Stories Courtesy of Buffalo Media Relations
The University at Buffalo volleyball team enters the 2010 season with the momentum of a successful 2009 campaign under first-year head coach Todd Kress. Now entering his second season, Kress has recruited one of the top classes in the nation, and arguably the best ever to play at UB.
The Bulls finished 2009 with a 16-16 record, its most wins since 1997, and its first ever victory in the Mid-American Conference Tournament. The Bulls welcome back six players from last years squad, but lost seven players including freshman All-MAC selection Tori Beckman.
"It isn't going to be easy to replicate the production we got from those seven players, but I believe we have the right mind set going into camp that we want to be better than we were last year," said Kress.
Helping the Bulls take that step is the veteran leadership of four seniors who have seen the change in the volleyball program over the last three years.
"These seniors have meant a lot to us and to this program," said Kress. "They have put in a lot of hard work and their legacy will not be forgotten as we begin to take that step as one of the top teams in the MAC."
Included in the class is three-year starter Lindsey Schlegel, who set career highs in most offensive categories last season, including assists with 1,140. Schlegel enters the 2010 season, fourth in school history in career assists.
In addition to Schlegel is three-year starter Kristin Bignell, who has played both the middle and the right side during her time at UB. Bignell, who is one of the top blockers on the team, is ninth in school history in total blocks and tied for sixth in school history in blocks per set.
Outside hitter Marisa Hornbaker had a breakout season for UB last year as she finished second on the team with 309 kills, surpassing her total from her first two seasons combined. Hornbaker had 23 service aces and finished second on the squad with 235 digs.
Completing the senior class is Kayla Govier, who is beginning her third year with the Bulls after transferring from Wyoming following her freshman year. Govier gave the Bulls solid depth in the middle as she saw action in 18 matches last year. She had 13 kills and three total blocks in those matches.
"When you have a young team, it is important to have a senior class that they can look up to and we have a group of seniors who do everything the right way," said Kress. "They practice hard, play hard and are great in the classroom."
Rounding out the returnees for UB is pair of juniors, Heather Pyle and Abby Niekamp. Pyle is in her third season as a defensive specialist for the Bulls, where she saw action in all 32 matches last year, playing in 100 sets. Pyle finished with 186 digs, good for fourth on the team. She also recorded her second career kill last season and had nine service aces on the year.
Niekamp came to UB as a transfer from Florida State where she was once recruited by Kress when he was with the Seminoles. Niekamp played in 110 sets during her first year at UB, finishing with 128 kills and second on the team with 96 blocks, including 12 solos.
UB's six newcomers join the mix with numerous local and national accolades. In addition to five freshmen that had outstanding high school careers, the Bulls also welcome in Alexa Manuel a transfer from Long Beach State. At 6-7, Manuel is the tallest player ever to suit up for the Blue and White. She redshirted last season at Long Beach State and comes to UB with three years of eligibility remaining.
The freshmen class, which was ranked by Prepvolleyball.com in its highest honorable mention list, begins with setter Dani Reinert from Ursuline Academy in Cincinnati, OH. Reinert was named the Andi Collins Award Winner by Prepvolleyball.com, which is given to the nation's top high school setter. Reinert was also one of three UB freshmen to be named Senior Aces. She was twice named Player of the Year by the Cincinnati Enquirer as she led her team to a 57-1 record over those final two seasons. Reinert was also named the Gatorade Ohio Volleyball Player of the Year this past season, finishing the year with 34 aces, 47 blocks, 160 digs, 72 kills and 911 assists.
Cleveland native Kelly Svoboda, who was also named a Senior Ace, joins the mix for 2010. Svoboda, who is a libero, led the Cleveland Volleyball Club to the 2009 National Championship in the 17's National Division. Svoboda's club team has qualified for Nationals in each of the last three years. At Trinity High School, Svoboda played outside hitter where she recorded 326 kills and 609 digs on the year. For her career, she has 1,510 digs at Trinity. She has been Team MVP for each of the last three seasons and a four-year All-North Coast League Team member. Svoboda is also a two-year first-team All-Northeast District selection and has been on the honor roll for every semester during high school.
UB's third Senior Ace was Christine Fritsche, who hails from Parma, OH. Fritsche, who will play outside hitter, has led her team to a club national championship, where she was named the tournament's most valuable player. In 2008, she led her high school to the Division 2 state championship, where she was named to the North Coast League All-Conference First Team. This season, Fritsche has helped lead her team to a 23-2 record, including a 12-0 mark in league play.
The fourth incoming freshmen to sign with UB during the early period is Carissa McKenna, from West Bloomfield, MI. McKenna, a middle blocker, has been a three-year varsity starter and this past season recorded 487 kills, 409 digs and 224 total blocks for Walled Lake Northern High School. She hit .320 on the season as she led her team to a Co-Division championship and for the third straight year a city championship. McKenna has also been an All-Tournament team selection at the Junior Olympics and was an All-American at Nationals.
Joining the Bulls during the late signing period in addition to Manuel, is Dana Musil, the only international player on the team as she hails from Vancouver, British Columbia. Musil is a versatile player who could see time at a number of positions, including outside hitter and defensive specialist. Musil played her club volleyball for FVVC Vancouver. Prior to that Musil lived in the Czech Republic where she played most of her volleyball. For three seasons, Musil played in the best youth volleyball program in the Czech Republic and in her first season finished third at nationals. Her last two seasons, she helped the U17 and U19 teams both win national championships.
"This is a very special class of incoming athletes and one that I think will take Buffalo volleyball to the top," said Kress. "I look forward to seeing each of them reach the potential that I know they have."
With a young team it is important for the Bulls to have their 16 non-conference matches early on before MAC play begins at the end of September. UB begins the season at the West Virginia Tournament where it will see a familiar foe in Youngstown State, a team UB defeated twice last year. The Bulls will also play Howard and the host Mountaineers. Following a contest at Big Four rival Niagara, UB will host the first of two straight weekend tournaments. At the University at Buffalo Invitational, the Bulls welcome in Navy, Delaware St. and Central Connecticut St. Following a mid-week match at Syracuse, UB will host the Blue and White Classic, facing Binghamton, Hampton and St. John's, a team the Bulls beat last year at the Cornell Tournament. Buffalo will take place in one more non-conference tournament, heading to the West Point Tourney where it will face Hofstra, Air Force, Bryant and the host Black Knights. UB returns home to face Canisius before beginning Mid-American Conference play against Miami (OH) on Sep. 24.
"We are looking forward to the high level of play we will see during non-conference play," said Kress. "Each match will be crucial in developing this team so that we are at our best come Mid-American Conference play."
The Bulls will see each member of the MAC East twice and each member of the MAC West once before the conference tournament begins on Nov. 16 with first round games at campus sites. The tournament shifts to Toledo, OH from the 19-21 where the 2010 MAC Champion will be crowned.
"We learned a lot last season with our first trip to Toledo and we hope to take those lessons into this season," said Kress. "We have high expectations and we want to prove that we are one of the top teams in the Mid-American Conference."