2008 UCF Volleyball Season Preview

Aug. 25, 2008

ORLANDO, Fla. (www.ucfathletics.com) - Fresh. Original. Exciting. These are just a few words to describe the 2008 UCF volleyball season and the nucleus surrounding it. Not only are the Knights embarking on a new era of volleyball at UCF, but they are also paving a path for generations of young women looking to become Knights and accelerate their careers in the sport.

In order for this vision to be set in motion, the Knights needed a fearless leader. In stepped first-year head coach Todd Dagenais, who, as an assistant head coach at the University of Southern California, helped guide his team to a No. 3 American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) ranking at the conclusion of the 2007 season. The Trojans also made a trip to the NCAA Final Four for the fourth time in six years.

After becoming only the ninth head coach in UCF volleyball history in January, Dagenais quickly began assembling his coaching staff. In early February, Sam Shweisky joined the staff after a successful assistant coaching campaign at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. His team enjoyed its most successful season in program history in 2007 and recorded its first national ranking in the CSTV/AVCA Division I Coaches Top 25 Poll.

"Sam comes in because he is a very creative thinker. He can analyze situations from a completely different perspective," Dagenais said. "I am so linear in my thinking and he is not. I think that is very good. He is a great complement to me and really helps me see things in different ways."

Dagenais rounded out his coaching staff with the addition of Michelle Chatman, who came to UCF after two seasons as an assistant at Georgetown. A former AVCA All-American at Florida, Chatman helped lead the Gators to a 126-10 overall record during her playing career and made four-consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including the NCAA Final Four in 2002 and the national championship match in 2003.

"Michelle is one of the most dynamic recruiters that I have worked with," Dagenais said. "I think that she is one of the best in the country. She really relates with people. I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that she was there. She was a major player at a major school; an All-American. She played in a national championship match, which gives her instant creditability with today's player. I think that she is a great mentor and a great role model for our players, our team and for the players that we are recruiting."

Chatman's recruiting efforts definitely paid off for Dagenais and the Knights, as the volleyball squad welcomes 10 newcomers to its roster for the 2008 season, including transfers from both Florida and Florida State that look to make an immediate impact on the success of the upcoming year.

Janine Williams (Gainesville, Fla.), a six-foot sophomore outside hitter, transferred to UCF this fall after spending the last two seasons at Florida under the direction of head coach Mary Wise. While with the Gators, Williams was named the SEC Freshman of the Week on Sept. 4, 2007, and participated in 61 games after redshirting her freshman year due to a season-ending injury.

"Janine comes to us with a wealth of high level college experience, which is something we need to be competitive right away," Dagenais said. "We are very fortunate to have recruited somebody with her accolades and caliber of play. We expect her to be a very big point, if not the focal point, of our offense. We need the other teams trying to figure out how to stop her, which will open up a lot of things for other players. She will make us better because of the points she can get for us and because she's a concern to the other teams."

The Knights' second decorated transfer, Lauren Rosenthal (Colorado Springs, Colo.), comes from Florida State where she spent the 2007 season as a setter. While with the Seminoles, Rosenthal appeared in 57 games while starting 11 matches. Prior to her stint at FSU, the 5-foot-10 setter collected a pair of All-America honors from prepvolleyball.com and the NCSAA following her junior and senior seasons at Colorado Springs Christian School. She was also named the Denver Post All-Colorado Player of the Year in 2006.

"Lauren Rosenthal comes from the same program as Andrea Youngblood (Castle Rock, Colo.) - Front Range Volleyball Club," Dagenais said. "That club produces great setters year after year. I am excited to have not one, but two setters from that club. It is going to be interesting because we have Andrea and Lauren who both have collegiate setting experience. I am looking forward to seeing which one of them really steps up and embraces the challenges as we step forward into the future."

Also looking to see the floor for the first time as Knights this season are Kristin Fisher (Clearwater, Fla.) and Erin Callahan (Alpharetta, Ga.), who redshirted the 2007 season while practicing with the UCF squad. Fisher, who was forced to take a medical redshirt at the start of the 2007 training camp, was named the St. Petersburg Times Pinellas County Player of the Year following her senior season at Clearwater High School.

