Expectations High: Six Starters Return

Scott Roeder | Staff Photographer

Scott Roeder | Staff Photographer

Anteaters’ Head Coach Paula Weishoff has raised expectations for UC Irvine Women’s Volleyball team. Last year, the Lady Anteaters compiled a record of 22-8, which has been their best since 1978. More importantly, the team was on the cusp of making the playoffs for the first time in school history, but two crucial losses down the stretch diminished those hopes.

The ’Eaters have the talent and experience to contend for a Big West title, as they return six of the seven starters from last year’s team. But the player that is being replaced, Taryn Robertson, was the cornerstone of UCI volleyball for the last four years as the team’s setter.

The hopes for the 2010 squad rest on the shoulders of two players, senior Ashley Bosza and sophomore Marissa Alvarez. If the Anteaters expect to repeat last year’s success, one of these two players need to show that they are capable of being catalysts for the UCI offense.

Bosza is a senior who has played sparingly because she has been buried in the depth chart. But when she has played, Bosza has made an impact on the court. In 2008, she came off the bench in 18 matches, recording nine assists, five digs, a block and an ace.

As a senior in high school, Bosza notched 63 kills, 137 assists and 138 digs. She was also named the team’s Most Valuable Defensive Player.

Marissa Alvarez will enter her second season as an Anteater. She saw some action in her freshman season, playing in seven matches totaling seven kills, 82 assists, three service aces, and 14 digs. In 2008, as a high school student, Alvarez was named West Bay Athletic League’s Most Valuable Player.

The transition for Bosza or Alvarez into the starting setter position should come with some ease, as the Anteaters have two potential All-Big West First Team players in Kari Pestolesi and Juliane Piggott. Piggott, the senior transfer from UCLA, enters her second full season wearing the Anteater Blue and Gold. If last year was any indication of Piggott’s talents, this year could be an even bigger season for the outside hitter. In 2009, Piggott recorded 353 kills, second on the team to Pestolesi.

On the opposite side of Piggott, Pestolesi will be making her presence felt. Pestolesi enters her fourth and final season in an Anteater uniform. In the previous three years, she has done nothing but exceed expectations and this season should be no different. Last year, Pestolesi led the team with 437 kills and 41 service aces. She was also second in sets played with 113. Once again, Pestolesi should be the dominant force in the 2010 season.

Along with Alvarez, Kristin Winkler was part of Coach Weishoff’s first recruiting class. Winkler had a sensational freshman season. She started 30 matches at libero, led the team with 479 digs and finished second with 30 aces. She was also named to the All-Big West Freshman Team. Look for Winkler to continue to improve and provide solid play at the libero position this upcoming season.

Alexandra Hauser and Riley Cropper should provide consistent play at middle blocker and be a defensive force in the middle of the court. Last season, Hauser ranked 55th in the nation and second in the Big West with a hitting percentage of .344. The red shirt junior led the team with 106 blocks and finished third with 168 kills.

Cropper is another force in the middle that opposing teams will have to contend with. Last year, Cropper’s .309 hitting percentage was good for eighth in the Big West. She tallied 159 kills, which was good for fourth on the team and blocked 68 balls.

In addition, Weishoff added two players this offseason to bolster her roster. At opposite, she added Aly Squires and Mary Carls at setter. Squires was a three-time Most Valuable Player at Santa Ynez High School. As a junior, she led her team to the CIF quarterfinals and as a senior, she reached the CIF semifinals.

In high school, Carls was part of two undefeated teams one in 2006 and 2007. In 2008, she ranked fifth in the SCVA 18-And-Under Top 20 Setters.

Last year, UCI lost two heartbreaking five-set matches against UC Santa Barbara, one on the road and the other at home. The Anteaters get their shot at redemption on Sept. 25, when the Gauchos travel to Irvine and on Oct. 22, when the Anteaters take their game to Santa Barbara.

But before the Anteaters can seek revenge, they must first set their sights on a very tough non-conference schedule. The ’Eaters open up their season by participating in the Washington State Tournament to face Washington State, Idaho and Weber State. UCI then travels to Stanford to take on the Cardinal and Marquette.

After wrapping things up in the Hawaii Tournament, UCI will host two very tough Pac-10 opponents. The Anteaters host UCLA on Sept. 18 and USC comes to town on Sept. 21.

Last year, the women’s volleyball team played one game at the Bren Events Center. This year, the team plays seven times under the bright lights of the Bren. The Anteaters close out their 2010 regular season with four straight home games, the first three against Big West rivals.

Your first chance to catch the Lady Anteaters in action is on Sept. 14, as they take on the University of San Diego at Crawford Court.

The Anteaters come back home on Sept. 29 to open up conference play, hosting UC Riverside. After losing to UC Santa Barbara twice last year during the regular season, the Anteaters will seek revenge as they host the Gauchos on Oct. 30. The ’Eaters wrap up their regular season against cross county rival, Cal State Fullerton on Nov. 3.