Volleyball set for season-opening tournament at UTEP
Aug. 24, 2011
ARLINGTON, Tex. - When UT Arlington opens its season Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. against Southern in El Paso, it will mark the beginning of careers for approximately half the team and the beginning of the final chapter of storied careers for the five seniors.
The seniors will provide weekly notes during their pursuits of career milestones. Of note, Alicia Shaffer has a chance to break the career UTA record for digs. Emily Shearin could reach 400 career blocks and Amanda Aguilera is on pace to become the 12th player in school history to reach the 1,000-kill, 1,000-dig mark. Tara Frantz needs a career year to reach 1,000 kills, but that mark is not out of reach.
Mavericks coach Diane Seymour has an idea what she will get from those players week-in and week-out because they have all started for at least two years. All four have also earned All-Southland Conference honors at some time during their careers.
The other two returners, Eld-hah Kaswatuka and Charae Grosser have stood out to Seymour throughout camp and did so again Sunday during the annual Blue-White scrimmage. That, Seymour said, is a promising sign for the season.
"The passing was very great for us and that's really key for us because that starts everything you have offensively," Seymour said. "We passed the ball very well. Tara and Amanda had very strong showings on the outside. Eld-hah and Charae, again, are the biggest highlights of the preseason in general. What they're doing both in blocking and as offensive weapons is a huge sign of something that's going to be very good for us. I don't think we're going to miss a beat from last year."
For Kaswatuka, this year is about making the most of her last season at UT Arlington. She started 10 matches last season at outside hitter, but lost her starting role a third of the way into the season.
Now she is fired up to piece together a complete season.
"I just have to remember to always work hard and push myself," Kaswatuka said. "Sometimes as an athlete you tend to forget that and it's one of the most important things that we have to do is to work hard and have confidence in ourselves. I have that confidence now and I want to just continue to play hard each day."
While the veterans are largely known commodities, the Mavericks will break in several newcomers during the first weekend.
Most notably, Amanda Welsh will open her career as the starting setter. She will at least do so in a familiar setting, having grown up in El Paso before moving to Austin before her junior season in high school.
"I am actually really excited because I am from El Paso originally," Welsh said. "So just to see family and friends is exciting and also getting the opportunity to play against friends. That's going to be really fun for me."
Welsh is confident because she has quickly overcome growing pains.
"The speed is definitely very fast compared to high school," Welsh said. "My first three days of two-a-days were miserable. They were horrible. Because I'm starting, they were pushing me and getting me ready for this tournament to be ready to start playing. Over the last three weeks I have been able to transition into that. I think I've gotten a lot better."
For the record, Kaswatuka agreed that Welsh has come a long way and is "doing awesome" in preseason workouts.
Seymour has shown no hesitation in turning over the reins of her offense to the true freshman.
"We see it as Welsh's show and I think she's adapting to that," Seymour said. "She's doing a very good job. Chelsea Rekieta, our backup setter, is doing an extremely good job as well."
Several other fresh faces should see playing time this weekend, though mostly on the defensive end. Amy Davault is expected to spell Frantz at least part-time on the back row.
"The other question is who is going to play in the back row at right side," Seymour said. "Is it going to be Megan Casey? Is it going to be Valerie Stetzer? She's a real go-getter. And can Caroline Namazi help us out with some of those roles? All those defensive specialists are doing a really good job. I think you might be surprised with how much they get on the court."
UT Arlington leaves for El Paso on Thursday morning before opening Friday afternoon against Southern. The Mavericks will also face Portland State at 11 a.m., CST on Saturday and UTEP at 6:30 p.m.