"Her personality, what she accomplishes in the classroom and how she rallies people around her are what makes Kristin Fisher a great leader," Dagenais said. "The team really has a great deal of respect for her. She's a very good ball-control player, she can pass and she can play defense. Not only is she going to provide a big role for us on the floor, but off the floor as well."

Callahan, a graduate of Milton High School, helped lead her team to the 2005 Georgia High School State Championship as a junior and was named her team's MVP the same year.

"Erin Callahan is just a powerful, dynamic athlete," Dagenais said. "Right now she is a blank slate that we can redesign any way we want. She is the most determined athlete to succeed that I have seen on this team. She just does not want to back down from a challenge and that is why people have a great deal of respect for her."

Rounding out the list of newcomers is a group of five freshmen and a junior college transfer. One of the rookies, Renele Forde (Trincity, Trinidad and Tobago), brings with her a wealth of knowledge, having played with the Trinidad and Tobago National Team since she was 15 years old, while also competing with the team this summer. Standing at 6-foot-4, Forde is going to give opposing teams something to think about early in her career.

"Renele Forde comes to us from Trinidad and Tobago with international experience," Dagenais stated. "She is another player that can compete for a starting position just based on her international experience, physical size and attributes. We are really excited about her versatility, size and athletic ability. We think she can provide an immediate impact for us."

Another freshman that could make an immediate impact for the Black and Gold is Sara Rex (Oldsmar, Fla.). The Oldsmar, Fla., native not only has size, but she also has speed to add to her arsenal. While playing for East Lake High School, Rex earned Florida Class 5A All-State Honorable Mention honors as a senior, while leading her team with 438 kills and 69 blocks as a junior.

"Sara is your prototypical fast-twitch athlete," Dagenais said. "She is a sleek, slasher-type of player that is quick along the net and gets her hands up above the net quickly to block. She is going to compete for playing time right away and I think she has the physical ability to do it. She certainly has the mental ability to do it."

Adding even more size to the UCF lineup, Katie Riley (Merritt Island, Fla.) is a 6-foot-2 opposite-side hitter who received second-team All-Space Coast honors following her senior campaign at Merritt Island High School. Riley also led her team to an undefeated season in conference and district play the same year.

"Katie Riley is very long and has very long arms, and that kind of size cannot be ignored," Dagenais said. "If she can come in and score points for us or she can be a situational player for us, then I will not hesitate at all to use a body that long to be able to shut down an opponent. I really look forward to seeing what she can do in the gym."

Three different newcomers will compete to be the Knights' starting libero for the 2008 season, with Brevard Community College transfer Melissa Reinders (Winter Park, Fla.) holding the most experience of the three.

"Melissa Reinders was the number one defensive libero in the country last year in digs per game," Dagenais stated. "I do not care what level you are at, if you are number one in anything, then you are really good. We are looking forward to having somebody that has accomplished that in our program. She is a player that I expect to compete for that starting libero job because she has two years of very high-level junior college experience under her belt."

Challenging Reinders for the starting spot will also be freshmen Kathleen Curry (Geneva, Fla.) and Katie Duggan (Margate, Fla.).

"It is nice to be able to add one of the best defensive players in the Orlando area to our roster," Dagenais said. "That is what Kathleen Curry is. She is a great defensive player and a great passer.

Katie Duggan brings in ball control experience as a libero and a defensive specialist. She gives us additional depth in a position that we know we are going to need additional depth in."

Look for part-two of the three-part series previewing the 2008 volleyball squad Tuesday, exclusively at www.UCFAthletics.com.

Season tickets for UCF's 2008 volleyball campaign at The Venue are currently available by calling the UCF athletics ticket office at 407-UCF-1000. For the latest news on the Knights, log on to www.UCFAthletics.com - the official site for UCF varsity sports. The site, which also contains ticket and Golden Knights Club donor information, is also the home of UCF's new online apparel store. Also visit www.UCFPhotos.com, the exclusive fan source for UCF action sports pictures.