Volleyball Opens 2013 Season at Cincinnati Invitational

Maggie Harbison

Tournament Page

Twitter - @ButlerVB

Weekend Schedule
Aug. 30 at Cincinnati – 12:30 PM
Aug. 30 vs. Morehead State – 5:30 PM
Aug. 31 vs. Tennessee – 2:30 PM 

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – The 2013 women's volleyball season begins this weekend as the Butler Bulldogs travel to Cincinnati to compete in the UC Invitational. Butler will play Cincinnati and Morehead State on Friday, Aug. 30 and end the round-robin tournament with a single match against Tennessee on Saturday. 

About the Bulldogs
Expectations for the women's volleyball team are high entering the 2013 season as the Bulldogs return five starters and the libero from a 2012 squad that ended the year with a 17-12 record. Butler went 7-7 during their one season in the Atlantic 10 conference and they now welcome the next challenge of playing in the BIG EAST.

The 2013 BIG EAST Volleyball Preseason Coaches' Poll was released on Monday with the Bulldogs selected to finish sixth. No. 25 Creighton is the favorite to win the league followed by Marquette, Xavier, Seton Hall and St. John's. Butler appeared on the poll just ahead of Villanova who came in at seventh and the duo of DePaul and Georgetown rounded out the list.

Top Returners
In order for Butler to be eligible for the BIG EAST Tournament they will have to finish in the top four of the conference standings. Returning players such as Maggie Harbison, Morgan Peterson, Claire Randich and Preseason All-BIG EAST selection Erica Stahl give the Bulldogs a good opportunity to reach that level.

Stahl represents Butler on the BIG EAST preseason all-conference team after leading the Bulldogs with 153 blocks as a sophomore. The 6-3 middle blocker was also nationally ranked in blocks per set (1.49).

Joining Stahl as impact players in the Bulldog projected starting lineup will be the senior trio of Harbison, Randich, and Peterson. This experienced group will provide the team with leadership having played in over 100 sets a year ago.

Harbison and Randich will each spend a majority of their time at the net playing the middle blocker position, but Peterson will be in charge of setting them up after a year where she posted a team-high 1,018 assists. Harbison recorded a team-high 296 kills and Randich was third on the team at 210. Both Harbison and Peterson use their skills to get the ball in play as Peterson led the team with 30 service aces and Harbison was close behind with 29.

Defensively, Butler will use juniors Brooke Ruffalo and Jadyn Yarling at the libero position. Each player saw nearly 90 sets of action a year ago with Ruffolo recording 335 digs and Yarling did her part with 210.

Other juniors on the 2013 roster include Christina Saenger, Stephanie Kranda, Belle Obert, and Kelly Kyle. Kyle and Obert were heavily involved in the rotation last year as Kyle recorded 155 digs to go along with 70 kills. Obert was more offensive minded with 245 kills and 15 service aces.

Underclassmen
Butler has four sophomores and three freshmen that will fight for playing time in 2013. The sophomore class includes Natalie Wichern, Natalie Meert, Nicole Sumida, and Mary Striedl. The Butler newcomers this year are Jessica Klingensmith, Tyler Taylor and Kristen Webb.

Scouting Cincinnati
Head Coach Molly Alvey enters her second season at the helm of the Cincinnati women's volleyball program after guiding the team to a 12-20 a year ago. The Bearcats recorded nine of their 12 wins against BIG EAST opponents, posting an impressive 5-2 record against conference teams at home.

After finishing the regular season, the Bearcats entered the 2012 BIG EAST Tournament as the No. 5 seed. They defeated No. 4 UConn 3-2 in the quarterfinals, but were eliminated with a 3-0 loss to No. 1 Louisville in the semis.

A tough non-conference schedule led to Cincinnati's overall record of 12-20, but the team has built a rich tradition of winning over the years having made the NCAA Tournament 10 times. Cincinnati's last trip to the postseason came in 2011 as the Bearcats defeated Samford 3-2 in the first round before getting bounced 3-2 in the second round by Florida State.

