The University of Georgia volleyball team is poised for success in 2010 as the 14-player roster consists of eight returning letterwinners including all six starters and the starting libero from last year. The Bulldogs’ returning starters including 2009 All-SEC Second Team middle hitter senior Valentina Gonzalez, senior outside hitter Erika Clark, junior setter Kathleen Gates, junior middle hitter Ann Dylla, redshirt sophomore opposite hitter Briana Bahr and sophomore defensive specialist Nicole Choi to go along with returning starting libero, junior Carla Tietz. Adding to the team’s depth, UGA also returns senior outside hitter Simone May and redshirt freshman Kathleen Luft in addition to brining in five newcomers including junior transfer Elizabeth Reid, who was an NJCAA All-American at Jefferson College, and four freshmen in setter/defensive specialist Alisha Laing, outside hitter Brittany Northcutt, middle hitter Stacey Smith and outside hitter/defensive specialist Allison Summers. A year removed from only having three upperclassmen on the roster as juniors, the Bulldogs return to the court in 2010 with a more experience team with six upperclassmen.
Looking to channel that on-court experience and leadership into an NCAA Tournament berth, Georgia will be under the guidance of head coach Joel McCartney for the fourth year. In his first three seasons at the helm of the program, McCartney has coached the Bulldogs to a 51-41 record. McCartney’s Bulldogs will see a good amount of exposure on television this season as well with five matches slated to air. Four of the five matches are included as part of the SEC TV schedule, which includes 17 matches that will air on ESPNU, FSU and CSS, while a fifth Georgia match will air on the Sunshine Network. The first TV match for the Bulldogs will come on Sunday, Oct. 3 against Mississippi State at 1 p.m. ET on FSN at the Ramsey Student Center. It will be the only home match on Georgia’s TV schedule. Three days later on Wednesday, Oct. 6, Georgia plays at Auburn in a match that will be carried by ESPNU at 8 p.m. On Sunday, Oct. 17, Georgia’s 1:30 p.m. ET at Florida will air on the Sunshine Network. On Sunday, Oct. 31, the Bulldogs will play their first of two matches on CSS when they take on the Lady Volunteers of Tennessee in Knoxville at 2 p.m. Georgia’s final TV match of the 2010 regular season and second on CSS will come at Alabama on Sunday, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m.
Notes On Returning Players:
• Gonzalez earned 2009 All-SEC Second Team recognition after leading the team in hitting percentage (.351), service aces (37), total blocks (130) and points (399.0) and finishing second in kills (291). Gonzalez’s hitting percentage of .351 was the highest mark by a Bulldog since 2004 and tied for sixth-best in a single-season in school history, and she finished with the ninth-best block assist total for a season with 118.
• Clark recorded her second-career "Double-300" season in 2009 with a team-leading 346 kills and 320 digs. For her career, Clark became just the 16th player in school history to eclipse 1,000 career digs as her total now stands at 1,038.
• Gates, who was named to the 2009 SEC Community Service Team, set the tempo for the offense to the tune of 1,122 assists, and in the process became only the seventh player in school history to pass 2,000 career assists as she now has 2,250 after two seasons.
• Tietz led the team in digs in 2009 with 459, which was the most by a Bulldog in a single season since Shelly Gross tallied 655 in 1986. For her career, Tietz now sits atop the Georgia career digs per set charts at 3.62.
• Dylla, the only Bulldog to earn an SEC Player of the Week honor in 2009, finished the year with 211 kills and 126 blocks including 119 solo stops, which ranks eighth for a single-season at UGA.
• Bahr started 29 matches was named to the 2009 SEC All-Freshman Team after putting up 240 kills at a 2.40 per set rate and finishing third on the team in blocks with 92.
• Choi started 28 matches in 2009 and provided the Dogs with 202 digs and 28 service aces.
• May played in 98 sets in 2009 providing 183 kills and 43 blocks.
• Luft redshirted after missing the 2009 season due to a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament.
Notes On Newcomers:
• Laing is a two-time All-State first team selection from Schoolcraft High School (Mich.), where she served as team captain as a senior in 2009.
• Northcutt played on the 2008-09 USA High Performance A2 squad helping her USA team earn Gold at the 2009 High Performance Championships.
