Below is release three in a 10-part series highlighting the 2003 Oklahoma volleyball team. Today's feature details the highly touted freshmen class. Check back on Thursday as SoonerSports.com begins to preview the upcoming season.
When the recruiting rankings from Student Sports Magazines came out in December the Oklahoma coaching staff was excited about a number of things.
First, the No. 4 Big 12 ranking and No. 22 national ranking are the highest in Oklahoma history. Second, and perhaps most important, OU was not done recruiting.
The class that was good enough to finish fourth among Big 12 schools based on the early signings of Laura Tomes (Sioux City, Iowa), Joanna Schmitt (Deerfield, Wis.) and Anna Monsen (Stoughton, Wis.). OU head coach Kalani Mahi added three more rookies to the freshman class when Rachel Jackson (Arlington, Texas), Kelli Albers (Cheney, Kan.) and Connie Davis (Tulsa, Okla.) jumped on board during the spring.
Tomes is the biggest high school recruit during Mahi's tenure, both in stature and ability. The Iowa native stands six feet, two inches tall and has a vertical to match her imposing stature. Stories of her routinely dunking a volleyball circulated all the way down from Sioux City to OU's Norman campus.
"How did you find out about that," said the gun-shy freshman when recently queried about the feat. "It's no big deal, I've done it numerous times."
Tomes, her impressive stature and leaping ability should anchor the Sooner defense at middle hitter.
"Laura has a lot of club and high school experience," said Mahi. "We are hopeful she can make a smooth transition and possibly start when the season begins."
Setting up Tomes will be a duo of freshman setters. Monsen received numerous All-State selections in volleyball and track and field during her prep career. She is the first athlete in Wisconsin state history to win the 100-meter dash during all four years of high school. She also won two 200-meter dash state titles. Monsen's primary duty during 2003 will be absorbing the intricacies of the offense from senior setter Kelly McCarter.
"We have the challenge of trying to get her on the court," said Mahi. "Since she is one of our best athletes, we may use her in other positions beside setting, perhaps the back row."
Jackson is a walk-on from Arlington, Texas who turned down opportunities at other universities to be a Sooner.
"Rachel's gym rat," said Mahi. "She has surprised us with her level of court savvy. Anna, Kelly and Rachel are going to push each other every day in practice, which will be great for this team."
Fellow Wisconsin native Joanna Schmitt made her presence known on the first day of training camp when she pounded her way through hitting drills. Schmitt may have the most dynamic arm on the squad and was one of the best jumpers during individual testing. She will challenge, along with sophomores Sheena Werling and Daphne Leach, for the third position on the outside.
Albers joins the Oklahoma volleyball program from Cheney, Kansas. She signed, along with junior transfer Keri Coats, during the late signing period and will add size and depth to the outside.
Davis was an Oklahoma high school star at Cascia Preparatory Hall (Tulsa) in 2001. She was an All-State athlete, who claimed MVP honors during the state tournament. She attended OU last season but did not pick up a volleyball before deciding she wanted to get back into the game this spring. The staff welcomed her with open arms and is excited about the powerful left-handed attacker.