The 2013 team will have some new faces on the court as the Bearcats lost five starters from last year's team. Overall, the squad returns six letterwinners and they bring in a large class of seven newcomers.

Top Returners
Top returners for Cincinnati include defensive specialist Emmi MacIntyre and middle blocker Me'Ashsh Nicholson. MacIntyre prepares for her senior campaign after averaging 5.12 digs per set a year ago and Nicholson steps into a larger role for her junior season after averaging 1.41 kills per set as a sophomore. 

Scouting Morehead State
The Eagles are looking to build off a very successful 2012 season by returning three starters and a libero. Head Coach Jaime Gordon guided his team to a 26-7 overall record last year which included a perfect 16-0 run in the Ohio Valley Conference.

MSU owned the nation's longest winning streak in 2012, winning 24 straight matches. The program has been extremely successful in recent years having won 20 or more games in seven consecutive seasons.

Top Returners
Three impact student-athletes to watch for this weekend include outside hitter Aryn Bohannon, libero Leslie Schellhaas and outside hitter Alex Fitzmorris. Bohannon led Morehead State with 363 kills in 2012 and poses as a dual threat by having 135 career service aces to her credit. The senior is just 24 aces away from moving into the MSU top ten list.

Fellow senior Leslie Schellhaas has been a staple in the Eagles defense since stepping onto the court during her sophomore season. Schellhaas has 1,547 career digs after recording 641 as a sophomore and 619 a year ago during her junior season.

The third installment of this trio is 6-5 junior Alex Fitzmorris. A transfer from Boston College, Fitzmorris originally began her collegiate volleyball career at Arkansas, but now goes down as the tallest player in Morehead State women's volleyball history.

Scouting Tennessee
The Tennessee volleyball program has a great history with 14 NCAA appearances and six combined SEC titles. 2013 could be a real test for Head Coach Rob Patrick as his Volunteers lost 11 letterwinners from a 2012 team that ended the year 22-8.

Coach Patrick should be up for the challenge as he reloads his program with nine newcomers to mix in with three returners. The Vols have reached the NCAA Tournament each of the past five seasons, including 2012 when they fell to Michigan 3-2 in the opening round.

Top Returners
Two seniors and four juniors make up the nucleus of this Tennessee team. Senior Whitney Heeres will return to the court after sitting out last season due to the transfer rule. The Ball State transfer helped the Cardinals earn an at-large big into the NCAA Tournament as a sophomore during the 2011 season. She is a 6-2, outside hitter originally from Flushing, Mich.

Defensive specialist Ellen Mullins is the other senior on the Tennessee roster. Mullins is an experienced leader heading into 2013 after being recognized as an AVCA All-American honorable mention selection in 2012. She won the SEC Defensive Player of the Week honor three times and was also an AVCA All-South Region honorable mention selection.

All-Time Series
Butler holds a one game lead over Cincinnati in the all-time series having won six of the previous 11 contests. The Bulldogs also have a winning record against Morehead State winning all three previous matches. Saturday's opponent however holds the upper hand as Tennessee is 2-0 all-time against Butler.

Season Openers
The Bulldogs will try to start a new trend by winning their season opener over Cincinnati. The last time Butler came out on top in a season opener was during the 2009 season as the Bulldogs recorded a 3-0 victory over Drake at the IPFW Invitational. The 2009 team ended up winning four of their first five games of the year to finish with a 21-13 overall record.

Stahl Earns Preseason All-BIG EAST Recognition
Erica Stahl represents Butler on the preseason all-conference team after great sophomore campaign where she ranked 13th nationally with 1.49 blocks per set. Stahl ended the 2012 season with 140 kills (1.36 per set) and 153 blocks.

Block Party
Butler set a new single-season team record in 2012 with 558 block assists. The team ended the year second all-time in total blocks with 318.

Season-high block assist totals for the Bulldogs included 38 in a three-set match vs. George Washington, 30 in a four-set match vs. Temple and 29 in a five-set match vs. SEMO.

The Clark File
Sharon Clark is entering her 14th season as the head coach of the Butler women's volleyball program. Butler has been highly competitive during Clark's tenure which includes posting five-straight winning seasons.