HIGH POINT, N.C. – Head coach Jason Oliver will rely on a group of seasoned veterans to lead the 2014 High Point University volleyball team to a Big South Championship. The Panthers return four seniors, two juniors and the 2013 Big South Freshman of the Year with game experience. Oliver also brought in his most athletic recruiting class yet with four freshmen and a junior transfer.
“The competition and skill level in our gym has been better than I have ever seen,” Oliver said. “We are working hard with purpose which isn’t something we have always done in the past. We never had the depth we have now and it is forcing every single player to work harder to secure their starting roles. No player can take a day off in practice if they want to play and the result is everyone on the team giving 100 percent every day.”
High Point was picked to finish fourth in the Big South Preseason Poll as voted on by the league’s head coaches. Senior Chelsea Davis was named to the Preseason All-Big South team after finishing second in Player of the Year voting last season.
Along with Davis, HPU returns All-Conference honoree Kristin Heldt and the 2013 Big South Freshman of the Year Savannah Angel. Annemarie Chin, Wavie Chin and Katie Vincent all return after playing in all 31 matches last season.
OUTSIDE HITTERS/RIGHT SIDE
High Point returns starting outside hitters and right side hitters from last year in All-Conference honorees Chelsea Davis and Kristin Heldt. Davis has started every game in her career and reached the 1,000-kill mark last season. She needs just 74 digs to become the third player in school history to reach 1,000 kills and 1,000 digs. Sophomore Megan Kennedy and freshman Haley Barnes are also options on the outside.
“The three outsides are really close in talent,” Oliver said. “What will separate them is who has composure and who can gives us the most production. Chelsea Davis has never been off the floor in her career and that could happen this year with the talented underclassmen. Megan Kennedy got better throughout her freshman season and dedicated herself in the weight room this summer. She has the physical ability to be one of the best players on our team. Haley Barnes brings the right mindset to the game. We have the luxury of easing Haley in to the game but we expect big production from her.”
Davis led the Big South with 4.15 kills per set and also averaged 2.65 digs per set and 20 solo blocks. Kennedy finished last season with 79 kills and 105 digs.
Heldt returns as the starter on the right side. She earned All-Conference honors each of the last two seasons and is just shy of her 1,000th career kill entering the season (964). Senior Chelsea Blanford will push Heldt for time on the right side.
“This is the same old battle,” Oliver said. “We have watched Kristin and Chelsea Blanford battle for three years. Chelsea is confident in her game and has played really well. Kristin is more aggressive this year than she has ever been. She has matured and is playing like a senior leader.”
Heldt averaged 317 kills and 2.07 digs per set while also putting up 61 total blocks. Blanford played in 25 matches with 72 kills, 23 blocks and 16 aces.
High Point has the luxury of three middle blockers who could all start this season. Senior captain Katie Vincent leads the group and the reigning Big South Freshman of the Year, Savannah Angel, also returns to the team. Pushing both of them is freshman Camryn Freiberg from Allen, Texas.
“This is the first time in my five years that I have had three middles who could all start and the level of competition between then is very high,” Oliver said. “It is the closest battle in the gym. I genuinely don’t know which two will start and the third one on the bench will be ready to go in at any second. Katie Vincent is a player who thrives in competition and works harder than everyone else in the gym. She is also thoughtful enough to realize there were two other middles on the roster this season and she worked hard for months so she could be the on the floor when the season started.”
Vincent set a program single-season record with 110 blocks last year. She hit .223 for the season with 1.79 kills per set and finished second on the team with 23 aces.
“You can’t deny Savannah was the Big South Freshman of the Year and the skill and physicality she brings is a huge part of our game,” Oliver said. “Camryn is one of the most talented athletes we have ever had in the program. She has always been the best player and athlete on her teams so no one has ever really taught her a system and preseason has been a learning curve. She has an instinctive ability to put down kills and score points that can’t be taught.”
Angel hit .317 in her rookie campaign while averaging 1.5 kills and .71 blocks per set. Freiberg was a three-time All-District player at Allen High School and was the 2012 District 10 Blocker of the Year.
The Panthers will rely on a new setter to run the team in 2014 with the graduation of All-Big South starter Maddie Simpson. Oliver brought in junior Gabi Mirand and freshman Carly Jimenez to fight for the starting role.
“The volleyball IQ at the setter position is incredibly high,” Oliver said. “We hit it out of the part with Gabi and Carly. They know what situational setting looks like, they know how to lead the team and they are technically very sound. For our system we have two setters that could step in at any time and run the show. Gabi is very mature in her game and very focused. There isn’t a single play on the floor that Gabi hasn’t thought of. She has a calming presence and the ability to connect on the floor. Carly’s game is very similar but a little more athletic. When she puts her mind to competing, she makes really good decisions. This battle is much closer than I expected it to be.”
Mirand played two seasons Southern Utah, where she was a Summit League All-Freshmen Team selection in 2011. In 2012 she led the team with 985 assists before redshirting the 2013 season. Jimenez comes from a winning culture at St. Charles East High School in Illinois where she helped the team to conference championships in 2011 and 2013.
Junior Annemarie Chin and Wavie Chin have both played in every match for the last two seasons. Annemarie Chin has been the starting libero since early in her freshman season but this year Wavie Chin
“All four of our defensive specialists bring something different,” Oliver said. “Right now Wavie Chin
Wavie Chin came up with 209 digs (1.83 per set) last year while also serving six aces. Annemarie Chin led the team with 628 digs (5.41 per set) with 106 assists and nine aces. Her 5.41 digs per set in the most in a single-season at HPU, topping Julie Hershkowitz’s mark of 5.20 from 2009.
Sophomore Greta Griswold
“Greta has improved her body control, her mindset, her ability on the floor to make plays and even improved her serve which was already very good,” Oliver said. “Amy Pilat is a special player with a great mindset. She is a great teammate who brings energy to the gym everyday.”