Aug. 23, 2004
Cullowhee, N.C. -
Cullowhee, N.C. -As all of Western Carolina University's students file in to Cullowhee, some have already been here for the past week and a half. The Catamount volleyball team, now in their second full week of preseason practice, is preparing for what will be another exciting and challenging season. Headlining the schedule is a match at Clemson University on Sept. 1 and, two days later, a return trip to Clemson for a tournament which includes Northern Iowa, ranked 21st in the American Volleyball Coaches Association's (AVCA) 2004 preseason poll.
"The girls are really working hard and the team chemistry is very good," head coach Angell Benson said. "There is a work ethic here that we haven't seen before and the players are accepting their roles on the team. The freshmen are fitting well into our system and will no doubt make an immediate impact. I really like how they are playing as a team right now and we're looking forward to this season."
In a grueling schedule which finds the Lady Cats on the road for the first full month of the season, Western Carolina will compete in three tournaments, including the Clemson Invitational, the Campbell Tournament and Central Florida's Tournament. Not only will the Catamounts square off against Northern Iowa, who finished the 2003 season ranked 18th overall with a 28-6 record and made it to the NCAA second round, but will also face Winthrop at Clemson, who made an appearance in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
September 17-18, the Catamounts head to Orlando, Fla., for UCF's tournament. Central Florida advanced to the second round in last year's NCAA tournament by defeating Cincinnati, but lost to the 2003 Championship runners-up Florida Gators, ending with a 23-7 record. Both of the ranked teams that WCU faced in 2003 made it to the tournament (Georgia Tech and Wisconsin), as well as Georgia Southern, with Tech advancing to the Final Four in Hawaii.
Once action finally kicks off in Cullowhee on Oct. 1 versus Elon, the Cats will already be into their Southern Conference schedule after playing at Chattanooga and East Tennessee State in September.
As one cohesive unit, the Catamounts forge ahead with experience and youthful talent on their side. Among the returners are two seasoned seniors, including Layna Stoetzel, who had one of the best matches of her career in 2003 against Georgia Tech, hitting .375 versus the fifth-ranked Yellow Jackets. Also a senior, Stefanie Peters looks to close out her career with a bang. Armed with a stellar defense and powerful hitting, she led the team and ranked sixth in the Southern Conference in digs per game (3.78) in 2002 and helped the Cats rank nationally in the category each of the last two seasons.
Also returning are juniors Robyn Everly and Ellie Talbot, who have each played over 150 games in the last two years, bringing more experience to the lineup. With their defensive skills and Talbot's powerful serve and hitting ability, they bring plenty of excitement and experience to the squad.
Sophomores Meghan Boyle, Heather Koontz, Kate Willard and 2003 SoCon Freshman of the Year Kellyn Thaut return for another year of Catamount volleyball. Each of these student-athletes have already made their mark on the WCU program in many ways. Add to the mix redshirt freshman Danielle Spitzer and four talented newcomers and Western Carolina fans can expect an exciting year from the Catamounts. Meredith Harmon (Villa Hills, Ky.), Genevieve Johnson (Suwanee, Ga.), Melissa Parana (Raleigh, N.C.) and Andrea Smith (Marietta, Ga.) come to Cullowhee with plenty of winning experience of their own. Harmon helped lead her 2003 Notre Dame Academy squad to the state championship match and to a national ranking of 69. Parana played in the 2001 and 2003 state quarterfinals for Sanderson High School, while Smith helped the Lady Trojans of Lassiter High School to a third-place finish in the state in 2002 and a ninth-place showing during her senior campaign.