2010 Season Paves Way For Bright Future
BUFFALO, NY – One just has to look towards the record book since 2000 to realize that the University at Buffalo volleyball team is on it way to its ultimate goal, a Mid-American Conference Championship and Top 25 ranking. In just two seasons under head coach Todd Kress, the Bulls have finished with a combined record of 34-32. In the nine seasons prior to that, the Bulls were 70-212.
For the second straight year Kress led the Bulls to a road victory in the first round of the Mid-American Conference Tournament, picking up their second straight trip to the MAC Quarterfinals in Toledo, OH. UB recorded 18 wins during the 2010 season, its most since the 1996 season.
"We definitely had a lot of ups and downs this past season, but we finished strong and that was a sign of the maturation of this team," said Kress. "I am extremely happy for this senior class that went through a couple tough years. To turn this team around is a great accomplishment after where we were when they got here."
That senior class of Kristin Bignell, Kayla Govier, Marisa Hornbaker and Lindsey Schlegel finished their careers with 42 wins, the most for a class since the 2006 graduating class, that had 44 wins over a four-year period. Schlegel finishes her UB career second in school history with 3,889 assists, while Bignell finished fifth in school history with 429 career blocks. Hornbaker had her breakout season during her junior year, eclipsing the 300 kill mark, while Govier had her best year this past season, finishing third on the team in kills with 289.
"Kayla was night and day from last season to this past year," said Kress. "She brought so much fire and passion out there on the court and she was playing her best volleyball towards the end of the season."
Also taking her game to new levels in 2010 was junior Abby Niekamp, who was named to the All-MAC Second Team following the season. Niekamp led the team with a .339 hitting percentage, the third highest in school history, and the highest by any UB player since 1992. Niekamp finished second on the team with 290 kills and ha double-digit kills in six of her final eight games. Fellow junior Heather Pyle finished with 255 digs, the first time in her career that has gone over the 200-dig plateau.
"Abby really did some nice things for us this past year after having just an average season in her first year here," said Kress. "She is going to be the senior leadership for us next year and we expect her to continue to improve her game."
The big story for the Bulls this past season was the maturation of a five-member freshmen class that saw plenty of action through out the year. Statistically, the freshmen class was led by Dana Musil, who led the team with 295 kills and 41 service aces, while finishing second on the team with 259 digs. Libero Kelly Svoboda was named MAC East Defensive Player of the Week in back-to-back weeks late in the season as she finished with 468 digs, the sixth most in school history. Svoboda was also one of six players with at least 20 services aces. Also earning MAC East Defensive Player of the Week honors was freshman Carissa McKenna, who really came along late in the season, finishing with 59 blocks, including 13 solos. McKenna registered a block in nine of the final 10 matches, including a career-high seven against Bowling Green. Offensively, McKenna had at least three kills in nine of the final 10 matches.
Setter Dani Reinert began the process of becoming the team's primary setter for the future, by finishing with 417 assists. Reinert also had 25 service aces on the year. Outside hitter Christine Fritsche concluded her freshman season with 166 kills, 178 digs and 21 service aces as she had three double-digit kill performances, including 17 kills against Army and 12 kills against Air Force and West Virginia.
"These freshmen came here to help turn this program around and they all contributed in big wins for us this past season," said Kress. "At times we had four or five freshmen out there on the court and that is valuable experience that will help in the long run."
The season was highlighted by five-set victories over the MAC East and West Champion, both at Alumni Arena. The Bulls overcame a late four-point deficit in the fifth set handing the Cardinals just their fourth loss of the season. Ball State, who claimed the MAC Regular Season Championship, had leads of 5-1 and 8-4 in the fifth set before UB was able to come back for the win.
UB also picked up its first win over MAC East foe Ohio since 1999. Just like the Ball State match the Bulls would have to come back in the fifth set, after they began by trailing 7-3. Ohio led by three at 10-7, but the Bulls ultimately tied things up at 11 and went on to take the set 15-12.
"Those two matches really exemplified the 'never say die' attitude of this team," said Kress. "With that being said, we had some tough losses last season and that will drive us this spring to be even better next year."
Next year's team is already beginning to take shape with this year's five freshmen returning next year as sophomores. UB has already signed three players for the 2011 season and are looking to add more during the late signing period in April.
"We are thrilled for the future of this program," said Kress. "Just look at the valuable experience gained by the freshmen this past year. We are excited about what Liz Scott, Sable Staller and Chelsea Toth are going to bring to this program and we still haven't finished this class off."
While Kress' sights are set on getting ready for the 2011 season, he knows that the goals set for this program are an ongoing process and one that is beginning to take shape.
"We have a couple of kids for 2012 that we are looking at and if we get a couple of those players then there is no reason why we can't hit our goal of a conference championship and start thinking about our ultimate goal of being a Top 25 program nationally."