Aug. 11, 1997
Volleyball Looks to Remain Among the Nation's Elite
Optimism can be a tricky element in the world of collegiate sports. Teams who show too much optimism often can end up being labeled as cocky and arrogant. And teams who don't show optimism at the needed times usually are considered to be mentally weak squads that fold in the face of adversity.
Coaches, in particular, tend to shy away from overt optimism because they have so much to lose. Such is not the case for Debbie Brown, who is entering her seventh year in 1997 as the head coach for a Notre Dame team that she helped transform into a top-10 caliber program.
"I have a lot of confidence in what this team can do, confidence about the players getting in there and getting things done," said Brown, whose 1996 team garnered a preseason #9 ranking in the AVCA poll before losing three starters to injury for major parts of the season. "I'm more optimistic this season than I ever have been."
Brown's optimism stems from the fact that the Irish return five starters--all of whom were national Fab-50 players as preps--while welcoming an incoming class considered to be one of the best in the nation. Beyond the personnel, Brown pinpoints several more intangible factors as the key elements for a successful '97.
"The most important factor will be how solid the senior leadership is on our team," said Brown, whose senior class includes hitters Jaimie Lee and Angie Harris, setter Carey May and middle blocker Molly McCarthy. "Our seniors took it upon themselves last spring to take charge of things, by instilling in the younger players a sense of what it takes to be one of the top teams in the nation. Leadership like that provides a great foundation for your program."
Brown also views reacting to adversity as a key factor to any team's success, but particularly to that of the '97 Irish. "We are always in a constant process of evaluation and part of what we evaluate is how we handle different situations and setbacks," she said. "It will very important how we respond and come back from setbacks this season. How we approach these situations will be vital when the postseason rolls around."
Lee headlines the returnees after a stellar 1996 season and a summer of training with the U.S. World University Games team, which competed in Sicily, Italy in late August. Harris and May, like Lee, started as sophomores and juniors but both players are looking to bounce back from injury-plagued '96 seasons. Sophomore Mary Leffers, 6-4, and 5-11 junior Lindsay Treadwell are the returning starters in the middle while six reserves also are back from the '96 team that finished 22-12 after falling to Ohio State in a five-game, second-round NCAA Tournament match.
The newcomers include three Fab 50 selections--setter Denise Boylan and versatile frontline players Christi Girton and Jo Jameyson--in addition to promising outside hitter Adrienne Shimmel.
"I am very pleased with the balance of the incoming class--there is great ball control and net play and they all are very enthusiastic people who are serious students ," said Brown. "You can tell they enjoy playing the game and they should fit in very well with our returners."
Also joining the Irish is three-time All-American, two-time Olympian and two-time NCAA champion Elaina Oden, who will serve as an assistant coach in her first foray into the college coaching ranks.
"Elaina is very enthusiastic about giving back to the game of volleyball, and her experience and insight will be very valuable," said Brown, who has U.S. national team ties of her own as a member of the 1980 Olympic team.
The Irish bid farewell to a class that posted a four-year record of 109-31 while extending the program's run of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances to five. The biggest void will be on the right side, a position occupied by '97 graduate Jenny Birkner during every match over the past four seasons. Birkner's departure has created an open competition on the right side on a team where every position will be well contested.
"There is going to be competition at every position," said Brown. "Even on the left side, Angie is coming back from surgery and Jaimie will be gone at the World University Games the first few weeks. It's going to be a very healthy situation, because the more competition you have the better people are going to be."
Brown feels that the '97 team could most be known for its balance and depth. "We obviously will be looking for consistency from Angie and Jaimie, and Mary needs to sustain things at the net as well," said Brown. "The toughest teams to play are those that have a balanced attack because it tends to freeze the opposing middle blocker and you end up getting a lot more one-on-one swings.
"I also think we have a team that you can do a lot with, in terms of strategy and making some good substitutions to take advantage of the strengths of different players. We have good blockers and backrow players who can give us a lift in different ways."
As always, the Irish again face a daunting non-conference schedule, with 12 of those 18 matches against teams that appeared in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. And, once again, the program appears poised to make its next big step: challenging for a national title.
"We have a tough schedule right off the bat. Of course, we want to win right from the beginning. But it is more important to make progress and continually improve," said Brown. " That's what is takes to put yourself in the position you want to be when the postseason rolls around. This will be a fun team to watch and a team that will leave it all out on the court every match."
Here is a look at the Irish, by position:
Notre Dame's experience clearly lies on the left side, where Harris and Lee have established themselves as two of the premier players in Notre Dame volleyball history--and as one of the best hitting duos ever to play for the Irish. Each has piled up big match upon big match during her Notre Dame career. And each is coming off strange personal odysseys during the 1996 season.
