Young, talented UWA volleyball team prepares for 2005 season

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 11, 2005

The 2005 UWA volleyball team lost seven of the 12 players from last year’s team, which finished with a 7-24 record. It has only two seniors. A full half of the team will be true freshmen. It’s time to set the bar a little lower and officially label the coming season a rebuilding year, right?

Not if you’re UWA head coach Karisa Wesley, that’s for sure.

“I’m not the type of coach who feels like we’re ever ‘rebuilding,'” she says. “We have 12 very solid players. Any of our six freshmen could be playing for us this year.”

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Because of the quality of those six recruits (and incoming junior college transfer Rafaella Maranhao), Wesley feels that the Tigers won’t have to look up to anyone in terms of on-court talent. It’s just a matter of getting the new faces in sync with the old faces and getting them enough time on the court to develop.

“It’s not a talent issue,” Wesley says. “It’s an experience issue.”

That lack of experience and last season’s 7-24 finish means that UWA will have to work for respect this year: the Tigers have been picked to finish fifth out of eight teams in this year’s Gulf South Conference race. They are expected to fail to reach the GSC tournament (which takes the top four) for the third consecutive season. But that’s just the way Wesley wants it.

“I like that we’re ranked fifth. I want to come from behind,” she says. “People have no idea what UWA volleyball is going to do this season.”

The biggest reason? Despite the recruiting haul, Wesley says it’s the leadership and talent of her two seniors, libero Melanie Moffett and outside hitter Amanda Heaton.

“Our two seniors are extremely determined, talented, and intelligent. They’re definitely our biggest strength entering this season,” Wesley says. “They’re both such great, great mentors. When they knew how many freshmen we had coming in, they were so excited. They can’t wait to help mold them into players out on the court.”

It will help Moffett and Heaton, Wesley says, that the freshmen will give them so much talent to work with. The six-player class of 2005 represents the biggest and best recruiting class Wesley says the UWA program has ever had.

“It was a huge recruiting year. Our biggest ever,” she says, thanking the UWA administration for an increase in the recruiting budget which made a six-player class possible.

“It made a lot more girls available to us,” she says.

One of those girls has already earned a starting job at one of the most important positions on the team. Wesley says Morgan Graffigna, a 5-6 Fort Worth, TX native named all-District coming out of North Crowley High School, will enter the season as the Tigers’ starting setter. While three slots are devoted from the two seniors and Graffigna, Wesley says the other three starting positions are still in flux with only sixteen days before the Tigers open the season at a tournament in Orlando, FL.

Wesley says the two biggest problems facing the team, though, are overcoming the stigma of last year’s struggles and working a team with a lot of fresh faces into a single cohesive unit.

“We have to work on our confidence,” she says, “and we have to work to jell together as a team, because we have so many new people.”

But there are still too many positives to keep UWA from moving forward in 2005, Wesley says. One of them is the “huge fan support” from the UWA student body and staff, which other GSC coaches have cited in naming UWA’s Pruitt Hall of the toughest venues to visit in the conference.

Another is the team’s depth. Juniors Elizabeth Colley and Maranhao should help provide leadership, sophomores Rachel Hardaway and Becky Helms should continue to develop, and the freshmen joining Graffigna in the class of 2005– Allison Nail, Nici Steckel,

Morgan Ivey, Jacquie Swan, and Teresa Clements–are all ready to contribute now, Wesley says.

“We have more depth than we’ve ever had,” she says. “Before we could only play 7 or 8 players. This year we’ll go 12 deep. We have 12 solid players.”

Which, if Wesley is right, should equal a solid 2005 season for the Tigers.