row."

Others in the first-year class:

Megan Bafus, a 5-foot-10 right-side hitter, played at Inglemoor High School (Kenmore, Wash.), earning KingCo 4A Honorable Mention recognition.

"Megan has been coached extremely well and has a high level of club experience," Papineau says. "She has faced good competition and is a smart player with a nice arm swing. She's also a solid passer who can contribute in the back row as well."

Jazmin Moledena, a 5-foot-11 outside hitter, played for Menlo School in Atherton, Calif.

"Jazmin also has had great coaching and high-level club experience," Papineau says.

Anna Conrad

"She's an all-around player who has made the transition to the outside. Jazmin is still learning our system, learning what it takes to play on the outside, and gaining confidence in her abilities. She's a very good, very smooth athlete."

Samantha Cahill, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter/opposite from Union High School in Camas, Wash., was named Offensive Player of the Year last season in the Greater St. Helens League.

"Sam is a strong blocking presence and is working hard on making the transition to our system and learning what the game is like at this level," Papineau says. 

"She's a complete player -- she's shown herself to be a top-level passer, a strong defender and someone who can handle the ball overhead with a lot of confidence. She has a bright future."

Franny Gardner, a 5-foot-10 defensive specialist, played at California's Santa Cruz High School.

Becca Gotz
"Franny is a steady, smooth player with a real feel for the game," Papineau says. "She has good back-court instincts, and will add another level of upgraded defense and serving for us this season.  
"Franny is another positive addition to a much improved Whitman back court."

Megan McKinnell, a 6-foot outside hitter, played her prep volleyball for Alaska's North Pole High School.

"Megan is a tremendous athlete who played three sports in high school," Papineau says. "She just needs more time and experience on the volleyball court at this point. She is putting all her focus into developing her skills and is responding very well."

Maddy Bell

Whitman, picked to place fourth in the NWC this fall in a recent preseason coaches poll, kicks off its season this week with three home matches.

The Missionaries start with Walla Walla Community in a 4 p.m. exhibition on Thursday. The official season opener follows against Walla Walla University at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

A second exhibition is set for 2 p.m. Saturday against a team of Whitman alumni.

After five more non-conference matches -- four of them Sept. 9-10 in a tournament at Colorado College, Whitman opens its NWC season at home on Friday and Saturday, Sept. 16-17, against Pacific and George Fox universities.

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CONTACT: Dave Holden
Sports Information Director
Whitman College, Walla Walla, Wash.
509 527-5902; holden@whitman.edu