Wednesday, August 22, 2001 Volume 66, Issue 1


UH plays host to 2001 C-USA volleyball championships 

By Crystal J. Doucette
Daily Cougar Staff

It's a new school year and a new season for UH women's volleyball. Head coach Bill Walton faces 2001 with a barrage of new recruits and new challenges, as well as the responsibility of playing host to the 2001 Conference USA Tournament, Nov. 15-18.

The year 2000 brought another winning season for the program as the Cougars opened the C-USA season 8-0, finished the regular season in second place in the National
Division and reached the semifinals of the C-USA tournament.

UH's 8-0 run in C-USA play was part of an 11-game winning streak, including wins over Texas, Arkansas and Virginia after a tough 2-3 loss to Michigan.

Part of the Cougars' success was due to their six starters: five seniors and a junior transfer who performed beyond expectations. Two of the seniors were named to 2000 C-USA
All-Tournament teams.

The Cougars bid adieu to four of those seniors last year and recruited eight new players in their place. From the 2000 season's starters, only two are returning, both from
late-season injuries.

Rich Risma/The Daily Cougar

Senior outside hitter Gabriela Carbone digs out a shot during practice as the Lady Cougar volleyball team prepares for the upcoming Conference USA 2001 season with a brand-new style of play.

Returning for her sixth year of collegiate play after several seasons of injuries, veteran Jennifer Wittenburg looks to continue her dominance on the court.

Wittenburg led the team in kills and digs last year despite suffering a torn plantar fascia just before C-USA tournament play. 

The right-side hitter continues to suffer from plantar fascitis, but remains one of the Cougars' major offensive threats. Wittenburg ranked second in the nation in kills per game in
2000 with 6.16 and was named to the 2001 C-USA Preseason All-League team.

Senior Gabi Carbone, an outside hitter who stepped up defensively and offensively for UH, suffered an anterior cruciate ligament injury toward the end of the 2000 season.
Carbone returns equipped with a knee brace after off-season surgery, but could decide to redshirt this year.

With five seniors, including 1999 C-USA Co-Player of the Year Michelle Frazier, setter Morgan Wallen and Wittenburg, and the standout play of then-junior transfer Carbone,
UH Volleyball finished 2000 with yet another 20-plus win season (21-11, 11-5 C-USA) and its 10th consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

UH is picked to finish third in 2001 C-USA preseason polls, tied with South Florida in the expanded 14-team league.

The addition of Texas Christian and East Carolina to the conference means the teams will play every other team in the conference once, then their traditional rival (TCU for the
Cougars) once more, and finally two more games with other C-USA teams in a 16-game schedule.

Along with the conference's changes, the NCAA has introduced some elements of international scoring into collegiate volleyball play, the biggest factor being rally scoring in all
five games.

"It used to be you could win a game with a spike, but it was hard to lose it with a spike," Walton said. "Now you could lose a point, lose a game."

Rally scoring was only used as a fifth-game tiebreaker last season. The fifth game was shorter, which was good for the fans and the players, who were more prone to injury after
playing two hours of volleyball.

"Games will be shorter, teams won't need to focus as long," Walton said. 

This year the first four games will be rally with a 30-point decision by two points, instead of 15 total points. The tiebreaker will remain a 15-point decision by two.

Although last season's team shared a great deal of success, one area UH volleyball struggled in was fifth-game play. The Cougars were 1-5 in fifth-game tiebreakers last year.

Along with the scoring changes, the ball can be carried back over the net on second contact to set up a third hit and the serve remains in play even if it hits the net. 

"If the server tosses it up and doesn't serve it on the first swing, you could lose (a game)," Walton said.

No one can tell which teams are best suited for this new style of play, or which teams will be ready to break and hold serve consistently throughout the season. 

Collegiate powerhouses like Hawaii, which will be coming to Hofheinz Pavilion to play the Cougars on Oct. 3, may find themselves struggling to hold on for the win.

"You'll see a few more upsets, I think," Walton said. "You can't come back and win as easily."

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