Volleyball seeks fresh start

Woolridge returns from injury, new additions buoy roster depth

The Virginia volleyball team’s first season under coach Dennis Hohenshelt last year was not an easy one. With effectively only 12 players available for much of the season — severely limiting depth at most positions — the team stumbled to a 9-22 record and a dismal 3-17 in the ACC. But the return of an injured veteran and the arrival of seven new players should allow the team to erase the bad memories of 2012 and become serious contenders in the conference.

“I hope [this season] is a lot different than last year,” Hohenshelt said. “One thing we have is some depth to play around. It’s not like if someone has an off night there’s no one to go to.”

After redshirting for the 2012 season with a shoulder injury, junior middle Mallory Woolridge is ready to return to action on the court. She was a key contributor before her injury, starting 28 matches in 2011 and recording 166 kills and 81 blocks.

Since being cleared to practice again this spring, the six-foot-three junior has worked hard to get back in playing shape and is poised to be a physical presence at the net. Woolridge and senior libero Emily Rottman are the only Cavaliers entering their fourth season on the team and will serve as the team’s captains.

“It’s great being in a leadership position,” Rottman said. “With so many first years, it’s important that Mallory and I are always communicating with them and making sure they know what they’re doing and being there for them. It’s crazy that it’s my last year, but hopefully it’s a good one.”

New additions to the team come in the form of six freshmen, as well as sophomore transfer Lauren Fuller, a setter from the University of Arizona.

Freshman outside hitters Haley Kole, Alex Thorson and Jasmine Burton, defensive specialists Karlie Suber and Lexi Riccolo and setter Meghan McDowell make up the No. 12 recruiting class in the nation and have shown promise both this summer and in the Orange and Blue Scrimmage that took place Aug. 24. McDowell and Kole were ranked among the top-50 Senior Aces according to PrepVolleyball.com, while Burton and Thorson rated in the top 150.

Fuller is the twin sister of current Virginia sophomore outside hitter Manon Greskovics-Fuller and brings high-level experience to the program, as well as desperately-needed depth at the setter position alongside McDowell.

“They’re a talented group for sure,” Hohenshelt said of the recruits. “They had an immediate impact in the gym. They still play like freshmen sometimes, so we have to have some patience with them. But their upside to me is very high and they’re six kids — seven kids with Lauren — that make us better, so that’s the most important thing.”

The team appears poised to remain strong for years to come, as Rottman is the only senior on the roster and 12 of the team’s 18 players are either freshmen or sophomores. Among the squad’s returning players are sophomore outside hitters Kayla Sears, Vivian Burcescu and Natalie Bausback, who each started at least 18 matches as freshmen in 2012 and contributed greatly up front. Bausback in particular had a stellar inaugural campaign, finishing first in both kills and aces on the team, as well as third in digs en route to being named to the ACC All-Freshman team.

Saturday’s Orange and Blue Scrimmage allowed coaches, players and fans to observe how the team plays together in a situation similar to an actual game. By shifting players around, the coaches tried to get a feel for what combinations would and would not work.

“I think we learned that we have the capability to play really fast,” Rottman said. “We have a lot of dynamic players and with that we can do a lot. We can be a very fast team and we just need to keep working at that. I think we’ll be able to win a lot of games.”

The regular season kicks off this weekend as Virginia hosts the Jefferson Cup at Memorial Gymnasium. The Cavaliers take the court first against Marshall at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by a pair of matches against James Madison and Montana Saturday.

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