HARRISONBURG, Va., Aug. 23, 2012 – Coming off a season that saw them reach the Colonial Athletic Association semifinals for the second consecutive year, the James Madison volleyball team opens up its 2012 campaign with trio of challenging games in the JMU Classic. The two-day, five-game tournament will be held this weekend in Sinclair Gymnasium/Godwin Hall and features No. 16 Minnesota, Appalachian State and Seton Hall.
The Dukes open the tournament on Friday night at 7 p.m., hosting ASU. On Saturday, Madison faces Minnesota at 12:30 p.m. and SHU at 7:30 p.m.
The remaining two games of the tournament feature the Mountaineers vs. the Pirates at 10 a.m. on Saturday and the Mountaineers against the Golden Gophers at 5 p.m. on Saturday.
JMU was picked to finish third in the Colonial Athletic Association in 2012 after returning five starters and its libero from last season’s 20-win squad. Leading the way was First Team All-CAA and VaSID State Player of the Year selection redshirt senior outside hitter Natalie Abel (Washington, Pa./Trinity). Abel led the team in kills a year ago with 350 while starting in all 31 matches. She was second on the team in digs with 376 while adding 37 assists, 36 blocks and 27 aces.
Also returning for Madison is senior outside hitter Danielle Erb (Tampa, Fla./Plant). Erb is a three-time All-CAA selection, including Third Team honors in 2011. She appeared in 29 matches, starting 24 and collected 265 kills, 276 digs, 40 blocks, 31 aces and 28 assists. Redshirt sophomore setter Kristi Richardson (Glen Allen, Va./Hermitage) was a CAA All-Rookie team honoree and led the team with 638 assists while adding 104 kills, 80 digs and 68 blocks.
Other returning starters for the Dukes include senior setter Megan Wiechmann (Sunland, Calif./Village Christian), junior middle blocker Kelly Maguire (Long Valley, N.J./West Morris Central), junior libero Katie Daorai (Tampa, Fla./Plant) and sophomore middle blocker Lizzy Briones (Siloam Springs, Ark./Siloam Springs). Maguire paced the squad with a team-best 118 blocks while Daorai was tops in digs with 435. Wiechmann collected 599 assists and 201 digs while Briones had a .275 attack percentage and added 97 blocks.
Both Wiechmann and Erb come into the weekend within striking distance of career milestones. Erb needs just 31 kills to become the 10th player in school history to reach 1,000 career kills while Wiechmann is eight assists shy of 2,000 for her career. Wiechmann will be the seventh JMU player to hit that benchmark.
The Dukes are 1-1 in their season openers under Head Coach Lauren Steinbrecher. In 2010 they defeated Stetson 3-0 to open the season and last year dropped a 3-2 decision at Green Bay. All-time the team is 18-20 in season openers and 14-12 since moving to Division I in 1986.
SCOUTING THE OPPONENTS
The Mountaineers are coming off a 21-11 season in 2011, including a 12-4 mark in the Southern Conference. They reached the Southern Conference semifinals a year ago, but return just one starter and their libero.
Middle blocker Jessica Eley and libero Courtney Rhein are the only returning starters from last year’s squad. Also returning from last year’s rotation is outside hitter Meghann Forshey who is the top returner in kills per set (2.01) and attack percentage (.250). Eley averaged 0.64 blocks per set and Rhein led the team in digs (599) and digs per set (4.95) last season.
Head coach Matt Ginipro enters his sixth season as the head coach of the Mountaineers. He owns a 79-79 career record.
The Golden Gophers come into the season ranked No. 16 in the AVCA Coaches Poll. They went 20-12 overall and 11-9 within Big Ten play. The closed the season winning five of its final seven matches to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.
Minnesota returns a pair of All-Americans in 2012, including a Second Team honoree in outside hitter Ashley Wittman. She averaged a team-best 4.51 kills per set. Middle Blocker Tori Dixon was an All-America Honorable Mention and All-Big Ten selection after averaging 2.81 kills per set and 0.87 blocks per set. The team must replace libero and 2010 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in Jessica Granquist.
Hugh McCutcheon is in his first season as head coach of Minnesota after taking over for legendary coach Mike Herbert. McCutcheon just completed a stint as head coach of the U.S. National Team where he coached the team to a silver medal at the 2012 Olympic Games in London.
The Pirates went 17-13 overall and 8-6 in the Big East to reach the conference tournament for the third straight season.
SHU returns four starters and its libero from last season’s squad, but must find a way to replace outside hitter Meghan Matusiak who led the team in kills with 413. Returning to the starting lineup are sisters Stacey and Shelbey Manthorpe who each collected over 200 kills in 2011. Stacey was second on the team in kills with 2.60 per set while Shelbey averaged 1.96 kills per set and 8.58 assists per set.
Allison Yaeger enters her first season as the head coach of the Pirates after spending the last five seasons as an assistant coach for previous coach Kris Zeiter.
JMU has played 13 matches all-time against this weekend’s opponents. The Dukes are 6-7 in those matches, including a 4-2 mark against Seton Hall dating all the way back to 1980. The teams last faced each other in 2000 in Harrisonburg with Madison claiming a 3-0 victory. JMU is just 2-5 all-time against Appalachian State with losses in three straight and five of the last six. Last season, Appalachian State won a 3-2 decision over the Dukes at Sinclair Gymnasium in the final game of the JMU Coca-Cola Classic.
This weekend’s meeting will be the first in the series history between JMU and Minnesota.
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