The Opening Serve
The UALR volleyball team begins the 2012 season when it makes the short drive to Memphis, Tenn. for the Memphis Invitational. Teams included will be the host Tigers, Austin Peay, Eastern Michigan and Southern Illinois. UALR will not face SIU in this tournament but will face the Salukis later this year in play later this year in Carbondale, Ill.
The Trojans kick off the tournament at 10 a.m. on Friday (Aug. 24) against the Eastern Michigan Eagles before concluding the day against the Austin Peay Lady Govs. UALR finishes the tournament against the Memphis Tigers the next day at noon. Live statistics (free) and video (subscription) will be available through the invitational's web site.
And the Honors Kept Rolling In
Sophomore outside hitter Edina Begic took the conference by storm last season and won the 2011 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year award. SBC conference coaches are still noticing as the Sarajevo, Bosnia native has been named to the all-conference preseason award list.
Last season, Begic led the team and was third in the conference with 432 kills. Combined with 287 digs, she tallied a team-leading 11 double-doubles for the season. Against Arkansas State Oct. 14, 2011, she recorded 32 kills on 61 attempts with 12 errors for a .328 attack percentage. Against in-state rival Arkansas-Pine Bluff Sept. 16, 2011, she had 10 kills on only 15 attempts and no errors for a .667 hitting percentage.
However, her best match of the year may have been against Louisiana-Lafayette Oct. 30, 2011. Against the Rajin Cajuns, Begic tallied 31 kills and 22 digs.
For 2012 as a team, UALR is picked to finish third in the SBC West Division behind Arkansas State and North Texas but ahead of the two Louisiana schools.
2012 SBC Preseason All-Conference Team
Edina Begic (UALR, Sophomore, OH)
Jovana Bjelica (FIU, Senior, OH)
Mandi Gavin (ULL, Senior, S)
Ashley Adams (Middle Tennessee, Senior, OH)
Eboni Godfrey (NT, Sophomore, OH)
Ashley Potts (WKU, Junior, DS)
Jordyn Skinner (WKU, Senior, OH)
Melanie Stutsman (WKU, Junior, S)
2012 SBC Preseason Player of the Year
Jordyn Skinner (WKU, Senior, OH)
2012 SBC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year
Ashley Potts (WKU, Junior, DS)
2012 SBC Volleyball Preseason Poll (First Place Votes)
1. Western Kentucky (8) - 63 points
2. Middle Tennessee (2) - 56 points
3. FIU (1) - 43 points
4. South Alabama - 31 points
5. Troy - 22 points
6. Florida Atlantic - 16 points
1. North Texas (6) - 45 points
2. Arkansas State (2) - 43 points
3. UALR (2) - 38 points
4. Louisiana-Lafayette (1) - 23 points
5. Louisiana-Monroe - 16 points
Scouting Eastern Michigan
The 2011 season saw the Eagles finish fifth in the Mid-American Conference, a league which sent a record four teams to the NCAA tournament. After losing its first match of the season, EMU won 12 of its next 13 matches before conference play and finished 21-11 overall and 9-7 in the MAC. The Eagles return five of seven starters, but graduated a decorated libero.
Headlining the Eagles is two-time All-MAC performer, senior outside hitter Rachel Iaquaniello. In 2011, she lead the team with 468 kills on 1372 attempts (.197 hitting percentage). Her 1,395 kills for her career is third in the EMU annals, needing only 143 kills to break the school record. Iaquaniello also finished third on the team with 323 digs in 2011.
Besides Iaquaniello, Eastern Michigan returns four other starters. In total, the returners account for more than 91 percent of the Eagles offense. However, EMU returns no defensive specialist who saw significant action in 2011. Gone are 1,256 of 2,169 digs (57 percent), including libero Hailey Stein, who led the team with 645 digs.
Eastern Michigan is picked fifth of six teams in the Mid-American Conference West Division.
Scouting Austin Peay
The Lady Govs were picked to finish ninth of 12 teams in the Ohio Valley Conference in 2012, but it did garner a member on the preseason All-OVC team in senior outside hitter Nikki Doyle. APU finished 11-20 overall and 9-11 in conference play.
