2007 Wake Forest Volleyball Season Preview
Aug. 24, 2007
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. - Entering her third season at the helm of the Wake Forest volleyball program, head coach Heather Kahl Holmes is ready to take the Demon Deacons to the next level. Coming off a 2006 campaign that saw Wake finish 14-17 overall and 10-12 in conference play, Kahl Holmes believes the Deacons are ready to make some noise in the ACC.
"Our main goal is to compete for an ACC Championship," said Kahl Holmes. "After turning in a very successful spring season and scheduling a slate of challenging non-conference matches, I believe we are giving ourselves the opportunity to accomplish that goal.
"We are playing some of the top programs in the country during the preseason, which will prove challenging, but I believe we are ready for it. Those matches will prepare us for the always-tough ACC regular season."
Despite a hot start to the ACC schedule last year, the Demon Deacons experienced a few growing pains with a young squad in 2006. However, Wake Forest still managed to tie the program record for ACC wins and gain valuable experience in the process. The Deacs return 10 letterwinners, including four starters, from the 2006 squad.
"We return four starters and several players who gained significant playing time last season," said Kahl Holmes. "We're adding four new faces to the roster, all of whom possess highly-successful and highly-respected backgrounds. The team understands the demands and the commitment it will take to achieve our goals. My staff and I are excited about the future of the program, as we are starting to see positive results both athletically and academically."
Senior Michael Faulkner, junior Jessica Furlong and sophomore Kate Rodriguez return to provide a wealth of experience on the outside. Incoming freshmen Kristen White and Megan Thornberry enter the mix this fall, giving Wake tremendous depth at a key spot on the floor.
Faulkner, one of just two seniors on the roster, will look to be a leader not only with the outsides but with the whole team as well. The Austin, Texas native has played in 56 career matches with 16 starts. Last season, Faulkner saw time at outside hitter and also filled in at libero for three matches. She led the Deacons with a .944 serve percentage and finished fifth with 1.98 digs per game.
"Michael is coming off a very successful spring season," said Kahl Holmes. "She really stepped up her level of play and became one of our more effective hitters and consistent ball control players. I am looking forward to seeing her compete on the outside this fall."
Furlong, a fourth-year junior, has proven to be one of the Deacs' most productive all-around players. The St. Augustine, Fla. native has posted 25 career double-doubles, including 18 in 2006. Furlong led the team and was eighth in the ACC with 3.73 kills per game. She also ranked second on the Deacons with 2.91 digs per game.
"Jessica is one of our most dynamic players on the court," said Kahl Holmes. "She is one of the most talented and powerful outsides in the ACC. She is an incredible all-around player. She has started as our L1 for the past two seasons, and we are looking forward to her contributions on the outside."
Rodriguez returns for her second season after gaining valuable experience in 2006. The Glen Ellyn, Ill. native played in 15 matches and earned four starts on the outside. Rodriguez turned in her first career double-double and finished sixth on the team with 1.26 kills per game.
"Kate saw significant amounts of playing time in the fall and spring seasons," said Kahl Holmes. "She worked very hard on her shot selection and defense this spring and has become more of a terminating outside hitter. I am looking forward to her carrying the progress over in the fall as she competes on the outside."
White enters Wake Forest as a highly-recruited outside hitter. The Harrison, Ohio native and McAuley High School product played with the U.S.A. Junior A-2 team in 2006 and helped the squad win the gold medal at the international tournament. White also helped the Cincy Classics VBC win the 17 American Nationals in 2005, earning all-tournament honors in the process.
"Kristen is one of the most naturally-gifted outsides I have seen," said Kahl Holmes. "She is a player who makes things look very easy on the court, from her attacking skills to her defensive play. She has a very bright future in the ACC and will be able to compete immediately for the outside spot."
Thornberry joins the Deacons after signing with Wake Forest in the spring. Thornberry, a product of St. Louis' Visitation Academy, competed with St. Louis CYC at the Junior Olympics each of the past eight years, finishing third in 2003 and 10th in 2007
"Megan is one of the smartest all-around players I have recruited," said Kahl Holmes. "The training she received from Visitation Academy and St. Louis CYC is some of the best around. Her anticipation and ability to read the hitters on defense and the blockers on offense allows her to be very successful on the court. She will also bring tremendous ball control in the back court for us this season."
