Women's Volleyball
    2005 Outlook: Rebuilding Tradition
    Senior outside hitter Staci Venski looks to help the Women of Troy rebuild tradition as No. 7 USC goes for its fourth straight NCAA Final Four appearance
    Senior outside hitter Staci Venski looks to help the Women of Troy rebuild tradition as No. 7 USC goes for its fourth straight NCAA Final Four appearance

    Aug. 22, 2005

    The 2005 USC women's volleyball team will try to rebuild the program's storied tradition after coming oh-so-close at volleyball history when the Women of Troy attempted to win their third straight national championship last year. Despite the slight disappointment, 10 letterwinners return this season as USC will have a chance to set another high standard within the program with a fourth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Final Four.

    "It's about the process for us this year," said fifth-year USC head coach Mick Haley. "Our goal is to win the final game of the season, but in order to do that we have to position ourselves. We could concentrate on wins and losses, but then I would have lightened the schedule. I didn't want to do that because I wanted to get our younger players into some tough competition that helps to test ourselves and get our thinking to a certain level before conference play."

    USC returns two-time All-America senior middle blocker Bibiana Candelas (3.06 kpg, 1.00 bpg in 2004) and senior outside hitter Staci Venski (2.70 kpg, 0.66 bpg), along with one of the nation's top liberos in junior Debora Seilhamer (5.39 dpg). The Women of Troy will look for others to step up, as the team needs to replace two graduated senior All-Americans in Keao Burdine and Emily Adams.

    "This club is going to be challenged by the schedule, one that will challenge our team early in the season," said Haley. "It's extremely important that our preseason gets us organized. Venski and Candelas are certainly All-America candidates. Staci has been a high point producer for us and we need her to continue to do that this season. Her team leadership role will help a great deal."

    The difference with this year's lineup is that many players on the roster have the ability to play multiple positions, which gives the coaching staff greater flexibility in creating each lineup. Candelas, for example, may not be in her normal middle blocker position all the time as she will be moved around the court to display her versatility, similar to her teammates.

    "We are not sure what positions the players will play because they have all been cross-trained," said Haley. "We have four or five players who can play middle blocker or outside, which gives us the ability to finally do some different things. It depends on how skillful our setters can be to create a diverse attack. This team will hopefully have the chance to change its matchups based on the team we are playing at the time. If we can be mature enough on the court, we have a chance to really be good by the end of the season."

    Seilhamer is adding to the brief and successful history of the libero position at USC and should play a key role in the team's defense.

    "I expect Debora to really blossom this year," said Haley. "She is probably the best collegiate libero in the country right now. She certainly showed that in the U.S. team trials along with (former USC libero) Nicole Davis. She should mature greatly and add stability to our team concept."

    With the Women of Troy running their 6-2 offense, the team will be aided by some veteran setters, including senior Nena Siljegovic (3.52 apg) and last year's starting setter Alli Dillon (7.35 apg).

    "Nena should be ready to go in one of our setting positions after having a great spring," said Haley. "Her athleticism and experience should lend a bunch there."

    Siljegovic spent her first year at the Division I level last year after transferring from Moorpark College and played in 17 matches, while Dillon, who started in every match, was another "first-year" player in 2004 for USC after transferring from San Jose State.

    Junior Kimi Freeburg (6.59 apg) has two years of experience under her belt and adds depth to the setter position, along with senior transfer Jessica Mihm (Austin, Texas/Westlake HS), who set personal career marks last season at SMU with 13.05 assists per game and 30 service aces. Mihm might also be used as a defensive specialist as needed.

    Junior defensive specialist Anne Montgomery has played in 21 matches during her career at USC and will have the opportunity to play more this season as she continues to improve.

    The depth of this year's squad has already been tested after redshirt freshman outside hitter Jessica Gysin tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee in July and will not play this season. USC also suffered the loss of Sarah Florian, who left the program after being named to the Pac-10 All-Freshman Team last season. The Women of Troy can ill afford further injuries, making it obvious that every member of the roster to contribute in some fashion.

    Two sophomores who will get a chance to step up this season will be middle blocker/outsider hitter Diane Copenhagen (1.12 kpg, 0.55 bpg) and middle blocker Katelyn Bishop (1.10 kpg, 0.40 bpg). Copenhagen played for the U.S. Junior National Team this summer, which included playing at the U-20 World Championships in Turkey.

    "Copenhagen should blossom into a stellar collegiate player this year," said Haley. "She had some moments of brilliance last year, but as a sophomore, we are looking for her to be more consistent."

    Redshirt freshman Kathleen Gilmour (Manhattan Beach/Mira Costa HS) did not play last season and will add depth at outside hitter.

    One fresh face in the program is freshman middle blocker/outside hitter Kelli Tennant (Temecula/Chaparral HS), who enters as a Volleyball Magazine Top 50 national player.

    "I think Kelli is good enough to start and with the kind of players we have around her, since we emphasize the team concept, she will be in the catbird's seat," said Haley. "All she has to do is try as hard as she can."

    With the injury to Gysin, Haley looked to another USC team to add some depth. Junior middle blocker/outside hitter Andrea McBride (Auckland, New Zealand) has two years of eligibility left after spending three years with the track and field program. McBride has competed in the javelin, hammer and discus events, but was a member of the New Zealand Volleyball National Team.

    The Schedule

    Another difficult schedule is on tap this season as USC opens the 2005 season at home on Aug. 27 against Cal Poly before traveling to the three-day Hawaiian Airlines Classic Tournament against Penn State, Hawai'i and Western Michigan. USC will have the luxury of having additional fans there since the Trojan football team will open its season on Sept. 3 at Hawai'i, the dat after the tournament concludes.

    There will not be a lot of time to rest as the team travels to San Antonio the following week for the UTSA Dome Rally. Played at the Alamodome, USC will play three teams that all reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year: Notre Dame, Florida and Texas A&M.

    USC then returns home for its final nonconference match against Pepperdine on Sept. 16 before the start of Pac-10 Conference play. The schedule makers did not make it easy for USC, with the first conference match taking place at defending national champion Stanford in a televised battle. The Women of Troy conclude the Bay Area swing at Cal before a "road" match on Sept. 30 at cross-town rival UCLA.

    Fox Sports Net will televise three USC matches this season: Sept. 23 at Stanford, Oct. 28 vs. UCLA at the Lyon Center and Nov. 18 at Arizona.

    The 2005 NCAA Tournament will begin with first and second round action on Dec. 1-4, followed by regional action from Dec. 8-11. A second trip to the Alamodome in San Antonio by the Women of Troy would mean the team is playing at the NCAA Final Four on Dec. 15 and 17.