Lee, a two-time all-district performer, continues to develop into one of the top all-around performers ever to play for Notre Dame, after opening each of her first three seasons at a different position. The 5-11 All-America and Academic All-America candidate first put her leaping ability on display as a freshman, when she was pressed into playing middle blocker. She then flourished back at her natural outside hitter position in 1995, when she combined with Harris as the only Irish teammates ever to both average over 3.9 kills per game.
Then, as a junior, Lee had to switch positions again as a fill-in setter for the first 14 matches while May was out with her shoulder injury. Nearly two months later she again returned to her hitter position and ended up as a runaway choice for 1996 BIG EAST player of the year, after averaging 3.78 kills per game as a hitter and posting an Irish-record 2-to-1 service ace-to-error ratio.
Even Lee doesn't know exactly what to expect from her senior season, although she would like to end her career in her hometown of Spokane, Wash., site of the 1997 NCAA Championship.
"Jaimie has meant so much to this program and will be an excellent leader for our team. If anyone is deserving of a special senior year, it's Jaimie," said Brown, who had her own run with the U.S. national team program as both a player and assistant coach.
"One of the great things about Jaimie is that she has worked very hard to improve in all phases of her game. She became a very tough server last year and made huge strides in her ball control, defense and passing skills during spring practice."
In addition to rounding out her game through the various positional duties of her first three seasons, Lee should show the benefits of a rigorous 11-week training regimen during the summer of '97 at the U.S. Olympic Training Center. Those many hours of honing fundamentals, developing all-around skills and competing daily with the nation's top players could vault Lee's game to another level.
"Many people who saw Jaimie play towards the end of '96 might have thought she couldn't improve much more, but the combination of her great spring and her experience with the national team program has meant so much to her development," said Brown. "She has the ability to be one of the top players in the country and she has worked hard to put herself in that position."
Like her longtime friend and classmate, Harris had an interesting journey of her own during the '96 season. The 6-0 native of Fort Wayne, Ind., headed into the '96 campaign looking to come back from ACL left knee surgery that repaired an injury suffered in the final match of '95. She appeared in the first five matches of '96 but missed four matches over the next month due to tendonitis in her right knee.
A second condition then developed in her left knee--separate from the ACL tear--and Harris, who had appeared in the first 76 matches of her Notre Dame career, was sidelined for the final 13 matches of '96 due to dislodged cartilage that eventually required arthroscopic left knee surgery. She still had served enough aces to break her own Notre Dame season ace average record (0.67/gm), which would have ranked second in the final NCAA rankings if Harris had played the full season.
Despite the winter surgery, Harris was back in the swing of things five months later, ultimately playing full rotations in spring scrimmages and recovering the jumping ability that had been obscured by tentativenes the previous fall.
"It was great to have Angie back last spring--she did really well and has worked her way back into playing shape," said Brown. "Angie can take over a match like very few other players can and, when you put her and Jaimie on the floor together, there is little rest for the opposing defenses. Angie is just very focused on doing her part to make her senior season a great one and we hope she gets the chance to return to her old form."
Harris again will be looked to for a wide variety of contributions, highlighted by her deadly service game which includes a jump serve that is hard to stop when she is on top of her game. Harris all but owns the ace categories in the Irish record book while her career kill average of 3.88 per game is best in the 18-year history of the Irish volleyball program.
Sophomore Mandi Powell (Monrovia, Ind.) and freshmen Girton (Muncie, Ind.) and Shimmel (Mission Viejo, Calif.) will be in the mix of what should be a very competitive left side. One of those players likely will step into a starting role at the season-opening Shamrock Invitational, while Lee is at the World University Games. And with three '96 NCAA Tournament teams--Louisville, Oral Roberts and Wisconsin--headed for South Bend for that first tournament, the younger leftside players will have plenty of chances to make an early impact.
The 5-11 Powell appeared in 19 matches as a freshman while playing at an outside hitter position that included two seniors and two juniors. But after a solid spring season and continued improvement in the summer, Powell is poised to make a greater impact in '97.
"Mandi improved in every aspect last spring. She has become a much better passer and blocker while also improving on her vertical leap and overall strength," said Brown. "We are very pleased with Mandi's development and she has put herself in a great position to help us this season, particularly when Jaimie will be gone."
Girton, a third team Volleyball magazine All-American, could be featured at other spots in the front row while the 5-10 Shimmel adds excellent passing and defense to the outside hitter position.