Right Side Hitter
Homitz, who entered Wake Forest as the first-ever Deacon to play with the A-2 junior national team, has battled injuries each of her two seasons on campus. In 2006, Homitz fought through the setbacks to see action in 13 matches off the bench, earning the team's Unsung Hero Award. The Jacksonville, Fla. native finished third on the team with 0.79 blocks per game.
"Ashley had an incredible spring, working hard on staying healthy and strong," said Kahl Holmes. "She moved from middle blocker to the right side in the spring. Instead of splitting time between both positions, we focused on her being more comfortable on the right side, emphasizing transitioning and block set-up for her. We are very confident that Ashley's hard work and improvement on the right side will be instrumental this fall.
"Our right side position may seem a bit slim on paper, but we know that several of our outside hitters and middles are capable of transitioning to this position if need be," continued Kahl Holmes. "Most of our players are very versatile and can be moved to different positions."
Lucas is back for her senior season after turning in a record-breaking campaign in 2006. The New Braunfels, Texas native broke Wake Forest's single-season record with 114 block assists and finished second on the season lists for block solos and total blocks. Lucas, who has played in 65 career matches, is knocking on the door of the top five on each of the Deacons' career blocking lists.
"Jackie is a competitive, hard-working athlete, who demands a lot of herself and of her teammates. She loves to win," said Kahl Holmes. "She worked extremely hard in the weight room this spring, and I know she will pick back up where she left off. She had a great junior year, and I am looking forward to an incredible break-out senior season."
Mullikin has established herself as one of the top middles in the conference in just two seasons at Wake. The Lebanon, Ind. native and Penn State transfer earned second team All-ACC honors in 2006 and has already been named to the 2007 Preseason All-ACC team. Mullikin finished last year as Wake Forest's single-season record holder in total blocks, block solos and blocks per game. She enters 2007 second in Deacon history with 1.18 career blocks per game.
"Natalie has been a standout performer for us each of the past two seasons, and I am expecting no different," said Kahl Holmes. "She returns with All-ACC honors, which just adds to her confidence on the court. She is one of the most talented middles in the ACC, and we are looking for her to continue to be an offensive weapon for us and to contribute defensively with her blocking."
McIntyre joins the Deacon volleyball program after a highly-successful prep career. The Indianapolis native and Cathedral High School product qualified for the Junior Olympics each of the past eight seasons with Circle City VBC. She was also named a 2006 All-American by PrepVolleyball.com.
"Lauren is one of most competitive, strong-spirited players I have watched," said Kahl Holmes. "She is use to elite competition, playing for much-respected Cathedral High School and Circle City Volleyball Club. She works hard and makes everyone around her better. I am looking forward to seeing what she can do this season."
"We are excited to have two setters this fall," said Kahl Holmes. "Last year, having only one setter put a lot of unnecessary pressures on Dylan, the team and the season. This year, we are anticipating a very competitive atmosphere in the gym."
Faulkner, the younger sister of senior Michael, was thrust into the starting setter role as a freshman in 2006. The Austin, Texas native started all 31 matches and played in all 119 games for the Deacons. She averaged 11.32 assists per game and also ranked fourth on the team with 0.55 blocks per game. This past summer, Faulkner gained experience against international competition when she played on a U.S. team at the Sibillini Tournament in Italy.
"Dylan gained invaluable experience at setter as a freshman," said Kahl Holmes. "She was thrown into the fire and never looked back. She played in every single match and every practice, with no breaks. She did a tremendous job in this position, and I know she will continue to grow and become an elite setter in the ACC."
Jones comes to Wake Forest as one of the most-recruited setters in the Midwest. A finalist for Michigan's 2007 Miss Volleyball award, Jones helped FaR Out VBC to a No. 5 final ranking at the 2006 nationals, earning first team all-tournament honors as a setter. A native of Ada, Mich. Jones was a three-time all-state honoree at Forest Hills Northern High School.
"Kelsey is a very talented and highly-recruited setter, who is always striving for the best," said Kahl Holmes. "She does an incredible job utilizing all her hitters making the offense more effective. She does not shy away from a challenge, and I know this will be no different. I am looking forward to seeing her compete with Dylan this fall."
