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Aug. 20, 2007
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - After winning 23 matches the previous season, coaches rarely have to worry about facing a rebuilding effort. For USC Upstate head coach Jennifer Calloway, not only will she have to fill four starting slots, she will have to start to build Upstate into a NCAA Division I program.
After 16 seasons, three Peach Belt Conference Championships and two trips to the NCAA Tournament in Division II, the Spartans are moving on to the next challenge, much like they did in 1990 after eight seasons, three district championships and three trips to the national tournament in the NAIA. That next challenge will begin on Friday afternoon in the first of three matches for USC Upstate in their own Fatz Cafe USC Upstate Volleyball Tournament at the G.B. Hodge Center. The Spartans play Savannah State at 2 p.m. on Friday, Navy at 7 p.m. and host crosstown rival, Wofford, at 7 p.m. on Saturday night.
For Calloway, the 12th-year head coach, and the Spartans, the move to Division I and the Atlantic Sun Conference gives the team its most difficult schedule in school history, including the school's first match ever against an Southeastern Conference school, Georgia, and two Atlantic Sun Conference opponents that won more than 20 matches in 2006, Belmont and East Tennessee State.
"We wanted to have a balance of experienced players and newcomers and we think we have done that," Calloway said. "I think this group is coming into the season focused on their role and positive impact on our program. That is the first step to our success. We are all floating on uncharted waters at this point. We will have to wait and see what happens. The A-Sun is a tough volleyball conferenc and, of course, we would like to make a few waves."
The Outside Hitters
Ambrisco had a solid freshman season for the Spartans, as she finished second on the squad with 363 kills and earned a spot on the Peach Belt Conference All-Tournament team. The sophomore posted a .252 hitting percentage and added 47 blocks during the season.
"I think now Jesicah knows what it is going to take to become a better player and better contributor to the team," Calloway said, "and I have seen what I need to do to push her along the way. She worked so hard in the spring, and I think she will be a big contributor this year."
Lubura is one of three transfers from the New Mexico Military Institute. The 6-1 Serbia native earned all-conference and all-region honors during both her junior college campaigns. She finished in the nation's top 10 in kills per game as a freshman, averaging 3.97 per game.
"Jovana can be a dominant and smart player, Calloway said. "We're hoping that she can really come in and be an immediate factor in our offense."
Junior Jennifer Joraskie could also see time on the left side. A two-year letterwinner for the Spartans, Joraskie has 321 kills in her career and 57 blocks. The 5-10 Southington, Conn., native is also versatile and could see time on the right side.
"Jen had an amazing spring season," Calloway said. "She could be a force for us outside as well."
On the right side, Calloway said juniors Jenna Leslie and transfer Tijana Knezevic may fit well there. "They're not the power hitters, but they're very smart players," Calloway said. "They can find an open area and score. They can score points. They are also good blockers and make excellent second setters so I think that side will suit them better."
Leslie has appeared in 164 games in her two-year career, posting 150 kills, 141 digs and 42 blocks in her career. The 5-10 Houston, Texas, native posted a career-high of nine kills as a freshman at Lenoir-Rhyne.
Knezevic, another transfer from New Mexico Military Institute, earned two all-conference honors during her junior college career. She also was the school's valedictorian.
Downey competed well as a freshman, as she saw action in 115 games, posting 240 kills and a .221 hitting percentage to go along with 117 total blocks. The 6-1 sophomore led the team in solo blocks and had eight matches with at least five blocks.
"Katie should be a strong force for us at the net this year," Calloway said. "I thought she came transitioned well from high school to college ball. Now she knows what it's all about and has definitely caught on."
The newcomers, Varnum and Campbell, though they have different playing styles, will also add to the mix for the Spartans. Varnum, at 5-11, is a transfer from New Mexico Military Institute, where she averaged 2.02 kills and 1.11 blocks as a sophomore. Campbell, a 6-1 Orlando, Fla., native, was named her districts Middle Blocker of the Year as a senior, posting 487 kills at Pilot Point (Texas) High School.
Calloway also noted that Varnum and Campbell may see time at one of the outside hitting slots. "We have versatile, athletic players which should keep our team well balanced," she said.
Running a 6-2 scheme, Calloway said she plans on including both players in a typical rotation throughout the season.
Bucciferro, a 5-10 sophomore, appeared in all 34 matches during her true freshman campaign for the Spartans, posting 812 assists, an average of 7.00 per game. She also played a pivotal role on the defense, posting 210 digs.
Mauldin, a 5-9 junior, saw action in 33 matches, posting 614 assists as a junior. She added 188 digs on defense.
"Megan and Karla are new, and I'm really excited about both of them," Calloway said. "They have awesome work ethics and they will go through a wall for the ball. We need that competitiveness. They also have that peppy personality you need on the floor. I think they are both going to do well."
Healey, a 5-7 freshman, averaged 3.09 digs per game as a high school senior at Ursuline Academy in St. Louis. An active club volleyball player, she helped the St. Louis CYC club to nationals twice.
Andree, a 5-7 junior, comes to Upstate after two years at Cypress (Calif.) Community College, where she averaged 4.86 digs per game as a sophomore.
Ward, a 5-7 freshman, will give the Spartans an added layer of versatility. She was a South Carolina Class A All-State selection as a senior and could see time anywhere on the floor, from the setter to hitter to her high school position as a defensive specialist.
"Angel has the potential to play as a hitter or as a defensive specialist," Calloway said. "She has an amazing work ethic and also has a desire to be here, so that will help her."
Upstate will play 29 matches this season, including a full A-Sun slate. The Spartans open the season against Savannah State at 2:00 p.m. in the USC Upstate Invitational and plays Navy that night at 7:00. The day kicks off the season in which Upstate will also play in two tournaments away from home at UNC Asheville and South Carolina State.
Upstate will play a full A-Sun schedule in 2007, taking on 11 conference opponents. The A-Sun is made up of 12 schools in five different states (Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida) and several major television markets (Nashville, Atlanta, Jacksonville, and Orlando). Upstate will play home matches against 18-match winner North Florida, 17-match winner Jacksonville, 25-match winner and defending league champion East Tennessee State, Gardner-Webb, Mercer, and Kennesaw State. The Spartans will hit the road in league play at defending Atlantic Sun Tournament champion Belmont (Nashville, Tenn.), Lipscomb (Nashville, Tenn.), Florida Gulf Coast (Ft. Myers, Fla.), Stetson (DeLand, Fla.), and Campbell (Buies Creek, N.C.).
The non-conference portion of the schedule finds Upstate playing home contests against the Patriot League's Navy, the Southern Conference's Wofford, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's Winston-Salem State, the Big South's UNC Asheville, Division II Presbyterian and independent Savannah State. The Spartans will play UNC Asheville, the SEC's Georgia, the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's Winston-Salem State, South Carolina State and Hampton, the Southern Conference's Western Carolina and The Citadel, Savannah State and Presbyterian away from the Hodge Center.
Tickets for matches at the Hodge Center at $4 for adults and $2 for students ages 11-18. USC Upstate students and children less than 10 years of age will be admitted free. As part of the opening weekend Fatz Cafe Tournament, all fans wearing green on Saturday for the 7 p.m. match with Wofford will be admitted free of charge.