"Christi and Adrienne provide great diversity for us on the left side," said Brown. "Christi is a good blocker and can attack a variety of sets while Adrienne is a very enthusiastic presence on the court who is a strong player in the back row. Adding players like that provides the type of balance that you hope for."
Outside Hitters Angie Harris 6-0 Sr. Jaimie Lee 5-11 Sr. Mandi Powell 5-11 So. Christi Girton 6-3 Fr. Adrienne Shimmel 5-10 Fr.
The diversity of Notre Dame's middle blocker unit is no more evident than in the returning starters at the position: 5-11 junior Treadwell (Austin, Texas) and 6-4 sophomore Leffers (Tampa, Fla.).
In addition to being an excellent backrow player and server, Treadwell has made up for a seeming lack in size through her leaping ability, overall athleticism and a knack for coming through in the clutch. She closed her sophomore season by being named MVP of the BIG EAST Tournament and turning in an impressive hitting display against Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament.
"Lindsay has made some very important contributions during her first two seasons but this may be her breakthrough year," said Brown of Treadwell, who hit .378 and averaged 2.97 kills per game during the final nine matches of '96. "She had an excellent spring and has worked herself into great shape during the summer. Lindsay really has improved her ball control, passing and defense--to the point where she can be a primary passer and all-around player for us. She also gives us great flexibility at the net due to her quickness."
The imposing Leffers heads into her second season looking for the consistency that eluded her as a freshman, when she nonetheless totaled the most blocks ever by a Notre Dame freshman (160) and earned a spot on the BIG EAST all-rookie team. Leffers came to play in most of the big matches during '96, a trend that the Irish hope continues during the challenging '97 campaign. Leffers also should show tremendous benefits through working with Oden, a dominant middle blocker in her own right who also excelled in the back row.
"Mary can change the complexion of a match and I think people saw that at times last season," said Brown. "Mary has improved on her backrow play and had a very good spring. We will need Mary to set the tone for us in the middle and she is the type of competitor who will do her best to make that happen."
The ever-improving senior McCarthy (Indianapolis, Ind.) also returns in the middle after making several key contributions in '96 . A former walk-on, the 5-11 McCarthy is one of the many Irish players who are coming off a solid spring and, like her classmates, is focused on the task at hand for her senior year.
"Molly is one of the hardest workers and best team players I've coached and she has made great strides in ability," said Brown. "We have no hesitation using Molly in any situation and she will play an important role for us." Girton, who is 6-3, and her 6-1 classmate Jameyson (Alvin, Texas) also could be used in the middle, with Jameyson's possible strength coming at that position due to her quickness as both a blocker and a hitter. Jameyson, who comes from an athletic family and was the district high jump champion as a prep, is one of several Irish players who will have the opportunity to play near their hometowns during the '97 season, when Notre Dame travels to Houston for an Oct. 22 match.
Another freshman, Katie Ward (Chicago, Ill.), provides even greater depth in the middle after earning a spot as a walk-on. Ward is a strong athlete who will be looking to contribute as her overall game develops.
Middle Blockers Mary Leffers 6-4 So. Lindsay Treadwell 5-11 Jr. Molly McCarthy 5-11 Sr. Christi Girton 6-3 Fr. Jo Jameyson 6-1 Fr. Katie Ward 6-0 Fr.
Possibly the biggest question mark for the '97 Irish comes on the right side, where sophomores Emily Schiebout (Blaine, Minn.) and Lauren Stettin (Burr Ridge, Ill.) are joined by Girton and Jameyson in a wide-open competition for the spot occupied by Birkner during all 140 matches from the 1993-96 seasons.
Schiebout is approaching full recovery from ACL injuries to both her knees that sidelined her for the final two seasons of her high school career (although she did play in the summer between those seasons). As the program's only lefthanded hitter, the 6-1 Schiebout provides a different look for opposing blockers. "Emily could add an important element for us as she continues to get back into playing shape," said Brown. "It's been a huge challenge for her to come back and we hope Emily gets the chance to be a factor for us this season."
The 6-0 Stettin, who appeared in five matches during '96, remains a valuable member of the Irish squad due to a versatility that includes filling in as a setter when needed. "Lauren is a key member of the team because she literally can do everything for us," said Brown. "She is a good passer and tough server who has good blocking skills and can hit on the right side or even on the left."
Girton's front row versatility could land her on the right, particularly considering the glut of veteran talent in the middle and on the left. Girton is sure to make a difference wherever she plays and is very accustomed to winning, after leading Muncie Central to a 71-4 record over her final two seasons and playing for a Munciana Volleyball Club that captured the '94 national title before placing third in the summer of '97.