• Reid helped lead Jefferson College to its 33rd Midwest Community College Athletic Conference volleyball title as a sophomore in 2009, was a second-team NJCAA All-American as a freshman in 2008 and during her high school career was named the Most Valuable Player of the London Youth Games in 2006. Reid is also a current member of Great Britain’s National Team.
• Smith helped Eden High School (N.Y.) earn state championships in 2006, 2007 and 2009. Smith was named the New York State Championship MVP in 2009, a year in which she was also named a Gatorade Player of the Year Finalist for New York for a second-consecutive season.
• Summers is a two-time California Interscholastic Federation All-League First Team selection who served as team captain as a senior in 2009 at West Ranch High School.
Quotes From Head Coach Joel McCartney:
On the state of the program heading into 2010…
"I certainly believe we are in the best shape we’ve ever been in. I don’t think I’m telling anybody anything new that when I walked in the door we were sitting in the bottom of the Southeastern Conference and had sat there for two years. We’ve had a recruiting process that has allowed us to bring athletes in to get us out of that place and start knocking at the door of the NCAA Tournament. Every recruiting class has been unique in that they’ve had a different mission. That first recruiting class we had five athletes step on our floor with four freshmen and a transfer setter. Their job was really just to get us out of the bottom of the league and start building. They’ve done a tremendous job. They will be seniors now, and the two athletes we still have from that group, Valentina Gonzalez and Erika Clark, started their first three years and our projected starters for this year as well. Their goal was to get us to the NCAA Tournament in their four years time so here we are in their senior year and their last opportunity to do that. I can’t think of two more athletes that are more passionate about getting there than those two. The recruits that we’ve brought in since that time have all had a little bit different goal in where they want to take us in their four years, so as we bring the 2010 class in with four freshmen and one transfer athlete, I think we are really setting the stage for our program to be an NCAA Tournament team and to start building towards the top 25."
On the goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament…
"It’s our single focus to get to the NCAA Tournament and to win once we get there. It’s been a focus of our program as well as building and doing some other things that were more of a predominant focus early on. Right now, it is the focus and single focus for our program.
On Elizabeth Reid…
"Reid is coming in from London, England, and she’s been playing on Great Britain’s National Team this summer in the Euro League. She’s been playing middle blocker for them, and they want to move her out to the opposite pin because they’ll be hosting the Olympics in 2012 and she’ll be sure to be on that team. She’s an incredibly talented athlete, and we need depth in the middle. We have a starting coming back on the opposite pin but that position could be pushed as well. So we think we will probably predominantly train her in those two areas, but she really has the talent to play any of the three front row positions. We don’t have the clearest picture on where we see her playing, but we know what her talent level is – it’s off the charts – in terms of her athleticism. We don’t know from a skills standpoint exactly how she will fit into the system, but we will sort of flex that best on what she can do for us best.
On the incoming freshmen…
"We have four freshmen coming in. Stacey Smith is a 6-4, middle hitter who we were really thrilled to get at the 11th-hour of the recruiting process. We were thrilled to get her commitment, and we think she’s going to be a future star. She’ll be an All-SEC type of athlete for us down the road. Brittany Northcutt is a 6-2, outside hitter from Greensboro, N.C., who probably has the skill set and talent to get on the floor but experience will be the issue for her in whether she can impact us right away or not, but again, she’s another All-SEC performer type. Alisha Laing and Allison Summers will both join us a freshmen. Alisha is from Schoolcraft, Michigan, and Allison is from Stevenson Ranch, California. Those are the two most athletic players we could have brought in to enhance our ball control. They are both backcourt players who will do a lot for us there. Allison is also someone who can take a pretty heavy swing, and she plays a lot like Erika Clark in that she is undersized but has a really good game. Alisha will be our backup setter, and I think Alisha will probably get some court time as a defensive specialist on the right side position if we were to stay with the same system we ran last year.
On comparing last year’s team to this year’s squad…
"Last year what we were lacking was experience at the top. We had not seniors, so what I think what you’ll probably see is a more mature group. We have all our relevant starters back on the floor from last year, and then we add to the mix five people who I think legitimately have the talent to push. The difference is last year it was kind of the have and have-not of who was going to be on the floor or not. This year, I think instead of playing seven and going forward in the season with that, I could see the depth being more like 10 on the rotation and getting more personnel involved in what we do day-to-day."