Aug. 8, 2003

Cullowhee, N.C. - Just as the 2002 season was greatly about change, 2003 presents itself with more changes and challenges for the Western Carolina volleyball team. WCU welcomes six freshmen to this year's squad. Among this year's newcomers are Meghan Boyle (Ancaster, Ont.), Heather Koontz (Balsam Grove, N.C.), Michaela Jorgensen (Candor, N.Y.), Danielle Spitzer (Birmingham, Ala.), Kellyn Thaut (Hastings, Neb.), and Kate Willard (Chicago Heights, Ill.). With half of the team entering the year as freshmen, they will be expected to make immediate contributions to the program.

"As a unit, these freshmen provide a good mix of every position," said head coach Angell Benson. "They come from championship programs, which means we don't have to teach them how to win. They already have it in them."

Boyle and Willard will compete for starting time in the setter position, with Boyle also playing the right side and Willard as a libero in the back line as well. Koontz and Thaut will provide power as outside hitters, while newcomers Jorgensen and Spitzer, the tallest Cats at 6-0, will give valuable depth as middle blockers.

One thing that will change the way the Catamounts' season looks is the addition of Elon to the Southern Conference as well as the league being split into north and south divisions. With 12 conference teams now participating in volleyball, Appalachian State, East Tennessee State, Elon, UNC Greensboro, Chattanooga and Western Carolina will be competing in the north division. The College of Charleston, The Citadel, Davidson, Furman, Georgia Southern and Wofford will all compete in the south division. In WCU's favor, the Cats posted the best overall and conference record last year among all those in this year's north division (22-12, 13-7).

The Lady Cats finished the 2002 season ranked sixth in the nation in digs per game and were second in the conference in blocks and opponent hitting percentage, proving to be one of the toughest defensive units in the league.

"Defense wins championships," Benson said. "We just need to make our offense more effective in order to have a complete package. I believe the talent of this year's freshmen, combined with the experience of the upperclassmen, will lead us to a successful year."

Leading the group of upperclassmen is senior middle blocker Sara Komosinski. The 2002 All-Conference first team member finished the season as the team leader in hitting percentage (.338) and kills (3.57/gm), ranking third and fifth, respectively, in the SoCon. She also ranked 12th in the league in blocks, knocking down 0.94 per game (111 total), and 17th in digs with 2.96 per game (349 total).

"Sara will definitely be a focal point for us this year," Benson commented. "She shows tremendous leadership on and off the court and has earned respect in the conference. I believe she will make the difference in our success this season."

Three-year letter-winner Shari Harder returns as the starting setter for the Cats in 2003. Harder surpassed 1,000 career assists during the 2002 season and ranked fourth in the SoCon with 10.73 per game. Michelle Gorton also returns to WCU's starting lineup as a valuable outside hitter. She additionally proved to be valuable on defense last year, averaging 3.34 digs per game to rank 11th in the league.

Junior Layna Stoetzel will again start at the right side this year after combining for 60 blocks last season and averaging 2.44 digs per game. Sophomores Robyn Everly and Ellie Talbot will continue to anchor a defense that ranked sixth in the country in 2002 in digs per game (19.61), averaging 2.04 and 2.93 per contest, respectively.

For seniors Komosinski, Shari Harder and Michelle Gorton, this season will be their final in the quest for a SoCon championship. The three have never experienced a losing season or a year with fewer than 20 wins. They've never finished lower than fifth in the SoCon standings. They've never given up more than four home matches or six away contests. And they've never been so hungry for a championship.