September 5, 2013

Volleyball Heads to UNH for Season Opener on Friday

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A trio of games in two days at the eighth-annual Holly Young Invitational marks the beginning of the 2013 Brown volleyball season when the team travels to the University of New Hampshire on Friday to take on the Wildcats in the 2013 season opener at 7 p.m. The Bears, who finished 7-17 overall in 2012, battle with Missouri State at 10 a.m. and St. John's at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday to round out the event. 

The UNH athletic communications department will provide free streaming video of all games during the Holly Young Invitational. Video of all Brown home contests and all Ivy League games, home and away, will be broadcast live on BrownBears.TV. Fans can subscribe and view games by purchasing yearly, monthly, weekly or daily packages.

Head Coach Diane Short, who enters her 21st season at Brown, is more than used to the rapid-fire action that traditionally starts all collegiate volleyball seasons. "It's great to have a lot of matches, expand your roster a little bit," Short said, noting the importance of evaluating players during actual competition versus practices and intrasquad scrimmages.

Last year the Bears posted their second-highest win total since 2008, but Short knows that her team walked a fine line between victory and defeat during a handful of tough losses to nationally-prominent teams. 

"[Our 2012 record] could be a little deceiving," Short said, highlighting games like a five-set loss at Columbia and a 3-1 setback at undisputed Ivy League champion Yale during which the Bears dropped two sets by the minimum two points. Brown posted a 2-7 record on the road last season, and Short recognizes that the Bears have to show up to play even away from the comforts of the Pizzitola Sports Center. "Playing at home, we have a pretty good fan base," Short said. "We do pretty well with fan support and the players certainly get up for that, playing in front of their home crowd. But a good team will win on the road."

The Bears won't have to worry about the woes of the road for most of October, however, as Brown plays five out of its seven Ivy League matches at home that month. Short believes the schedule is in Brown's favor to gain ground in the conference standings when the Bears take on the bulk of their Ivy League foes on home turf.

"October can be tough month," Short said, citing midterms and league play as polarizing points of focus that can shake an athlete's equilibrium, "but we're not going from Columbia to Cornell during midterms [this year]."

The Bears bring back their top two hitters in junior Maddie Lord (La Jolla, Calif.) and senior Amanda Nickel (Corona Del Mar, Calif.), as well as leading blocker junior Taylor Bantle (Pacific Palisades, Calif.), go-to setter senior Alexandra Rieckhoff (Laguna Beach, Calif.) and All-Ivy libero junior Kathryn Conner (Newport Beach, Calif.). Short says the greatest improvements she sees in her returners are the ability to terminate and limit mistakes.

"We do really have the core of our team back," Short said. "I see more consistency. We're hitting at a higher percentage and we seem to be playing with more confidence as well. We're just hitting better and that was a weakness of ours last year."

The upperclassmen will be supported by a freshmen class that garnered national attention with a top-60 national ranking and Honorable Mention status from prepvolleyball.com. 

"They make our whole team better, which is something I noticed right away," Short said of her six freshmen, adding that two or three of them may start the opening match. "We're a different team because of them. Better ball control, a bit more fire power."

After the three-game tilt at UNH, the Bears play a non-league game at Providence on Sept. 11 before diving into more tournament action. Brown hosts Holy Cross, Bryant and Eastern Michigan in the Brown Invitational on Sept. 13-14, and then travels to the Temple Invitational to take on Hofstra, Delaware State and Temple on Sept. 20-21. The Bears then open up Ivy League play against Yale on Sept. 28.