Passionate Leadership, Youthful Core Has Butler Volleyball Eyeing Success

Aug. 22, 2008

Sharon Clark is excited to see what her Bulldogs are capable of in 2008. This year's Butler team is young, energetic and motivated to show the rest of the Horizon League what they can bring to the table.

The youthful roster features eight players entering their freshman or sophomore years, but the Bulldogs will have plenty of experience on their side with all but two of their 13 letterwinners from 2007 returning this fall. Leading the way will be a trio of seasoned senior players in Chloe' Blasingame, Dana Daprile and Nina Inic, who bring a contagious sense of urgency and passion to the floor and will have a huge impact on how far the team can go.

"I'm really excited about the leadership of our three seniors," Clark said. "It is amazing to see how cohesive they are as a group. We are a very young team, but having three leaders like them will give us some much-needed momentum at the start of the year and be a huge benefit down the stretch.

"Individually, we have a lot of great pieces," she explained. "If we can keep the injury bug away and keep some key players close to 90 percent, we will be a team to be reckoned with in the Horizon League. Staying healthy will be our top priority."

Outside Hitters
Junior Porshia Allen will once again be looked upon to provide the thunder on the offensive end after leading the team and ranking third in the Horizon League with 3.92 kills per contest to earn all-league honors. Her consistency on offense also showed improvement as a sophomore, as her .211 hitting percentage led the squad and was nearly 80 points higher than her freshman rate (.132).

"Everyone looks for Porshia to take the big swings for us," Clark said. "She is such an exciting player to watch, and the fact that her hitting has become so much more consistent only makes her more effective."

The Butler offense will also feature a pair of 2007 all-newcomer team members in sophomores Jessica Wolfe and Katie Daprile.

Wolfe exploded onto the scene as a rookie last year, finishing third on the team with 2.66 kills per game. She added double-figure kill totals in 15 matches, including a team season-high 29 against Youngstown State that ranks tied for the sixth-highest single-match total in school history. Clark anticipates even more in 2008.

"Jessie has improved leaps and bounds over the summer," she said. "She was outstanding as a freshman, but she is even better now. She will be the one to contend with on the outside on our team."

Daprile was arguably the Bulldogs' most versatile player last season, ranking among the top-four on the team in kills (2.28), digs (3.05), assists (0.99) and blocks (0.59) per game. She notched double-figure kills in 10 matches, including a personal-best 20 at Loyola.

"Katie played great for us as a freshman last season," Clark said. "Her overall strength has greatly improved, as has her court awareness."

The Bulldogs will turn to junior Stephanie Steele for an experienced outside presence. She appeared in 127 games during her first two seasons with the squad, averaging 0.81 kills per contest in that span.

"Stephanie has shown a lot of maturity and has worked hard to improve her game," Clark noted. "She has great strength on the outside, so she can hit a very heavy ball."

Redshirt sophomore Stephanie McGurk is ready to show the rest of the league what she can do in 2008 after battling through injuries in her first two seasons with the team. She appeared in 16 matches last year, providing some steady defense to the tune of 1.09 digs per contest, but Clark sees her true upside as a prominent offensive threat.

"If we can get Stephanie anywhere near 100 percent, her potential is almost limitless," she explained. "We're hoping she can stay healthy, because she can really have a huge impact on the team."

Adding to the depth on offense will be sophomore Kelsey Labrum, who joins the Bulldogs in 2008 after playing last season at Memphis. Labrum saw action in 114 games for the Tigers in 2007 and finished fourth on the team with 1.99 kills per contest while adding 55 total blocks.

"Kelsey is a great addition to our outside," Clark said. "She is experienced and has a great work ethic that will translate to the court."

Setter
One place Clark won't have to worry about experience is at setter, where Dana Daprile and junior Brittany Awai give Butler one of the best setting tandems in the league, while the addition of freshman Elyssa Garfinkle to the mix increases the Bulldogs' ability to exploit the group's secondary talents.

"We are excited about the options our depth at setter gives us this year," Clark said. "We will have the opportunity to let Dana do some hitting and have Brittany provide some depth on defense.

"All three of our setters have unbelievable work ethic and are smart enough to run the offense. I wouldn't be surprised to see all three doing setting for us this year."

