NORMAN, Okla. - Coming off a fourth straight NCAA appearance, the sixth in seven seasons, and a third straight 20-plus win season, the fourth in seven seasons, the University of Oklahoma volleyball team is aiming to take the next step in the 2013 season. Since the arrival of Head Coach Santiago Restrepo in 2004, Sooner volleyball has been a program on the rise. The program has reached the NCAA Third Round twice (2006, 2010) and finished as high as second in the Big 12 standings.
The 2013 campaign gets underway next Friday at the Holiday Inn West Invitational, hosted by Western Michigan in Kalamazoo, Mich. OU opens with UW-Milwaukee at 4:00 pm, followed by a 9:00 am match on Saturday against Northwestern before meeting the host Broncos at 6:00 pm. The first home match of the season at McCasland Field House will take place on Tuesday, September 3 against Arkansas at 7:00 pm.
Behind a veteran senior class, led by team captain Sallie McLaurin (Midwest City, Okla.), Oklahoma has aspirations of competing for a Big 12 Championship and extending its season further into the NCAA Tournament. However, that will have to come as the Sooners attempt to replace a pair of constants in the lineup from the last four seasons. Maria Fernanda, a four-year starter at libero, and Morgan Reynolds both graduated and leave the team in the capable hands of McLaurin and her senior classmates Mindy Gowen (Edmond, Okla.), Keila Rodriguez (Gurabo, Puerto Rico) and Eden Williams (Amarillo, Texas).
A 6-foot-2 middle blocker, McLaurin was named a unanimous Preseason Big 12 First Team selection in August. She earned AVCA All-American Third Team, AVCA All-Central Region First Team and All-Big 12 First Team honors at the conclusion of the 2012 season. The Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011, McLaurin was third in the league last season with 1.37 blocks per set and a .357 hitting percentage, while ranking ninth in kills per set at 2.83. She enters the season with 913 career kills, ranking fourth most among active players in the conference.
“Sallie will be a force to be reckoned with this year,” stated Restrepo. “She can expect a solid double block on nearly every attempt. Offensively, we will look to establish our offense to run through Sallie and our other middle hitters, which will help our outside hitters against a single block. We know that we can rely on her day-in-and-day-out to be a great role model and captain.”
On the pins, OU’s offense will feature a good mix of veteran outside hitters and newcomers. The 5-foot-9 Rodriguez is the senior member of the group. She netted 164 kills a year ago to a 1.56 per set average. Rodriguez was also second on the team with 311 digs, averaging 2.96 per set. Kierra Holst (Coppell, Texas), a 6-foot-4 sophomore, returns after an All-Big 12 Freshman Team performance in 2012. She competed for the United States Women’s Junior National Team at the FIVB World Championship in the Czech Republic in June. Holst hit .228 as a rookie and averaged 1.91 kills and 0.66 blocks per set. After a stellar freshman campaign in 2011, Tara Dunn (Poth, Texas) looks to rebound in 2013. The 6-foot-2 junior was a Preseason All-Big 12 selection a year ago and finished the season with 245 kills, good for third on the team at 2.72 per set.
A large crop of veteran and newcomer defensive specialists will look to fill the void left by four-year starter Maria Fernanda, who racked up an Oklahoma record 2,204 career digs and holds each of the top four spots in the single season record book.
“With Maria gone, we don’t anticipate to lose a beat,” stated Restrepo. “We have a more than capable group of defensive specialists who can provide quality passing and defense.”
Williams and Gowen have both gained a lot of experience on the backline, but it is the 5-foot-3 Williams that is expected to step into the libero role. She appeared in all 33 matches as a junior and totaled 205 digs for a 1.77 per set average. Gowen, a 5-foot-3 defensive specialist, took the floor in 29 matches and posted 109 digs for a 1.33 average.
Julia Doyle (Plymouth, Minn.) returns to run the Oklahoma offense at setter after earning All-Big 12 Freshman Team honors in 2012. The 6-foot-2 sophomore dished out 1,104 assists for a 9.52 average as a rookie. Doyle hit .340 at the net and averaged 2.11 digs and 0.47 blocks per set.