LITTLE ROCK, Ark. - The UALR volleyball team begins the 2012 season on Friday when it travels to Memphis, Tenn. for the Memphis Invitational. UALR will face the Eastern Michigan Eagles (1 p.m.) and the Austin Peay Governors (5 p.m.) on Aug. 24 before concluding play against host Memphis (2 p.m.) on Saturday, Aug. 25.
The 2012 campaign marks the silver anniversary for head coach Van Compton. In her previous 24 seasons, she has led the Trojans to four NCAA tournaments (1996-98, 2000) by virtue of Sun Belt Conference Tournament titles, three regular season Sun Belt titles (1997, 1999-2000) and an overall record of 411-309 (175-102 Sun Belt).
2012 will be a season of great transition. Numerous players will be making position and role changes because of players leaving from the 2011 sqaud.
Despite all of this, Compton will have the services of 2011 Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, Edina Begic (Sarajevo, Bosnia / Gimnazija Dobrinja). 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.
"With so many changes and being a full rotation player for us, Edina will have to carry a lot of the load for us this season," Compton said.
Despite all the transformation, coach Compton will also have a solid base for the 2012 campaign. UALR will have the luxury of a dedicated and hard-working senior class.
"From the time they were freshmen until now, they have worked so hard at getting better. They have paid their dues by staying over the summer and trying to get better and have a passion that has made them a very solid class," Compton said.
All will play pivotal roles, but one of the toughest may be senior Daniele Souza Moura (Cubiaba-MT, Brazil / Colegio Aplicacao), who will be switching from a defensive specialist to middle blocker. Souza Moura was third on the team with 200 assists last season.
"It is tough for a senior to convert from a defensive specialist to a middle blocker, but she will be solid and still contribute," Compton said.
Another returning senior is the UALR all-time leader in digs (1,236), defensive specialist Emily Pepperman (Metairie, La. / Mount Caramel Academy). During her career, she has been a big asset for the Trojans with her ability to keep rallies alive.
"Emily is even more impressive simply because she basically had to learn the position after high school," Compton explained. "She has learned a lot about the position and has done much to implement those skills.
"Without Pep, we would have a hole in the back row" Compton added.
However, giving chase to Pepperman will be sophomore Allison Wyatt (Jonesboro, Ark. / Nettleton). Wyatt saw action in 108 sets last season and was fourth on the team with 168 digs.
"It was Allison's first offseason and summer workout. She has improved so much from her freshman season to right now," Compton said. "She has increased her skill level and has a better understanding of the pace of the college game.
"Allison will help us win more sets and matches so we are expecting more from her in 2012," Compton added.
Senior setter Sawyer Schaedig (Little Rock, Ark. / Midland College) may see more time at the setter position because of a possible position switch for sophomore setter Marleen de Zoete (Camas, Wash. / Camas).
"Marleen will be converting to an outside hitter but may also see time as the setter" Compton said. "Right now we are looking as if Marleen will be our other outside hitter so Sawyer will see even more time at setter."
Shaedig will see an increase in court time after appearing in only 36 sets in 2011. However, she was second on the team with 250 assists, averaged more than six assists per set and even added a double-double (37 assists, 11 digs) against Georgia State (Aug. 26, 2011).
De Zoete, who averaged more than nine assists per game, was fourth on the team with 45 blocks, contributed 39 kills and added three double-doubles.
Finally, senior Eva Xie (Chongqing, China / 8th Middle School) will shore up the right side. The leftie will be looked upon to score points with fellow outside hitter Begic. Xie was third on the team with 184 kills and added four matches of double-digit kills.
In a straight-set win for UALR against Texas Southern (Sept. 17, 2011), Xie turned in one of her best performances of her career with a season-high 12 kills with no errors in only 16 attempts (.750%). It was the best hitting game of any player in the conference last season.
"We are looking for Eva to have her best season yet not only because she is a senior, but because of the time she has put in during the offseason," Compton said. "I think Eva realizes where we are as a team as far as putting more of the burden on her shoulders."
"Eva must help us and I believe she will," Compton emphasized.
The biggest change for the Trojans will be in the middle with two players switching positions. Joining Moura in the switch to middle blocker will be sophomore Adisa Hodzic (Sarajevo, Bosnia / Dental).
"Adisa has converted from her natural outside position to middle and will hold her own in her new spot as she is a very strong kid," Compton explained. "With Adisa being strong and Daniele having a good volleyball IQ, both should be able to stand their ground in the middle.
"If Edina, Eva and one of the middles can score points, we will be competitive," Compton stated.
Shoring up the outside will either be de Zoete or freshman Tyler Davis (Huntington Beach, Calif./Edison).
"Right now we are working for Marleen to be our other outside. We are still working with her on some things as her whole game has changed, but as of now it will be her with Davis as her back row," Compton explained.
UALR will be tested right away with a rigorous non-conference schedule, which will lead right into an always tough Sun Belt Conference slate.
"Our non-conference schedule is tough. We line up every single match against someone that can beat us. And then we will head into conference play trying to fight for a spot in the conference tournament," Compton said.
After the Memphis Invite, UALR will play in the Missouri State, Southern Illinois Saluki and Oklahoma Nike Invitationals before entering SBC play with a road trip to southern Florida. The Trojans open up their home slate Sept. 28 against Louisiana-Monroe.