Hiding Youth Through Talent

by Ira Green

Creating success for any team lies in its foundation and ability to develop young talent. With UCF in its second year in Conference USA, head coach Meg Colado knew her team had potential. She also realized that for her squad to improve on last season's win total, she would have to add talented players to build around.

With four players on the verge of ending their careers this year at UCF, Colado did just that. She brought in impressive young players in setter Andrea Youngblood, middle blocker Stephanie Serna and outside hitter Erin Campbell. The Golden Knights also had a gem land in their laps in the form of walk-on libero Tricia Scott.

Despite the talent displayed by Colado's seasoned players like Leah Alexander and Jana Mitchell, she has assured her team that no one's starting role is secure.

"Freshmen have been challenging our upperclassmen for starting positions on a daily basis," said Colado. "When they earn the right to play, they play."

And play they have. Early in the season, the four newcomers have been among UCF's statistical leaders. Averaging 10.67 assists per game through matches of Oct. 6, Youngblood ranks in the top 10 in C-USA in that category.

Watching Youngblood on the court, it is hard to tell that she had been setting for only two seasons prior to coming to UCF. The Colorado native quickly learned that the college game is much different than the high school and club play she is acquainted with.

"I think it is hard to adjust moving up in competition, especially because this is only my third season setting," said Youngblood. "There is a lot of pressure because it is fast-paced. I also have to learn where to position the ball on sets for our hitters since it is my first year with everyone. Club volleyball was fast, but I was still surprised at the speed of the game."

Assistant coach Jenny Frank, who earned Division I All-America honors in 2003 as a setter at UCF and is now back for her first year on the Golden Knights' staff, has been able to show Youngblood numerous ways to improve. One factor that has helped Youngblood adjust to playing in C-USA was her stint at the Front Range Volleyball Club, the same club that Frank played for.

"Jenny has really helped me improve my setting," said Youngblood. "I went to the same club team as her so they are teaching the same stuff I am learning here. She is a great setting coach and is really helping me gain experience."

One of Youngblood's favorite targets is Serna, the lone sophomore among the group of newcomers. A transfer from Birmingham-Southern, she has given the Golden Knights another offensive weapon. Along with outside hitters Maina Heming, Lorin Lukas and Schanell Neiderworder, Serna has been able to help power the offense from the middle blocker position. She has caught the attention of many, including the coaches.

"She has done an absolutely fantastic job and has earned the starting position," said Colado. "She plays hard all of the time."

Colado has also had to do a double-take at the job done by Scott, who attended St. Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale. In any sport at the Division I level, it is rare for a rookie walk-on to see much action. However, Scott frequently played at the start of the campaign and has been a strong defensive presence for the Golden Knights.

"She has defied the walk-on status by earning a starting position early on," said Colado. "She is a kid that knows a lot about the game. She passes at a pretty high level for being so young and that is why she has been such a positive factor for us."

Campbell continues to impress and fight for playing time through her strong performances on the court. Recruited out of Kansas City, Mo. as an outside hitter, Campbell was used early in the season as a libero, showing her athleticism and willingness to help the team in all aspects.

"Campbell is a winner," said Colado. "She came from a starting outside hitter role in her club career, but we wanted to have her on the floor and it did not matter what position she played."