2009 Howard Volleyball Season Outlook
WASHINGTON, D.C. - A new attitude and new commitment adds up to new excitement.
The Howard University volleyball team posted one of its best seasons in recent memory with seven conference wins, the most since 2001. The Lady Bison also had an all-MEAC performer in Gazelle d'Artois to go along with a three-time MEAC Rookie of the Week honoree in Gabrielle Martin.
"Our second place in the division last year was a step in the right direction," said head coach Orlando Larracuente. "There are three areas I would like to see us improve in; digging, confidence and team chemistry. We must engage the opponent in longer rallies, step on the court believing we can win and get a better feel for one another on and off the court."
"Everyone must contribute and take ownership if we are going to improve upon last year's run. We have a small squad but several of the players are versatile, giving me the flexibility to use different lineups if need be. It should be an exciting season for us. We are no longer rebuilding, it is time now for us to make our move and challenge for the MEAC Championship," added Larracuente.
The outside hitter position will be a strength for the Lady Bison this fall, as HU returns two experienced veterans at the position. Led by junior Gazelle d'Artois, sophomores Gabrielle Martin and Taylor Johnson join in on the offensive attack.
d'Artois enjoyed the best season of her career in 2008, posting a team-best 3.16 kills per set. The Newhall, California native posted seven double-doubles, including two matches with at least 20 kills. A skilled player who was the team's primary setter as a freshman, d'Artois might see action at the setter position when Larracuente chooses to run a 6-2 offense.
"Gazelle is a shut down type blocker on the right side, is a versatile attacker from any position on the court, has a dominant serve and is a primary passer for us," Larracuente said. "She became our go to player last season and is poised to become an elite player in the MEAC."
Martin enjoyed a solid season in 2008. The sophomore was a three-time rookie of the week selection while playing two different positions, middle blocker and outside hitter. Johnson averaged 1.27 kills per game and posted a 0.86 block-per-set average (14 solos-87 assists-118 sets) a year ago, the highest block-per-set average among returning letterwinners. Johnson also led the team in total blocks.
"Gabi and Taylor had solid freshman seasons and I expect both players to continue to improve and contribute to our team success," Larracuente added.
Junior Nia Moore has made great strides the past two seasons and could have a breakthrough season in 2009. The 6-2 lefty is the prototype right side attacker.
"She is tall, has a very fast arm swing and the length to block. If somehow she can find her groove, we will be diffi cult to defend," said Larracuente.
Keri Partridge (6-1, Jr.) has seen time as a middle blocker and outside hitter the past two seasons. The Tennessee native has shown flashes of dominance at the net.
A pair of newcomers will see a lot of playing time in their first year with the program. Taylor Montgomery, the tallest player on the squad at 6-6, is a true freshman and a talented young player. The Marietta, Ga. native is a top-80 prospect and helped her team to the Class AAAAA state runner-up title as a sophomore.
"Taylor has the physical tools to become a force in our conference right away," Larracuente said. "As she continues to improve her conditioning and clean up her technical skills, her presence in our line-up will make everyone else around her that much better."
Tosin Elebute, a mid-year transfer from Middle Tennessee State, brings an impressive resume to the Mecca. The Florida native can score with her serve and on the attack and is a former member of the USA High Performance Team. Elebute has played all three positions in the front row but will compete for playing time as an outside hitter or right side.
"If she can improve her conditioning and clean up her ball control skills, it will be difficult to keep her off the floor," Larracuente added.
The Bison return two veterans that
could see time at libero or defensive specialist this season in
Nicole Brown and Jiyana Brown.
Nicole Brown (5-5, Jr.) has been a starter each of her first two seasons at Howard. Her 3.14 digs per set last season ranked first on the squad and she notched five matches with 20 digs or more. An excellent server, she topped the team with 31 aces.
"Nicole did an outstanding job for
us last year at the libero position," said Larracuente. "She joined
the program as a walk-on her freshman year and has become a major
contributor on and off the court. She has the potential to
become the best libero in the conference."
A two position player, Jiyana Brown (5-8, So.) will vie for time at libero/defensive specialist as well as outside hitter. A year ago she made 13 starts appearing in 26 matches and 65 sets.
"Jiya will see time at outside hitter and defensive specialist. She proved to be a valuable asset off the bench. I expect her to be a key component of our ball control game," Larracuente said.
Freshman setter Jasmine King joins the Howard volleyball team from Chamblee High School in Rex, Ga. King set the mark for most assists in a season and holds the county record for most assists per set (40) in just half a season at Chamblee.
"Jasmine has a strong work ethic, takes coaching well and wants to be great," said Larracuente. "I am confident she will take over the setting duties and have an immediate impact on our team."