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Volume 71, Issue 5, Friday, August 26, 2005

Sports

Houston opens season at home

Cougars take on the Shockers in tough 2005 season opener

Ronnie Turner
The Daily Cougar

The UH volleyball team owes today's scheduled match against Wichita State in the opening leg of the Houston Tournament to the work of a committee and a coincidence.

The NCAA volleyball committee recently passed a new rule that allows teams to begin play today instead of Sept. 1. The coincidence came in the form of an unexpected call from the Wichita State athletic department.

"We had a couple of open dates, so we wanted to play the first weekend," UH head coach Bill Walton said. "Wichita State called us and said that they needed to play, (and asked if they) could come down and play. We said yes (because) there weren't a lot of choices."

When the Cougars and the Shockers face off today, it will be a meeting of a team fresh off an appearance in the NCAA tournament and another trying to get back after an extended absence. 

In 2004, coach Chris Lamb guided the Shockers to a 25-6 overall record that resulted in the school's first-ever Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament titles. Their success landed them a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they knocked off Nevada 3-0 before being eliminated in the second round.

"Chris is an excellent coach," Walton said. "He started at Arizona; he's been around and done a good job at Wichita State. He's done a good job recruiting kids to come there, and he's trained them pretty well. 

"He's trying to get his kids to the next level and get them (back) to the NCAA tournament, which is where we've been before. We're trying to return to the NCAA tournament for the 12th time, and he's trying to get there for his (second) time. I want him to do it, but not at my expense."

This season, Wichita State has nine lettermen and five expected senior starters returning. The Shockers have also been picked to finish first in the 2005 MVC Preseason Coaches Poll. 

The team should benefit from the return of senior outside hitter Darci Vohs, who recorded 247 kills, 19 assists, 51 digs and 85 total blocks last season. Senior middle blocker Jen Ray recorded a .372 hitting percentage with 275 kills, 10 assists, 10 digs and 137 total blocks in all of the scheduled 31 matches. 

Coming off a campaign in which they finished 11-21 and 5-8 in C-USA play, the Cougars will count with their own five returning starters and an influx of talented freshmen.

Among those starters, senior libero Jaci Gonzalez will be called upon to take some life out of the Shockers offense after being named 2004 Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. Senior setter Jennifer Hohl should bolster the UH offense as she attempts to improve upon last season's performance of a team-leading 889 assists. 

Freshmen Kelli Adams and Justine Farmer could also see some action as setter and outside hitter, respectively. 

"The team looks good, and we have really good new players, so I think we'll be much, much better than last season," senior outside hitter Kariny Ritter said. "The first game on Friday will be a challenge because (Wichita State's) a good team."

Kelly McAnelly and Becca Sartori ? outside and middle hitters, respectively ? are two skillful players who will probably get a chance to spike some balls on the Shockers' territory. 

Junior McAnelly ? previous recipient of 2004 Third-Team All-Conference USA, 2003 USA All-Freshman Team and 2003 C-USA All-Tournament Team honors ? led the Cougars with 490 spikes on 1,469 swings. McAnelly also ended the 2004 season at No. 3 on the UH career kills-per-game list, No. 2 in career attacks per game and No. 6 in total career attacks. 

Sartori, also a junior, led the team with a hitting percentage of .234, while recording the fourth highest kill total of 344, second with 23 service aces and second with 97 total blocks.

Outside hitters Mary Cates and Cinthia Piva also return to the Cougar team as two outstanding and consistent players. Junior Cates returns after seeing action in 19 games, while senior Piva returns after a 2004 redshirt season because of an injury. 

Walton thinks the game is up for grabs because neither team has an upper advantage.

"Neither Wichita State nor Houston has actually probably practiced enough to be ready to play, but you know what? We're playing. We'll be ready," Walton said.

The Cougars will face the Shockers today at 7 p.m in the Athletic/Alumni Center.
 

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