The Deacs are young in the backcourt, as junior Mary-Margaret Langston returns as the lone upperclassmen. Sophomores Sally Fischer, Abby Miller and Sara Uniacke are also back after seeing extensive action in 2006.
"We will have a very young backcourt defending us this season, but it is also a very talented and aggressive one," said Kahl Holmes. "Ball control and consistency in the backcourt will be something that we will rely on the majority of the game."
Langston will be looked upon to provide veteran leadership in the backcourt this fall. The Tallahassee, Fla. native saw action in eight matches and 15 games total last season. Langston's efforts did not go unnoticed as she received the team's Dedication Award.
"Mary-Margaret is one of the hardest workers on the team," said Kahl Holmes. "She had a great spring season, and we will look to her to challenge and compete in this position while making her teammates better."
Uniacke enters the fall looking to take over the libero role from the graduated Schaefer. The Raleigh, N.C. native appeared in 26 matches with two starts last season. She played in 78 games total, the second-most out of all Deacon freshmen in 2006. Uniacke averaged 1.36 digs per game and finished the year second on the team with a .949 reception percentage.
"Sara is coming off of a highly-successful spring season, while gaining great playing experience last fall," said Kahl Holmes. "She is an incredible passer who is calm under pressure. Sara has the ability to be one of the top defensive players in the ACC. She was our libero for the spring season, and we are looking to her to defend that title this fall."
Fischer is coming off a spring injury but appears healthy and ready to compete for a spot in the backcourt this fall. As a freshman in 2006, the Indianapolis native played in 17 matches off the bench. Fischer, who was largely called upon to serve, ranked fourth on the team with 0.20 aces per game.
"Sally was sidelined for the spring with an injury, but worked extremely hard this summer to get back into playing shape," said Kahl Holmes. "She is one of our best servers and shows incredible ball control in the back court. We are looking forward to seeing her compete for a starting position."
Miller saw significant playing time at both defensive specialist and libero last season. The Lexington, N.C. native appeared in 23 matches and made one start at libero. Miller posted double-digit digs in two matches and averaged 1.11 digs per game for the year.
"Abby is a very aggressive player who never shows frustration," said Kahl Holmes. "She is quick-footed in the backcourt, rarely letting balls drop without effort. It will be fun to watch her compete for playing time in the backcourt this season."
"Our schedule allows us to compete at a very high level early in the season, which prepares us for ACC play," said Kahl Holmes. "As usual, the ACC will be a conference of strength and experience. Each program returns several key starters from last season. From top to bottom, the ACC is filled with talented and experienced players. I am looking forward to the challenge of the conference season."
Wake will participate in three non-conference weekend tournaments, including the annual Black & Gold Challenge in Winston-Salem, before taking on the rigorous 22-match ACC regular season schedule.
The Deacons open the season Aug. 31 - Sept. 1 with an invitational at Miami University (Ohio). Wake will take on Pittsburgh in the tournament opener and then play Miami and Michigan on Saturday.
The following weekend Wake Forest will host the Black & Gold Challenge, welcoming Dayton, Jacksonville and Radford to town. The Deacs will open with Dayton in a re-match from last season's Flyer Invitational in Dayton.
Wake will wrap up non-conference play at the University of Houston Sept. 14-15. The Deacs will play Rice on Friday and Stephen F. Austin and Houston on Saturday. The tournament will be a homecoming for Dylan and Michael Faulkner and Jackie Lucas, all Texas natives.
The Deacons will begin ACC play at defending conference champion Duke on Sept. 18. After hosting Boston College and Maryland later that week, Wake Forest will wrap up the month of September in Florida, taking on Miami and Florida State.
Wake opens October on the road at in-state rivals North Carolina and NC State before beginning a five-match homestand, which includes a second match against Duke. The Deacs will travel north to Maryland and Boston College to end the month of October.
November sees the Deacons at home and on the road for four matches each. Wake will end the regular season by book-ending the Thanksgiving holiday at Virginia Tech and Virginia.
For the third year in a row, the conference championship and automatic NCAA bid will go to the team with the best regular season conference record.