LOGAN, Utah – Utah State women’s volleyball held its first official practice of the season on Tuesday afternoon, beginning preparations for the upcoming 2017 campaign.
When it comes to the 2017 season, 12th-year head coach Grayson DuBose has a common theme with his players: match experience.
The match experience begins with the backline with returning defensive specialist Tasia Taylor, who will take on the role of libero this coming fall, following the graduation of two-year starter Hannah Gleason. Taylor has appeared in every match for the Aggies during her first two years and has not missed a set, playing in all 62 matches and 226 sets. She has been among the top five on the team in digs each season, totaling more than 400 in her career.
“Tasia probably steps into that role (libero), having had experience and having been trained and learning from a great libero in Hannah Gleason,” DuBose said. “It was the same with Hannah before that. We’ve been able to stagger out liberos and have them get opportunities to learn and grow from each other.”
Joining Taylor on the back row will be redshirt freshman Madi Olson, who spent all of the 2016 season as a redshirt, but saw significant time on the court during the spring. Olson was a three-year starter at Lone Peak High School in Alpine, Utah, leading the Knights in digs during her junior and senior seasons.
“I’m looking forward to what those two will bring to the table,” DuBose said. “Tasia will step into that teaching role and Madi will be able to learn from her.”
Utah State will replace another graduated senior at setter in Erica Moscoso, but already have a match-tested setter in junior Kassidy Johnson. Johnson has appeared in 37 matches and close to 100 sets during her career, already totaling four double-doubles. She gained most of her experience during her freshman year, starting for the Aggies in 12 matches and highlighting the year with a career-high 54 assists against Utah Valley.
“Kassidy has great experience,” DuBose said. “And not just practice experience, but actual match experience the last two years. She’s been able to build upon that this past spring and we anticipate her being able to continue to build on that while she’s here.”
Redshirt freshman Jaysa Funk will provide depth after spending all of last season as a redshirt. Much like high school teammate Olson, Funk saw time during the spring directing the USU attack.
“Jaysa was able to redshirt last year, which was great for her as far as learning the system and learning how to be a collegiate athlete,” DuBose said. “She’s really embraced the opportunity to go and learn how to be a better setter and teammate. All those things have been very positive for us.”
Match experience also carries over into the middle, where Utah State has a pair of returning starters in senior Carly Lenzen and junior Lauren O’Brien. The duo has led the Aggies in blocking each of the past two seasons and has also been among the top five each year in kills.
“Carly has done a fabulous job,” DuBose said. “There’s been very few people that I’ve coached over the years that understand our blocking system as well as she does. She knows where people need to be, she understands scouting reports, she understands how to teach and guide and be a mentor to the younger middles in our program.
“She has this thing called match experience, which is fabulous to have,” he continued. “And she has a lot of it. She’s been in a lot of tough situations, so there’s very few things that are going to come across that she’s going to see that will surprise her or catch her off guard. She is just a great leader for us in that front row.”
“Lauren O’Brien has also been able to gain experience in the last couple of years, which has been very fortuitous for us because she works hard and is a really good example of what we want our middles to be,” DuBose said. “She puts out great effort and communicates very well.”
Joining them in the middle is sophomore Ashley Wesenberg, who saw action in three matches last season, and incoming freshman Bailey Downing, an honorable mention high school All-American from Lovejoy High School in Lucas, Texas.
“Ashley Wesenberg learned some valuable traits last year, and if she can continue to develop, we’ll see what kind of role she’ll continue to play for our team,” DuBose said. “Bailey Downing comes in as a big recruit, having been well trained in the Texas Advantage Volleyball club system. She has a neat opportunity to help our program get to another level as far as experience and her work ethic goes.”
On the outside, Utah State returns two of its top three attackers in senior outside Lauren Anderson and senior opposite Kayla DeCoursey. Anderson was an all-Mountain West selection in 2016 after leading the Aggies with 377 kills and was a member of the MW All-Star team that finished second in the Global Volleyball Challenge this past July. DeCoursey is coming off her best year in an Aggie uniform, after finishing third on the team with 255 kills and leading all outsides with a .266 hitting percentage (255-83-646).
“Lauren Anderson is coming off of a nice season and we anticipate that she’ll be able to build on that and grow from there,” DuBose said. “Kayla DeCoursey, arguably, was the best opposite in the league the last two years. She can hit with range and savvy.”
Fellow senior Rachel Gale also returns after leading the team in kills two years ago, recording the sixth-most attempts in school history (1,186) during the 2015 season. Gale turned those chances into a team-best 355 kills that year.
“Rachel Gale put together a really nice spring as far as developing where we needed her to,” DuBose said. “She worked on her ball control enough that I think she’s going to be a really consistent outside hitter for us.”
A trio of newcomers will provide depth on the outside in redshirt freshman Ashlee Thornock, junior college transfer Ally Packard and freshman Gabbi Shumway. Thornock spent all of the 2016 season as a redshirt, but had plenty of reps during the spring. Packard was a two-year starter at Snow College and finished her career with the Badgers with more than 300 kills and 350 digs. Shumway helped Lone Peak to a Utah state championship in 2016.
“Ashlee Thornock was able to gain some experience during practice situations last year,” DuBose said. “Ally Packard adds to that mix as far as having some experience at Snow College and will come in and adapt to the game pretty quickly and she’ll be able to help us in our gym and our culture.
“Gabbi Shumway comes in as a player who fans will enjoy watching,” he continued. “She’s a dynamic kid and has a good arm and can do some fun stuff. Really, we have a lot of experience and we’re fortunate to have that experience in those outside hitter and opposite positions. I think that’s going to help us as the season goes on.”
Utah State will open the 2017 season in Fayetteville, Ark., taking part in the Arkansas Classic and facing Louisiana Monroe, CSU Bakersfield and Arkansas. The Aggies open at home on Sept. 1-2, hosting Pacific, Montana State and UC Santa Barbara.
Tickets for the season can be purchased online at utahstateaggies.com, at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum ticket office or by calling 1-888-USTATE-1 or (435) 797-0305.
Fans can follow the Aggie volleyball program on Twitter @USUVolleyball, on Facebook at USUVolleyball or on Instagram at @usuvolleyball. Aggie fans can also follow the Utah State athletic program at @USUAthletics, on Facebook at Utah State University Athletics or on Instagram at @USUAthletics.
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