Aug. 22, 2006
After two seasons at the helm of the University of Iowa volleyball program, Head Coach Cindy Fredrick feels she has laid the foundation for a successful program in one of the toughest conferences in the nation.
Now its time to start building.
"This season, we feel like we are to the point that we can start expecting to see some results," Fredrick said. "Over the past two years we have made good strides. We've played a lot of young players and watched them grow a lot on the court. Now we should see some improvements this season."
The keys to the season will be two things the Hawkeyes lacked last season, depth and health. Iowa battled injuries and illness throughout the entire 2005 campaign.
"Hopefully we are over the injury and illness bugs that plagued us last season," Fredrick said. "That took a lot out of us last year. This year, our players are in better shape and stronger both physically and mentally.
"We should also have greater depth this season than we have had in the past. We have really struggled with depth our first two years. When we arrived, we didn't have much time to recruit that first year, and that put us behind. The coaching staff has been working hard at it since, so we should have a much deeper team this year."
The following is a position-by-position breakdown of the 2006 Hawkeyes.
Last year saw a lot of newcomers playing in the middle, and those student-athletes gained a lot of experience that should help the team tremendously this season.
Senior captain Melanie Meister is the Hawkeyes' top returning player in the middle. The West Des Moines native was Iowa's top blocker last season after transferring from Cal-State Fullerton, recording 109 total blocks (23 solo) and averaging 0.91 per game. She had a .199 attack percentage and was third on the team with 241 kills (2.01 per game).
"Mel had a great spring and made a lot of improvements and adjustments to her game," Fredrick said. "She is a good, strong, level-headed competitor, and her steady presence on the court is an advantage for us with all our young players.
"Her greatest strength is her block, and she made a nice improvement in her hitting during the spring."
Sophomore Laura Kremer also returns to the middle for the Hawkeyes, after coming on strong at the end of last season. The LaMotte, IA, native saw action in 56 games last year and averaged 1.20 kills per game.
"Kremer plays with a lot of emotion and is really fun to watch play," Fredrick said. "She is very excitable, and that rubs off on the other players on the court.
"She has worked hard to adjust her game to the demands of the college level, and she has showed great improvement."
Coach Fredrick has dipped into her past for transfer Jen Barcus, who Fredrick recruited and coached for a year at Washington State. Barcus should be a force in the middle for Iowa. Last year with the Cougars she led the team with 3.05 kills per game and 1.36 blocks per game. The three-year starter also is seventh on Washington State's all-time blocks list with 379.
"We recruited Jen and she redshirted during our final year at Washington State," Fredrick said. "It was fun to follow her progress and watch her develop into the team's best blocker and hitter. She is probably the most natural blocker I have ever seen, and adding a fifth-year senior to the team will really be a bonus. She will bring experience that our team needs."
Also pushing for playing time will be freshmen Allison Smith and Becky Walters. Smith is a Presidential Scholar from Iowa City that can play all three front row positions, while the 6-3 Walters will be Iowa's tallest player.
"We are excited about Allison and Becky," Fredrick said. "Allison has a good block and can hit a lot of different sets. Her versatility will really add depth to our attack.
"At 6-3 with long arms, Becky will have a great advantage when she gets some experience at this level. She brings physical tools that we haven't seen at Iowa in a long time, and be an impressive force at the net for the Hawkeyes."
The main focus of the Hawkeye attack will once again be sophomore Catherine Smale. In her first year of collegiate competition, the St. Charles, IL, native led the team and set an Iowa freshman record with 441 kills (3.61 per game) and was named to the Big Ten All-Freshman team.
"Last year, Catherine learned a lot of shots and used them all," Fredrick said. "She has one of the best line shots I have ever seen, and she was our best weapon last year. Catherine is a great competitor, yet very unassuming and never cocky. She has worked to become more vocal on the court during the spring, and is getting more comfortable. Combine that with her steady play, and we expect great things from her."
Iowa should have the services of a pair that were stopped by injuries and illness last year in Tiana Costanzo and Laura Gustin. Both missed significant time last season, but are expected to be back on the court this season.
Costanzo played in 82 games last year, averaging 2.48 kills per game and 2.93 digs per game.
"We are very excited to have Tiana back this year," Fredrick said. "She is very deceiving because of her size, but she is an outstanding player. She uses the block well, has a variety of shots and is a smart hitter. She also plays great defense and has a nice pass."
Gustin missed most of last year with back problems, but did see action in 20 games. She was a highly decorated prep athlete, and the coaching staff is looking forward to seeing what a healthy Gustin can do on the court at North Carver.
Freshman Megan Schipper could also see playing time at outside hitter. A fiery competitor, Fredrick will look to her to spark the offense.
"Megan doesn't back down from anyone, which is good for the team," Fredrick said. "She is explosive and hits a hard ball both on the line and cross-court. She also has a good jump serve."
Last year on the right side, Stacy Vitali was a mainstay for the Hawkeye attack, pounding out 394 kills (3.23 per game) with a team-best .273 hitting percentage.
Her status for this season is a bit unclear after offseason shoulder surgery. While she is expected to return to the lineup, the coaching staff may hold her out until the start of the Big Ten season.
"We would love to have Stacy back, because she was critical for us last year," Fredrick said. "She has the best vertical on the team and the highest reach. When she is healthy, she makes a huge difference on the court for us."
Freshman Alicia Johnson should make an immediate impact for the Hawkeyes on the right side. She is one of the most decorated players to commit to the University of Iowa, and is the only athlete to win the Gatorade Iowa Player of the Year award twice.
Felicia Booth should provide depth for the Iowa attack. The Reno, NV, native made major strides since her rookie season and will look to contribute this season.
Puck moved from middle blocker to the right side during the spring and had a breakout campaign after overcoming a knee problem.
Booth also moved to right side hitter during spring practice, but is capable of playing in the middle as well. She puts up a good block and has a good serve, and should provide quality depth for Iowa.
The Hawkeyes return their primary setter in sophomore Kiley Fister, who enjoyed a very successful rookie season last year. Fister put up a freshman record 1,262 assists (10.34 per game), which is already good for sixth on the all-time list at Iowa.
"Kiley is really fun to watch play - she's a crowd favorite," Fredrick said. "She has one of the best serves on the team and is very consistent. She really puts a lot of heat on the ball, and is always being aggressive. Kiley brings a winning attitude to the court."
Backing her up will be freshman Christina Meister - the younger sister of senior Melanie Meister. She is a solid setter and will work as a defensive specialist when not in the lineup dishing out assists.
"You really have to have two setters in this league, and we feel we have two good ones," Fredrick said. "Christina is very competitive and a very good setter, so she should push Kiley and provide the internal competition that you need. She's just what we need."
Like setter, the Hawkeyes return a young libero coming off a successful first season in Emily Hiza. Hiza set a Hawkeye freshman record with 472 digs (3.87 per game) and had 20+ in five games.
Hiza was also a great weapon from the serving line, where she led the team with 35 aces.
"You won't find a more competitive and intense person than Emily Hiza," Fredrick said. "She brings a great work ethic to the floor as our floor general. She really encourages and pushes her teammates when they are on the court."