The Valparaiso University volleyball team will have a new look as the 2002 season unfolds. Carin Zielinski-Avery has taken over as the program's new head coach after serving as an assistant for the past two seasons.
Zielinski-Avery will have ten players returning from last season's squad which finished in second place in the Mid-Continent Conference with a 10-2 record, one game behind champion Oral Roberts. The Brown and Gold met the Golden Eagles in the Mid-Con Tournament championship match, where the Crusaders fell just short in their bid for an NCAA Tournament berth.
Valpo finished 2001 with a 12-17 overall mark, struggling during the non-conference portion of their schedule, but will look to move over .500 this season during the 29-match regular season schedule. The Crusaders roster consists of one senior, six juniors, three sophomores, and five newcomers.
Jen Baird is Valparaiso's lone true senior entering the 2002 season. She missed most of last year while recovering from ACL surgery, appearing in just five games. A co-captain this season, Baird will be looked upon for leadership as the Crusaders look to make a run at the Mid-Continent Conference championship.
Zielinski-Avery would like to see Baird return to the form she showed toward the end of her sophomore season before her injury. She showed signs of becoming a consistent, dominant outside hitter, and when healthy increases the Crusaders depth at the position.
With just one true senior on the roster, Valpo's core of juniors will be asked to step up and assist with leading the team. The Crusaders junior class consists of a returning all-conference selection and a conference all-tournament team selection, along with several others that helped lead the Brown and Gold into second place in the conference standings.
Elissa Malthaner is a senior academically, but has two seasons of eligibility left in her volleyball career. She joined the Crusaders last season after transferring from Michigan State and made an immediate impact in the Valpo line-up.
In her first season with the Brown and Gold, Malthaner tallied 1.97 kills per game and finished third on the team with 51 blocks on the season. The lefty showed what she is capable of last season with four double-figure kill matches, including 15 against Purdue.
Cyndi Norman returns to quarterback the Crusader offense for a third straight season. The First Team All Mid-Continent Conference setter saw action in all 101 games for the Brown and Gold.
She led the Mid-Con with 1,141 assists (11.41 per game), while also ranking among the top ten in digs (2.54 per game). Norman set a career high with 60 assists against James Madison one year ago, and has moved into fourth place on Valpo's career assist charts with 2,243 during her first two seasons.
Marion Hansen will be back for her third season with Valpo after being named to the Mid-Continent Conference All-Tournament Team last year. The outside hitter finished third in the Mid-Con last season with 3.03 kills per game, while ranking second in digs with 3.68 per game. Her 0.42 service aces per game also ranked her second in the conference.
Valpo returns the Mid-Con's leading blocker for the 2002 season as well. Heather Hynds tallied 117 blocks last season (1.19 per game). The 6'2" middle blocker also has slammed down nearly 500 kills over her first two seasons with the Brown and Gold, finishing eighth in the Mid-Con with a .232 hitting percentage in 2001.
Michelle Robinson also returns on the outside for Valparaiso. Zielinski-Avery has seen a great deal of improvement from Robinson during the off-season and looks for more production from her this seaon. As a sophomore, she saw her numbers improve from her rookie campaign and tallied 2.14 digs per game.
Sarah Schmalz is the sixth junior on the roster this season. She, like Robinson, has shown lots of improvement since the season ended. Schmalz showed signs of her potential in the regular season finale in 2001 where she tallied a career high ten kills while hitting .563 at Chicago State.
Three sophomores return for Zielinski-Avery after having one year's experience under their belt. All three are instrumental parts of the Crusaders defense.
Sara Silcox and Lindsey Moore are both outside hitters who will see time in the new libero position for the Brown and Gold. Silcox was tied for fourth in the Mid-Continent Conference with 0.39 service aces per game (39 total) and averaged 2.45 digs per game. She managed 11 double-figure dig matches in her inaugural year of collegiate volleyball.
Moore appeared in just 13 matches for Valpo in 2001 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury. She tallied a season high 16 kills before her season ended, and Zielinski-Avery will hope for her to be able to return her form prior to the injury.
Kelly Linebrink is the Crusaders final returnee. A defensive specialist, she adds depth to the roster in the backcourt. She saw action in six matches as a rookie.
Five additions make up Valparaiso's 2002 recruiting class. Katie Bova is a setter that was an All-State selection in Wisconsin. She led her team to the state championship during her senior season, and will look to learn the offense at the collegiate level for the Crusaders.
Tiia Kallio arrives at Valpo from Kangasala, Finland. A defensive specialist, she was enrolled at the university last year, but did not play volleyball for the Crusaders. In high school, her teams finished first and second in the championship tournament.
Liz Mikos is a middle blocker that should help the Crusaders in the front court. Mikos led Jacobs High School in blocks for three straight seasons and was an All-Conference selection in the Fox Valley Conference.
Lauren Moulton plays the right side, and was a three-time All-Conference performer. She led her team to a 32-5 record and a regional championship. Her club team, Sky High, finished 14th at the national championships.
Jessi Novak is the fifth freshman on this year's squad. An outside hitter, Novak was a two-time All-Wisconsin Valley Conference selection along with being named to the All-State Fourth Team in Wisconsin.
This season will mark the first season the NCAA has permitted the use of the libero. The libero is a designated back-row player that is allowed to replace any player in the back row without counting as a substitution. The libero may not serve, block or attempt to block, or attack any ball above the height of the net.
The Crusaders will face a challenging, but balanced non-conference schedule in preparation for Mid-Continent Conference play and a run a the Mid-Con championship.
Valpo will travel to two tournaments and host a third before conference play opens on September 28 against IUPUI. The Crusaders will open their season on September 6 and 7 at the Marquette Challenge where they will face the host Golden Eagles along with Austin Peay and Lehigh. The Brown and Gold's home-opener will take place on September 10 when the Notre Dame Fighting Irish invade the Athletics-Recreation Center.
The Crusaders will also travel to the Georgetown Classic in Washington D.C. before hosting the Valparaiso Classic on September 20 and 21. Northeastern, Jacksonville, and Fairfield will serve as competitors in the Crusaders tournament.
Valparaiso will conclude its regular season on November 16 at Western Illinois before looking to contend at the Mid-Continent Conference Tournament November 22 and 23 in Tulsa, Okla.
With a new coach, a core of returning players, and a host of newcomers, 2002 should prove to be an exciting season for Valparaiso University volleyball. With the right blend of chemistry, talent, and coaching, the Crusaders will look to hoist the Mid-Continent Conference crown during the end of November.