September 2, 2006

Recruits Look to Bump Volleyball to Next Level

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The sounds of grunts and squelching shoes inside Newman Arena grow louder and more intense as the days countdown towards the volleyball team’s first outright Ivy League title defense since the mid-1990s. With the departure of last year’s class, which included Cornell’s all-time career digs leader, Kelly Kramer ’06, and last season’s assists per game leader, Whitney Fair ’06, the team looks to reload for this season, knowing that its main offensive and defensive core is still intact.

With star names like seniors Elizabeth Bishop and Joanna Weiss returning to the lineup this year, a new class of freshmen started taking notes inside Newman when practice started with two-a-days on Aug. 20. Unlike last year’s recruiting class, which came in expecting to see limited playing time, the members of the Class of 2010 — Juliana Rodgers, Megan Mushovic, Stephanie Comon and Katelyn Fitzpatrick — will face an entirely different mindset.

“This year’s class is expected to play,” said third-year head coach Deitre Collins-Parker. “This year, especially, Megan and Stephanie will come into the program having played at a higher level [in high school] and will be counted on to contribute. Juliana included.”

With the departure of California natives Kristen Hughes ’06 and Kramer from the back row, the team restocked with West Coast talent by adding defensive specialists Comon and Mushovic. Comon, an engineering major from Redondo Beach, Calif., played soccer and volleyball at Bishop Montgomery High, where she was a two-year varsity starter and a team captain as a senior. Mushovic, who hails from Coronado, Calif., was a three-time first-team all-league selection at Cornonado High, where she also participated in track and soccer.

The women are expected to compete with junior Kara Zaragoza for the libero spot this fall and will also see time in the rotation. Mushovic and Comon seemed to be more groomed for the defensive position coming into fall practice, meaning it could come down to the wire in terms of deciding who will fill vacant positions this season.

“The two are similar to Kristen [Hughes ’06] and Kara, but with more experience coming into the program,” Collins-Parker said. “Megan and Stephanie add so much to our program in terms of ball control and it’s exciting because that’s one of the things we lacked the most last season.”

Rodgers, a physics major out of Flower Mound, Tex., looks to slot herself into a middle blocker rotation that will feature Weiss, an All-Ivy first team selection last year who led the Ivy League in hitting percentage (.406). Senior Katie Rademacher, the team’s blocks per game leader from two years ago (1.45) will also be in the lineup. Rodgers, who played her prep volleyball at Marcus High, was a two-time first team all-district selection and team captain.

“[Rodgers is] just a strong kid with a solid volleyball background,” Collins-Parker said. “We really needed to add depth to that position because since we didn’t get the outside hitters that we wanted [last year], we had to have some of our other middle blockers fill in at other positions. Juliana is just a solid middle that understands the position.”

Fitzpatrick, the lone walk-on of the new freshman class, is an applied economics and management major from Port Jefferson, N.Y., where she was a two-year starter at St. Anthony’s High. Although the outside hitter is slotted behind a strong supporting cast, which includes Bishop — Cornell’s all-time career kills leader — and the Big East’s top kills leader from two years ago in senior Alex Dyer, Fitzpatrick will undoubtedly learn from the league’s best. And although she will come in as a walk-on, she will get a first-hand look at how walk-ons can prove to be a vital part of a team’s success by keeping a eye on senior Alaina Town, who is also a previous walk-on and who will make a serious impact on the scoreboard as she shifts from middle blocker to outside hitter this season. The move is due to Thais Mirela ’07 leaving the squad in order to play professionally in Germany.

The volleyball team will play their first match of the season next Friday at the NIKE Portland Invitational in Portland, Ore.