Volleyball Season Preview
Despite entering the new year with a very young team, the Tigers enter 2011 with high hopes after graduating just one starter from 2010. Returning the bulk of their team from last year while adding a talented group of freshmen into the fray, the Tigers will once again look to push their way to the top of the Big West and vie for a conference title and NCAA tournament bid.
Guiding the Tigers in 2011 will once again be head coach Greg Gibbons who enters his second season at the helm of Pacific's program. After spending his first season teaching and installing his system, Gibbons has the confidence that his young team is ready for the fight that is the Big West Conference and ready to reassert themselves on the national stage among the game's elite. Helping Gibbons with his task of returning Pacific to prominence will be his stable of assistants that return for another season at his side. Both associate head coach Ray Batalon and assistant coach Aven Lee return for their third season on the Tiger bench while volunteer assistant Lauren Kelly returns for her second season. Added to the staff in 2011 will be undergraduate assistant Natalie Robinson who, due to a medical retirement, will move to the sidelines from the court after spending the last two seasons as a defensive specialist for the Tigers.
With his staff intact, Gibbons will also call upon his two seniors and four upperclassmen to lead the young Tigers back to the top of the mountain. Seniors Samantha Misa and Rebekah Torres return for their final seasons in the Orange and Black and will be called upon to lead both with their actions and their voices throughout the season. Alongside of their seniors, juniors Hannah Clancy and Gabby Cowden will provide the Tigers with enough veteran leadership to get past any obstacles that may present themselves throughout the year. The four upperclassmen for the Tigers give Pacific a handful of starters with experience at all positions to look to for guidance throughout the season.
As it is with every new season, the Tigers have the Big West Conference title on their minds from the outset of the year, however, they must first run the gauntlet in non-conference tournament play before getting their first crack at their conference rivals. The Tigers begin the year on the road in Cedar City, Utah where they will take part in the Southern Utah Invitational. At the tournament, Pacific will take on a former Big West foe in Utah State who earned a bid to the NCAA Tournament in 2010 after finishing last season with a 24-9 overall mark. After closing out play in Utah, the Tigers return home to take on Duke prior to their 33rd Annual Community Bankers Classic. The reigning champions of the tournament, the Tigers will have to take on Army, Duquesne and Mississippi State over two days in order to retain their Classic crown. Heading out on the road once again, the Tigers will face their toughest tests of the young season in week three when they head West to Hawai'i to take part in the Verizon Wireless Volleyball Challenge. There, the Tigers will face a pair of top-30 teams in Cincinnati, who received 22 points in the preseason AVCA coaches' poll, as well as No. 10 Hawai'i on their home turf. Rounding out tournament action, the Tigers will once again host the Hilton Stockton Invitational in week four, bringing in four teams to compete in the three-day tournament prior to conference play.
On August 21, at home in the Alex G. Spanos Center, the Tigers will take on regional rival UC Davis on the first night of Big West play as the quest begins for the 2011 conference title. Along the way, the Tigers will face off against No. 22 Long Beach State and Cal Poly, who received eight points in the preseason AVCA coaches' poll, the top two ranked teams in the Big West heading into the season. Pacific closes out play in the Big West on Nov. 19 just as they begin it with a tilt against UC Davis, this time on the road in Davis, Calif. Pacific will close out the regular season on Nov. 25 with a contest against Seattle at the Spanos Center with the hopes of the match being a final tune-up for postseason NCAA play.
With their sights set on the Big West title, Pacific will be looking for a trip back to the NCAA tournament which begins on Dec. 2-3 at on campus sites before moving on to the regional rounds which are hosted by Florida, Kentucky, Hawai'i and Minnesota in 2011. The final weekend of the tournament is slated for the weekend of Dec. 15-17 in San Antonio, Texas.
The fulcrum of the Tigers' fast-paced offense, Clancy returns to the court for her second season in the Orange and Black after a strong showing in 2010. Called upon to guide a new offense, Clancy responded with 1,143 assists in her first year while leading the Tigers to 13.4 kills per game. Pacific's overall kills per game increased over a full kill under Clancy, a number the Tigers will look to improve upon once again in 2011.
With just one setter on the roster in 2011, the Tigers will ask Torres to once again go into her utility bag of tricks and act as the team's backup setter if needed. Having played both on the outside and as the team's libero, Torres gives Pacific a much needed utility player to plug in where needed.
Once again looking towards their youth in the middle, the Tigers will enter the 2011 season with a stable of big and talented middles from which to call upon throughout the year. Returning to the court are the Tigers starting middles from a season ago, Cowden and all-conference sophomore Jennifer Sanders. The duo combined last season to give Pacific a solid offensive attack from the center while leading the way defensively at the net with 188 combined blocks.
Joining the mix in the new year are a pair of true freshman in Ava Cramp and Gillian Howard. The pair of young middle blockers brings to the court an increase in size from last year as the duo stand at 6-6 and 6-4, respectively. Cramp's long arms and long frame give the Tigers even more freedom on the defensive side of the net as they expect Cramp's clocking abilities to play a factor immediately in her first year. In Howard, the Tigers expect a big year out of one of their newest players after the freshman earned all-tournament honors at the 2011 USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships over the summer.
Despite the loss of their top hitter from a season ago, the Tigers are once again loaded on the outside as they will carry six skilled, yet young, attackers in 2011. At the forefront of Pacific's pin attack will be Misa, one of the Tigers' three all-conference hitters from a season ago. Asked to step into the No. 1 outside hitter role this season, Misa showed she was up to the task at the end of the 2010 season as the power hitter rolled off three-consecutive 20+ kill efforts in the final three matches of the season to lead the Tigers to victory. Additionally, Misa has proven to be one of the Tigers best off the net defenders as well as Pacific's best passer, a role she will be once again called upon to fill in the new season.
With Misa leading the way, the Tigers feel confident that their young hitters will be able to provide the balanced attack around the court that will be needed to succeed. Returning to the court alongside of Misa is a pair of sophomores in Megan Birch and Siga Appelgate. The duo split time last season on the rightside for the Tigers and will once again vie for playing time, this time at the No. 2 spot behind Misa on the left.
Entering their first year at Pacific is a trio of freshmen in Hanna Levanen, Katy Tagart and Anne-Sophie Bauer. A six-rotation player with great leaping ability, Levanen will push immediately for playing time on the rightside of the offense after a stellar high school and club career. Not to be outdone, Tagart will vie for immediate playing time at both pins after showing off her offensive skills at the 2011 USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships where her team finished with a bronze medal over the summer. For Bauer, the French attacker will have to wait one season to unleash her skills on the Big West as she will redshirt her first year at Pacific.
Returning to the court for her second season of action as Pacific's starting Libero, Torres will lead a group of three defensive specialists into the new year. Coming off of one of the top defensive seasons in program history, Torres gives the Tigers a reliable anchor along the backline from which they can transition quickly from defense to offense.
In addition to Torres, the Tigers will carry two other defensive specialists in redshirt-sophomore Koala Matsuoka and freshman Maddie Hagen. Originally slated as Pacific's starter in the back, Matsuoka suffered a season-ending knee injury prior to the start of 2010 and was forced to sit on the sidelines in her first year at Pacific. Back on the court in 2011, Matsuoka gives the Tigers an experienced libero to call upon in support of Torres. In Hagen, the Tigers will have the depth on defense to work through the long Division I season and the tough Big West Conference.