Doyle, a two-time All-OVC selection, was one of 14 players selected to the league's 2012 preseason team. She returns after leading the Lady Govs last season with 408 kills (3.83 kills per set) while posting a .230 attack percentage. Doyle finished the season ranked third among OVC hitters with 3.43 kills per set.
Four other starters are returning for the Lady Govs, but much like Eastern Michigan, APU loses a libero to graduation but returns the majority of its front line power. More than 70 percent of kills return from 2011, APU loses more than half of its digs.
The 4 p.m. match is one of two matches UALR has against the Lady Govs in as many weekends. UALR takes on Austin Peay next weekend at the Missouri State Adidas Invitational.
In its final season in Conference USA, Memphis was picked to finish seventh of 12 teams this year. The Tigers are coming off its first 20-win season since 2007, finishing 2011 with a 20-13 overall mark and 9-11 record in Conference USA action.
The Tigers will be led this season by preseason All-Conference USA selection, senior outside hitter Altrese Hawkins. In 2011, Hawkins led the team and finished second in the conference with career-best 532 kills. Her 4.40 kills per set ranked her 19th in the country and second in the league. In the Tigers' volleyball record book, she ranks seventh in school history with 1,350 career kills, only 439 away from the school record.
Memphis returns five of seven starters from last season. But unlike the Trojans first two opponents, the Tigers return the majority of its offensive firepower and back row defense. The only huge loss for the Tigers came with the graduation of setter Hajnalka Molnar, who accounted for all but 159 of the 1583 assists last season. The two setters on the roster for Memphis are both freshmen. Veronica Zimmerman is a redshirt after sitting out the 2011 season rehabbing a torn ACL.
All That Glitters is Not Gold
This is quite the momentous season for UALR head coach Van Compton. The 2012 season will mark the silver anniversary as the head coach of the Trojan's volleyball program.
Coach Compton originally came to UALR in the mid-80's to lead the women's basketball program but was asked to resurrect the Trojans volleyball program for the 1988 season. Her impact was immediately felt as UALR went from 6-23 in 1988 to 27-11 in 1989.
After a 21-3 season in 1990, Compton dealt with even more transition as the Trojans moved up to NCAA Division I in 1991 and entered the Sun Belt Conference. In just five years, UALR captured its first every Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament, a feat it would replicate in both '97 and '98. In fact, thanks to Western Kentucky knocking off Middle Tennessee in the 2011 Sun Belt Conference tournament, UALR remains the only team to win the tournament in three consecutive seasons.
The championship run continued as the Trojans captured the regular season Sun Belt championship in 1999 and another tournament title and NCAA appearance in 2000.
Under her tutelage, 36 different players have been named to the All-Sun Belt team with three conference players of the year (two offensive and one defensive), four freshman of the year and two newcomer of the year awards. Compton also received the 1993 Sun Belt Coach of the Year nod.
The first coach to reach 100 conference wins, she was named the Sun Belt all-time volleyball coach in 2005.
Success off the court has been evident just as much off the court. For the past three seasons and four out of the last five, UALR has received the American Volleyball Coaches of America (AVCA) academic team award for finishing the season with a team GPA above 3.3. The Trojans also boast 72 Sun Belt Commisioner's List selections, 29 SBC Academic Honor Roll selections and two CoSIDA Academic All-District selections.
Speaking of Coaching...
The first match of the Memphis Invitational Friday morning between UALR and Eastern Michigan is quite the battle between veteran coaches at the helm of their respective programs.
As mentioned earlier, UALR's head coach Van Compton is celebrating her 25th season leading the volleyball program. Not far behind is Eastern Michigan's head coach, who will begin her 17th season in Ypsilanti, Mich. Berrington is the winningest coach in EMU school history and is 251-235 overall and 124-143 in Mid-American Conference play.
Compton is 13-8 in season openers since joining the Sun Belt, but she is looking to guide UALR to its first season-opening win since 2008.
Can You Dig It?
Senior defensive specialist Emily Pepperman is looking to further cement her name into the UALR record books in her senior season. With 1,236 digs for her career, she already owns the school record in that category.
Pepperman set the record Nov. 4, 2011 with six digs at Denver.