1997 Women's Volleyball Outlook
The Eagles are soaring to new heights this season. Aggressive recruiting in the offseason brought seven freshmen to Boston College who will set the tone for the upcoming campaign.
The freshmen are top competitors with club experience and will help complete head coach Nadine Lilavois' already talented squad. Four starters and 10 letterwinners return from last season and are ready to improve upon their 1996 showing.
Heading into her sixth season with the Eagles, Lilavois is eager to get this team onto the court, a team she believes has the power and depth to compete in the BIG EAST.
Junior Katherine Tortorello will assume the starting role in the demanding setter position, a role with which she is familiar. At the start of last season, Tortorello filled in for injured starter Karen Trine and excelled. She reached single-match career highs in digs (16) and total blocks (11), and improved her overall game. Her best outing was at the UConn Tournament, in which she amassed 80 assists, 36 digs, a service ace, and two kills.
Junior Courteney Grubb and freshman Sharla Berry, Claire Oswalt, and Nancy Eskay will add depth to the position, a luxury Lilavois has at a number of spots this year.
Lilavois concedes that the team struggled at the middle blocker position last season and believes that this year the position could be the team's strongest area. Senior Natalie Scott, the team's leading blocker and attacker, will highlight the action in the middle. Scott has improved tremendously with each playing season, according to Lilavois, and is the team's key player this year. Last year she finished with the most block assists (85) on the team.
Joining Scott in the middle line are team veterans Cathleen Carpenter, a junior, and Eileen Broderick, a senior. The two played in more than 85 percent of last year's games and will be tough for the competition to beat in the middle. Carpenter was third last year in kills (190), and Broderick reached a career high in kills (64) and tied her career high in digs (49) in 80 games. Sophomore Jennifer Buchholz who has improved tremendously during the spring season, also is expected to contribute this year."
Newcomers Kristin Sprinkel, 6-0, and Natalie Gingras, 5-10, add height necessary to play the position. "Height helps, especially against the BIG EAST teams," Lilavois said.
Senior Amy Laurence returns this year and should continue to build on an outstanding collegiate career on the outside. As one of the team's top players, she led the squad last season with 269 digs and finished second in kills (287). Laurence, and the hitting positions in general, will be key to the success of Lilavois' program this year.
"We have the defense and ball control to keep us competitive, but the key will be our offense," Lilavois said. "Our hitting will be a matter of how much we are capable of improving our strength during the preseason."
Sophomore Laura DeLong, who received team Rookie of the Year honors last season, is another threat on the outside. DeLong was the only freshman last season to contribute in more than 65 percent of the team's matches. She finished the season fifth on the team in kills (113) and total attempts (352), and should improve those numbers this year. Freshman Julia El-Hag was recruited to play the position as well, adding more alternatives for Lilavois.
Team captain Julia Gallacher, Carpenter, and newcomers Meleana Blaick and Oswalt will all see time on the right side. Carpenter, who will also play the middle blocker position, will be inserted as the right side hitter in key situations.
Gallacher, an excellent server, will be used alternately on the right side, and inserted into the serving lineup when necessary.
With a roster of 16, Lilavois is excited about the depth and alternatives this team presents.
"We will be able to move players around depending on what we need for a particular match in terms of strategy," she said. "Our bench will be much more talented and deeper than it has been in the past."
This mobility will help Lilavois when her club faces a very competitive BIG EAST schedule. In preparation for conference play, Lilavois has prepared a schedule that includes five tournaments in the first month of the season.
"The competition the Eagles will face in the tournaments is just as good as the BIG EAST competition," Lilavois said.
In fact, four out of the five tourneys boast regionally or nationally-ranked opponents that will provide top-notch competition for the BIG EAST matches, which start in October.
Success in the BIG EAST is important to Lilavois, who has worked drills and clinics with the players in the offseason.
"I want to finish at least at the .500 mark in the conference this season," she said. "That is a specific goal of mine."
With the core of players she has assembled this season, she just might reach her goals or go even higher.