Fueled by a core group of seniors that are healthy and determined, the Akron volleyball team is back with a vengeance in 2012.
After an injury-plagued season steered them off course in 2011, the Zips and fifth-year head coach Ron Arenz have all the pieces in place to right the ship this year. Losing just one senior and adding four newcomers, the roster boasts just the right amount of veteran leadership and fresh talent to restore order and return UA to its winning ways on the volleyball court.
"Early on this year, especially in our non-conference matches, it will be important for us to get the preseason jitters out of the way early," Arenz said. "We have an excited group that has been eager to get going for a long time now. We also have a lot of flexibility because we have players that can play multiple positions, so we have to solidify a group that will work with our system."
Arenz has some key points to rely on within his system, as the Zips will count on their strength from the inside, out. Redshirt senior and All-MAC selection Tina Dimitrijevs will hold court in the middle this year, after suffering a shortened season due to injury in 2011.
Dimitrijevs' return is an essential part of the Zips blocking efforts and counter-attack offense. She is joined at the net by fellow senior Paiton Twitty and freshman Kelsey Wilson. "Paiton had a really good spring doing things consistently that came naturally," said Arenz. "Together with Tina and Kelsey, our middles are stronger than ever, and I feel very confident that they will be a solid position within our lineup."
Leading the charge from the outside will be junior Alex Cocklin. Classmate Alex Wiederholt, together with senior Chelsea Harvey who will return to the outside this season, will also compete for time, as well as Janine Lawler and newcomer Tori Lanzillotti. Although there is just one new face in the mix, Arenz commented on the versatility of the different types of outside hitters.
"Chelsea has been an integral part of our program for the last three years. While she filled in for us at libero last year, she will have the opportunity to swing on the outside right away. With a year under her belt, we will rely on Janine for her serve and familiarity with our attack. Overall, we have a nice blend of experience and new talent on the outside that has the potential to take our offense to the next level," he said.
Zips setter Morgan Kuhn is back for her senior season after jumping up to seventh all-time in the Akron record books with 2,047 career assists.
"This is Morgan's time to shine," Arenz said. "She has the skills and the experience now to set up our offense and lead our team to wins in the conference."
Learning from the leader will be Ashley Holder, a highly decorated freshman setter from Chicago, Ill. Arenz noted her ability to command the court, referring to her as part of a group of four newcomers that are "cool competitors who will challenge our returners and make the team better."
Shifting into the libero role last season, junior Jill Paluch will return to head up the defense, which is expected to be another strong weapon in the UA arsenal. She finished three digs shy of leading the team last year with 317. Junior newcomer Kristen Warner will also play a part in the Zips' back line. "She is a big-time libero, a big-time defensive player," Arenz said of Paluch, "and Kristen has proven to be a relentless player as well. I am extremely confident in our defense and ball control heading into this season."
Arenz will have the opportunity to try several different looks out with his team during the early weeks of the season. Akron is set to open the season this Friday, August 24, at the South Carolina Gamecock Invitational, where it will face UNC Asheville, East Tennessee State, Temple and host South Carolina over the course of the two-day tournament.
The Zips will then come home to play host to two tournaments of their own on back-to-back weekends in September. Southeastern Louisiana, Quinnipiac and Montana State will visit James A. Rhodes Arena for the Akron Invitational, Aug. 31-Sept. 1, and SIU Edwardsville, Binghamton and Youngstown State will travel to Akron Sept. 7-8 for the Zips Invitational.
UA will hit the road one more time for the Bryant Invitational, Sept. 14-15, before diving into Mid-American Conference play. The East Division will have some new faces on the sidelines this year, as Bowling Green and Kent State have new head coaches in Danijela Tomic and Don Gromala, respectively. Arenz says these personnel moves will only make the conference stronger, and push his own squad to become better competitors both in and away from the conference.
Tickets are now on sale for all of UA's fall sports, and can be purchased online at any time at ZipsTickets.com or from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET on Mondays through Fridays by either calling 888-99-AKRON (25766) or visiting The C.P. and Cornelia S. Chima Athletics Ticket Office at InfoCision Stadium – Summa Field (located at 375 E. Exchange Street, near Gate 1 at the southwest corner of the venue, at the corner of E. Exchange and S. Union streets).
General admission for volleyball matches is $6. UA students with valid ID will be admitted free of charge.