Elswick, UT Martin earn league respect
Posted: Friday, August 17, 2012 12:00 pm
The UT Martin volleyball team has been chosen fourth in the Ohio Valley Conference’s preseason standings.
Skyhawk senior libero Kasey Elswick, who has won the OVC Defensive Player of the Year award for two straight years, was one of 14 players on the Preseason All-OVC team.
“I think being picked No. 4 in the OVC is a fair assessment,” Skyhawk head coach Darrin McClure said. “We lost a lot of experience from last season, and we still have room to improve.”
The Skyhawks did indeed lose three starters from 2011, a season where they tallied 19 victories and made an appearance in the OVC tournament championship for the first time since 2002. Those three seniors (Ashley Doherty, Britany Wilburn, Jenna Miller) are dotted throughout the Skyhawk career record book after combining to play in 1,235 sets in their four-year careers.
However, a reliable two-member senior class and arguably the most star-studded signing class in program history have expectations running high at UT Martin, whose first day of camp was Aug. 9.
Elswick and Kelly Hogan, the only upperclassmen on the 2012 roster, have been through just about every situation in their Skyhawk careers, both starting since Day One. With no juniors on the roster, McClure is relying heavily on that duo to provide steady leadership this fall.
“Those two girls have enjoyed great careers and really let their play do the talking for them,” McClure said. “With half of our team being freshmen, it’s very comforting to know that I’ve got Kasey and Kelly there to lead a strong locker room.”
Elswick has rewritten UT Martin’s record book in her three seasons. She didn’t stop there in 2011, as her 852 digs demolished the previous NCAA Division-I benchmark in the 25-point scoring format/unlimited libero substitutions era, which was 777. Elswick received national attention for her outstanding junior season, earning honorable mention All-American accolades by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA).
Hogan elevated her game to a whole new level last season, setting new career-highs across the board. After combining for 198 kills, 468 digs and 19 blocks in her first two seasons in a Skyhawk uniform, she registered 303 kills, 313 digs and 65 blocks last year alone. She also led the team in attacks (1,076) and appears primed for a big season in 2012.
With that said, the new arrivals on campus are already creating a buzz this preseason. McClure and assistant coach Julia Noe invaded the Greater Louisville area to find five players with winning backgrounds who they believe will contribute immediately. Chelsea Bowles, Amanda Crask, Lynsey Hazelwood and Dallas Zimmerman enjoyed stellar prep careers at various high schools in Louisville, while Shelby Hoskins made a name for herself just a few miles away across the Ohio River in New Albany, Ind.
Bowles is UT Martin’s first-ever incoming All-American, as her play turned several heads at the 39th AAU Girls’ Junior National Volleyball Championships over the summer. Together, Bowles and Zimmerman (172 kills while hitting .573) led Assumption High School to a 43-1 record and No. 3 national ranking last season, clinching the program’s second straight state championship.
Crask is coming off back-to-back all-state first team seasons at Mercy Academy, where she helped her team to a 29-12 mark in 2011. Also a two-time all-state first team performer, Hazelwood’s team at Holy Cross finished 26-11 last fall. Hoskins earned Southern Indiana Player of the Year accolades as a junior and led her team to a 27-8 record last year.
“I expect this signing class to be a big part of our continued success,” McClure said. “Their long term goal should be to help take us to the next step and develop our program into a long-term contender in the OVC.”
Not to be overlooked is a sophomore class that may hold the key to the team’s success in 2012.
Emily Keaton and Allie Whimpey started the majority of matches for the Skyhawks as true freshmen. Keaton (290 kills) racked up All-OVC newcomer accolades while playing in every single set in 2011, while Whimpey (251 kills) played in 130 out of 131 sets last season. Those two will look to continue their natural progression as sophomores.
Two other sophomores — Jackie Harter and Brandy Dennis — have impressed McClure in the preseason so much that they are in a heated competition for starting roles at middle blocker and setter, respectively.
“We have had some intense battles so far in practice,” McClure said. “Brandy did a real good job this spring and is pushing to get better every day. Jackie was our MVP from the spring – I think it really helped her to play behind Ashley and Britany and learn from them. The competition has been good and everybody has pushed each other in practice.”
Also returning in 2012 is outside hitter Taylor Simons (redshirted last season because of arm injury), defensive specialist Krista Beyer (34 digs in 81 sets last season) and Rachel Hill (three blocks in three sets in 2011). Incoming freshman Lucy Martin will also likely see time at the middle blocker position this fall.
While the potential of this year’s Skyhawks is sky-high, the reality of the situation is that 14 of the 16 players on the roster have not played more than one year of Division-I volleyball. That fact does not worry McClure, who believes that UT Martin will gel throughout the preseason and click on all cylinders once OVC play begins.
“Our youth will come into play a little bit this season while our young girls get some experience,” McClure said. “The good thing about our schedule is that we have four weekends of play before we start our conference season. That will help them get acclimated to the collegiate level and get them ready for OVC play, which is what ultimately matters.” Published in The WCP 8.16.12
Elswick, UT Martin earn league respect