Daprile finished 2007 as the Bulldogs' assists leader for the third-straight season, dishing a career-best 910 for a rate of 8.27 per game, the seventh-best in league. She also added to the team's offense, chipping in 1.29 kills per game while tying for second on the squad with a .196 hitting percentage.

"Dana is so versatile at setter for us," Clark said. "She is our leader on the floor and she sets a great example for the rest of our setters."

Awai saw significant action at setter and on defense in her first season with the team in 2007, dealing 3.02 assists per contest while averaging 1.78 digs per game. Clark expects even more contributions from her in 2008.

"Brittany made possibly the biggest jump of anyone at setter," she explained. "She improved her game greatly over the spring, and she added even more experience during our Nicaragua trip, where she was our primary setter."

Garfinkle adds to the depth at the position and could get substantial action in her first collegiate season. The Birmingham, Ala., native earned all-state honors twice during her high school career and served as team captain as a senior.

"Elyssa is our prototype, our understudy," Clark said. "She has a fiery passion for the game and exhibits the kind of demeanor that is necessary to be a successful setter."

Middle Blockers
The middle blockers have been a strong point for the Butler volleyball team in recent years, finishing among the top three in the Horizon League in blocks during each of the last four seasons. Following the departure of senior Michelle DeGeeter, the blocking corps will be among the youngest in the conference, but the talent and depth of the group has given Clark reason to believe the Bulldogs' trend of defensive dominance will continue in 2008.

The position will be anchored by second-year player Jalesa Lee, who is coming off of a break-out freshman campaign in which she finished second on the squad and ranked sixth in the league with 1.12 blocks per contest. She came on strong down the stretch, recording five or more kills and total blocks in 10 of the team's final 16 matches, to finish the season with 103 kills and 112 blocks.

"Jalesa got some good experience as a freshman last year," Clark said. "She has become a lot stronger thanks to some dedicated strength training during the summer, and I think she could be one of the top middle blockers in the conference this year."

Clark also expects a lot out of sophomore Melody Austin, who showed signs of becoming one of the team's top options in the middle last year. She finished tied for fifth with 0.57 blocks per contest after seeing action in 13 matches.

"Melody is quickly developing as a player," Clark commented. "She has added a lot of strength in the off-season and will provide some good competition for a starting spot in the middle."

Though listed on the roster as an outside hitter, Allen has developed the versatility that could make her a significant offensive threat in the middle of the net. She finished third on the team with 0.65 blocks per game in 2007 and can add a potent offensive threat to the position with a solid arm swing.

Rookie Maureen Bamiro could also be thrown into the mix in her first season. The Kalamazoo, Mich., native twice earned all-region and all-conference honors in high school, and her athletic ability has Clark excited about her potential.

"Maureen might have our best one-foot take-off and is extremely strong in the upper body," she said. "The biggest key to her success will be how quickly she can learn the system. She has a good shot to contend for one of our starting spots in the middle."

Libero/Defensive Specialist
Like the setter position, the Bulldogs' back row defense will be another spot laden with experienced talent, including a pair of senior members in Nina Inic and Chloe' Blasingame.

Inic has been the team's top defensive specialist the past two seasons, finishing 2007 with 4.44 digs per game while posting a .949 reception percentage. Her 471 total digs last year rank as the ninth-highest single-season total in school history, while her 991 career digs puts her within striking distance of the top-10 career marks.

"Nina is in the best condition of her career," Clark said. "She has matured physically and has gotten stronger. She is going to be phenomenal this year and has set herself up to have her best season as a senior."

Blasingame adds to the experience in the back row. She has totaled 307 digs in her three seasons with the team while appearing in 213 games during her career. "Chloe's game has improved greatly over the spring and summer," Clark noted. "She will continue to be a huge threat to our opponents with her ability to keep the ball off the floor."

The Bulldogs will also benefit on defense from the versatility of Katie Daprile and Awai. Daprile's 3.05 digs per game in 2007 were the second-highest total on the team, while Awai's 1.78 digs per contest ranked as the sixth-most on the squad.

Schedule
Three road tournaments and an always challenging Horizon League slate highlight the Butler volleyball team's 2008 schedule. The Bulldogs will travel to Texas, Georgia and New York to open the year before battling the nine league foes leading up to the 2008 Horizon League Championship in Cleveland.