Jameyson also could be used as an opposite, depending on how the various combinations work when practice begins. "One of the strengths for both Jo and Christy is their versatility and it may take a while to see where they best fit with this year's team," said Brown. "Jo's quickness is such an asset for playing the middle but she also can put down the high sets and would be a tough opposite player if we chose to use her there."
Opposites Emily Schiebout 6-1 So. Lauren Stettin 6-0 So. Christi Girton 6-3 Fr. Jo Jameyson 6-1 Fr.
What a difference a year makes, particularly at the setting position, as Notre Dame will have the luxury of two capable setters--May and Boylan--on its '97 roster.
"We gambled in 1996 by not having two true setters on the team. We gambled and we lost," said Brown, who elected not to add a true setter in '96 knowing that Boylan had long ago made her early verbal commitment to join the program in the fall of '97. "At the same time, we are in an excellent situation this season. You always want competition and I think it's going to be very healthy. Whether Carey is setting or Denise is setting--they'll make each other better."
May broke onto the scene her sophomore year as possibly the team's most valuable member of the '95 team, after stepping in for injured Shannon Tuttle and leading the Irish team to a Notre Dame record .271 season hitting percentage. But after missing just one match as a sophomore, May was sidelined for the first 14 matches of '96 (ironically due to a dislocated shoulder, as Tuttle had missed all of '95 with a shoulder injury of her own). Nonetheless, the 5-9 May returned to spark the Irish offense in the second half of '96 and, even after a late-season hand injury forced her out of two more matches, the Irish floor leader returned to lead her team to the BIG EAST Tournament title and impressive showings in the NCAA's against both Hofstra and Ohio State.
"Carey has done an excellent job running the offense and is responsible for the best team hitting percentage in Notre Dame history," said Brown of May, who joins Lee as strong Academic All-America candidates in '97. "Her absence last year hurts us in many ways but Carey showed a lot of determination by coming back and leading us later in the year. Carey knows what it takes to get our team going and she will be an excellent leader this fall."
The 6-1 Boylan enters the Notre Dame program on the heels of various accolades from her high school days, knowing that the challenge is a new and tougher one on the Division I level.
"Denise is certainly deserving of all the honors she has received but people should be realistic of the situation," said Brown. "Running a Division I offense is very challenging and I'm sure Denise and Carey will learn from each other while also benefitting from their competition. We will have the luxury of going with whoever is our best setter at the time of any given match."
Boylan actually was used as a middle blocker on her high school team at Benet Academy while honing her setting skills with Sports Performance Volleyball Club and the U.S. national youth team. And like so many of her new Irish teammates, Boylan has grown very accustomed to winning after running the show for a Sports Performance team that posted a 100-4 record en route to the 1997 junior national title.
"Denise has benefitted from all her volleyball experiences. It is very rare to have someone who is 6-1 as your setter--that will bring a different dimension for us at that position, as a boost to the blocking," said Brown of Boylan, who was named MVP of the 1995 and '97 junior national tournaments after leading her team to titles in both years.
"In addition to her excellent all-around skill, Denise is a very natural leader, an outgoing person and true competitor who has high expectations of herself," said Brown. "That summarizes the attributes of so many of our players, which is why we are so excited for this season."
Setters Carey May 5-9 Sr. Denise Boylan 6-1 Fr.
Rounding out the squad are two second-year defensive specialists: junior Audra Duda (Woodland Hills, Calif.) and sophomore Theresa Seidle (Muncie, Ind.).
"Audra and Theresa play very important roles for us, and they are effective in those roles," says Brown. "They are just two parts of our balance and depth--things which should go a long way toward success this season."
Defensive Specialists Audra Duda 5-7 Jr. Theresa Seidle 5-8 So.
Academics Job One
In addition to serving as one of the top programs in the nation, the Notre Dame volleyball team also has excelled in the classroom.
- The volleyball team's 3.18 team grade point average in the spring of 1997 semester was fourth-highest among Notre Dame's 25 varsity teams. The Irish volleyball program held a 2.97 cumulative team GPA at the end of the '97 spring semester.
- Eight players on the 1996-97 team posted at least one Dean's List semester (3.4 grade point average or higher), including six who made the Dean's List in both the fall of '96 and the spring of '97. The returning players who turned in Dean's List semesters in '96-'97 are seniors Jaimie Lee (both semesters), Carey May (both semesters) and Molly McCarthy (spring) and junior Lindsay Treadwell (both semesters).
- Each member of the class of 1997 graduated with a cumulative GPA of 3.12 or higher, with Jen Briggs and Kristina Ervin earning Academic All-America nominations. Each of the four members of the class of '97 earned a spot on the Dean's List for both semesters of 1996-97 (with the exception of Ervin, who did her student teaching in the spring).
