Aug. 11, 2000
Some might say that the Utah State volleyball program is back. A program that won an AIAW National Championship in 1978, and a were runners-up in 1979, struggled through over a decade of frustration and losing seasons in the 1980's and `90s before the `99 team turned its fortunes around by winning 13 of its last 17 matches to notch only its second winning season in the past 11 years.
After starting the season 1-8, USU finished with a 14-12 record, including a 11-5 mark in leauge play, winning its first-ever divisional championship. Those 14 wins were the second most in the last 13 years, and its 12 losses were the fewest since the 1979 team lost only five matches. The Aggies' 11 conference wins were the most ever in school history, and its 8-2 record at home was the best mark since the 1982 squad was 11-2. Furthermore, Utah State set a new single-season school record with a .227 hitting percentage, and the team finished first in the Big West Conference, averaging 11.71 assists per game.
The main factor in the rejuvenation of the USU program is second-year head coach Tom Peterson who owns an overall record of 221-99 (.691) in 10 years, including a national championship at Penn State in 1994 as head coach of the men's team. That success that Coach Peterson brings to the table will be crucial as the experienced Aggies (who return three starters and seven letterwinners) will look to string together the schools first back-to-back winning seasons since 1981-82.
"Last year we spent longer than what we had wanted on getting better and getting the confidence of winning, and that was the main difference between winning four or five of our matches early in the season," commented Peterson. "Once we bought into the fact that we were pretty good and we could win these games when it comes down to pressure situations, we started winning. With our three seniors coming back and the experience we have on this team, that confidence will carry over into the 2000 campaign."
And that confidence will no doubt start with the three seniors USU returns to the starting lineup this year. First-team all-league player Denae Mohlman returns for her senior campaign with a career hitting percentage of .346 which is the best in school history and the eighth-best in the history of the Big West Conference. Mohlman also holds the school record in total blocks with 329 and is second all-time at USU in career kills with 964, trailing fellow senior Amy Crosbie.
Crosbie was a second-team all-league player as a junior after leading the squad with 339 kills and becoming the first Aggie in school history to notch over 1,000 kills, as she has 1,002 during her career. Crosbie is also soon to be the school record holder in attacks, as she now has 2,533 and needs only 153 to set a new all-time mark.
The other starting senior to return for USU is right-side hitter Melissa Schoepf, who very well could be the best athlete on the team. Schoepf led USU with 229 digs as a junior and was third with 248 kills. Along with the three starters returning for the Aggies, USU will have the luxury of having four proven letterwinners to work with in 2000 in juniors Michelle Matheson, Heather Olmstead, and Tanya McArthur, and sophomore Rochelle Currier.
The schedule for Utah State will take on a much different look this season, as the Big West Conference will now compete in just one division with a round-robin format, where each team plays every other team in the league both home and away. For USU, that means playing Long Beach State, Pacific, UC Santa Barbara and Cal Poly not once, but twice each season.
The Aggies will open the season with a pair of tournaments on the road at Washington State and Montana State before hosting Brigham Young University in the home opener on Sept. 12. USU will then hit the road at Wyoming and versus Pittsburgh in Laramie before returning to Utah to play at Weber State. The Aggies will take a break from conference play to face Utah on Oct. 10, as well two matches versus Idaho State on Oct. 17 at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum and on Nov. 9 in Pocatello. In all, USU will have 30 matches on the year, including 11 at home.
"To win the Big West Conference this year is going to be extremely tough," stated Peterson. "Whoever wins the league will more than likely have to be a final four team to do it, and we have at least two of those kinda caliber teams in our league in Long Beach State and Pacific, along with UC Santa Barbara."
* - 1999 starter
The one big question mark for Utah State comes at the setter position due to the graduation of three-year starter Lori Sargent-McKnight. McKnight finished her career at USU as the second-best setter in school history with 3,533 assists. She was also among the top-10 all-time in games played (432), matches played (122), kills (718), attempts (1,938), hitting percentage (.238), service aces (98), digs (919), and total blocks (257).
Looking to fill McKnight's shoes will be a pair of transfers in Chelsi Neves and Emily Kennedy. Neves was a junior college All-American at Sheridan Junior College in Sheridan, Wyo., while Kennedy was the backup setter for a Brigham Young team that was ranked in the top-10 in the country all season long last year.
Once again, the deepest and most talented position on the club will be the outside/right side hitters in 2000, with both starters and four letterwinners returning from last year. And the two starters returning in Amy Crosbie and Melissa Schoepf are two of the heaviest hitters in the Big West Conference.
Crosbie returns for her senior season as the all-time kills leader (1,002) in Utah State history. She led the club with 23 10-plus kill matches as a junior and went over the 20 kill plateau on two different occasions. Schoepf who might be the best all-around athlete on the team, finished third in kills as a junior with 248, and lead the team with 229 digs. She was also third in blocks with 64.
Backups at the outside positions will be junior Tanya McArthur and sophomoe Rochelle Currier who both lettered last year, along with sophomore Shauni Fluckiger who redshirted last season. McArthur played in 28 games last year, averaging just over a kill a game, while Currier played in 40 games and averaged just under one kill and one dig per game.
* - 1999 starter
With the return of first-team all-leauge performer Denae Mohlman, USU will be solid at this position. Mohlman is USU's all-time leader in total blocks (329), and has a career hitting percentage of .346 which is also the best ever at Utah State. The other starting spot here will more likely be between junior Michelle Matheson and sophomore transfer Hailey MacKay. Matheson appeared in 49 games as a sophomore and averaged just over a kill per game, while MacKay is a transfer from Salt Lake Community College where she averaged over three kills per game.
* - 1999 starter
Despite the loss of starting senior Heather Black, Utah State should be very solid at the defensive specialist position with the return of junior Heather Olmstead, who is a two-year letterwinner for the Aggies. Olmstead averaged 2.08 digs per game as a sophomore, and had 10 plus digs on three different occassions, including 16 in two different matches which was a team-high.