- All four seniors for 1997-98 already have posted at least one Dean's List semester.
- Seniors Carey May and Jaimie Lee are Academic All-America candiates for 1997-98. May is a four-time Dean's List student and owns a 3.49 cumulative GPA as a double major in finance and computer applications. Lee was on the Dean's List for both semesters of her junior year and carries a 3.32 cumulative GPA as a double major in sociology and computer applications.
No Place Like Home: Since Debbie Brown's arrival in 1991, the Notre Dame volleyball team has won nearly 90 percent of its home matches (79-9/.898). That mark includes a 27-match home unbeaten streak (from 1993-95) and a 9-6 record versus teams ranked in the AVCA top 25.
I'll Be Back: Notre Dame returns five starters and 11 total players from its 1996 team that went 22-12. The returnees accounted for nearly 95 percent of the assists, 67 percent of the aces and 64 percent of the blocks in '96. Due primarily to the departure of four-year starting opposite Jenny Birkner (354 kills in '96), the Irish return just 57 percent of their kills from '96.
63-0: The Irish have won 63 consecutive matches versus conference opponents, the final 37 in the Midwest Collegiate Conference and the first 26 in the BIG EAST.
Seeing The Country: The Notre Dame volleyball program has played in 31 different states, with noteworthy trips to Hawaii, southern and northern California, Washington, D.C., New York City, Florida and New Mexico--plus the 1996 summer trip to Germany. The 1997 trips include a visit to Spokane, Wash. (site of the '97 NCAA Championship), and noteworthy matches at the University of Colorado, the University of Texas, the University of Houston and Long Beach State.
A Fab Group: Notre Dame's Debbie Brown has recruited the team's current players with the goal of competing for a national title and many of those players were highly touted as preps. The class of '97 was ranked third in the nation by Volleyball Monthly when that group headed off for Notre Dame in 1993 while the current seniors were considered the nation's third-best recruiting class in '94, according to Midwest Volleyball. The current freshman class was judged best in the nation by Student Sports magazine. All told, the '97 Irish roster includes eight players who were listed among Volleyball magazine's "Fab-50" recruits prior to attending Notre Dame--seniors Angie Harris, Jaimie Lee and Carey May, junior Lindsay Treadwell, sophomore Mary Leffers and freshmen Denise Boylan, Christi Girton and Jo Jameyson. Four of those players were Volleyball magazine All-Americans (Harris, Lee, Leffers and Girton) and Boylan was the Gatorade national player of the year.
Far & Wide: The 16 members of the '97 Irish volleyball team call seven different states home. The team includes five Indiana natives plus three from both Illinois and California. The others come from all corners, including Washington, Texas (two), Minnesota and the program's first player from Florida (Mary Leffers). During Debbie Brown's seven seasons, the program has welcomed players from 11 states (including Arizona, Kentucky, Michigan and Nevada) while the all-time roster includes players from 21 states.
Top Returnees Jaimie Lee (Sr., 5-11, outside hitter) * '96 BIG EAST player of the year, AVCA All-District * 3.78 kills/gm (as hitter), .277 hitting, 30 aces * Filled in as starting setter for 16 matches in '96 Angie Harris (Sr., 6-0, outside hitter) * AVCA All-District in 1995 * 3.21 kills/gm, .205 hitting, 38 aces (0.67/gm) * Missed 17 matches in '96 due to knee injuries Carey May (Sr., 5-10, setter) * AVCA All-District in 1995 * 12.68 assists/gm, 2.36 digs/gm * Missed 15 matches in '96 with shoulder, hand injuries Mary Leffers (So., 6-4, middle blocker) * '96 BIG EAST all-rookie team * 2.48 kills/gm, .272 hitting, 1.43 blocks/gm Top Player Lost Jenny Birkner (Sr., 5-11, outside hitter) * '96 AVCA All-District, first team all-BIG EAST * 2.98 kills/gm, .258 hitting, 2.97 digs/gm, 33 aces Top Newcomers Denise Boylan (Fr., 6-1, setter) * Lisle, IL (Benet Academy/Sports Performance VBC) * Volleyball magazine Fab 50 * Gatorade national player of the year Christi Girton (Fr., 6-3, middle blocker/outside hitter) * Muncie, IN (Muncie Central HS/Asics Munciana VBC) * Volleyball magazine Fab 50, third team All-America Jo Jameyson (Fr., 6-1, middle blocker/opposite) * Alvin, TX (Alvin HS/Houston Juniors VBC) * Volleyball magazine Fab 50 * Gatorade regional player of the year