Aug. 22, 2007
We've been told Rome wasn't built in a day.
But Siena head volleyball coach Garvey Pierre has never been one to follow conventional wisdom.
Pierre's fifth year at Siena begins this fall, and although the dramatic turnaround he has orchestrated may not have taken place overnight, it sure feels that way.
The Saints finished tied for last place in the MAAC in 2004, but have since reeled off back-to-back conference championships, the most recent coming in dramatic fashion last fall at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. Pierre has guided the upstart Saints to two NCAA Tournaments in his four years at the helm, and there are no signs of letting up.
Siena returns all but one starter (albeit 2006-2007 Siena College Female Student-Athlete of the Year Christie Gustafson), so the outlook is simple.
Win a third straight MAAC Championship.
With the experience returning, and another highly touted freshmen class in place, the Saints figure to be right in the mix come mid-November. Archrival Fairfield, the coaches' preseason choice to win the league, figures to provide the biggest obstacle. The Stags have won the regular-season MAAC title the last two years, but fallen to the Saints in the MAAC Championship match each time.
The quest for a three-peat depends heavily on the Saints' talented outside attack.
Senior Nadiege Honore returns as one of the top two hitters in the league. The 2006 Preseason Player of the Year enters her final campaign just four kills shy of the 1,000-kill club.
Honore is an explosive athlete who can jump out of the gym. After struggling at times with consistency as an underclassman, she played her best volleyball in the biggest matches a year ago. This season, Pierre will turn to the Trinidad native for leadership and major production.
"We know what Nadiege is capable of," Pierre said. "She has as much talent as anyone in the league and any player I have ever coached. We need her to realize this potential. If she does, we will enjoy great success as a group and she will be recognized as one of the top volleyball talents in the Northeast."
Honore is joined outside by classmate Elizabeth Akin who has shown steady improvement throughout her career. The Monument, Colo. native has high expectations for herself, after fine tuning her game in the off-season. Akin has a fluid and consistent swing and averaged one and a half kills per game in 26 matches played last season.
Three freshmen will compete for playing time on the outside. Amanda Begin was one of the top local high school players throughout her scholastic career at perennial power Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake. Begin has a winning attitude and the tools that will allow her to compete for playing time from the start.
Twin sisters Aubrey and Brianne Bobo traveled two hours east on the New York State Thruway to arrive in Loudonville after decorated careers at Oneida High School. Aubrey adds great size and a powerful swing to the front row attack, while Brianne can contribute in a variety of ways. If preseason works are any indication, both Bobos will be playing a prominent roll this season, and each has a bright future to look forward to in the Green and Gold.
The outside hitters will have a much easier job as defenses are forced to adjust to the league's top middle hitter.
Reigning Rookie of the Year Burgandy McCurty was one of the top-15 freshmen in the country according to the Collegiate Volleyball Update, which recognized her as a "Rising Star" in 2006.
McCurty was named to the 2006 MAAC First Team and is a Preseason All-League selection this year at middle hitter after tying a school record with a .386 attack as a rookie. Despite standing just 5-9, McCurty has one of the most devastating attacks and consistent finishes in the league. The high flyer makes up for her lack of size with tremendous instincts and great footwork.
"Burgandy was a real surprise to the rest of the league last year," Pierre said. "She really helps balance our attack. This year, teams will game plan better for her, so she will need to adjust and improve her all-around game."
Junior Kelly Hummel played in all 35 matches last season after transitioning from the middle to the right side. This year, she likely returns to her natural spot in the middle, where she will spell McCurty and try to build upon her nearly 1.8 kills per game and a .232 attack percentage. Hummel has good size and a refined knowledge of the game. Her experience and insight will be valuable this fall.
Senior Janine Pesusich will see plenty of action in the rotation adding additional size and talent up front. Pesusich is a well-conditioned athlete with plenty of experience having seen action in 82 matches in her first three seasons.
Junior Emily Kruglik and freshman Brittany Lintelman could rotate into the middle as well. Kruglik is the tallest member of the Siena roster and she has worked hard at developing her game. Lintelman progressed rapidly in several programs after a non-traditional high school career that began later than most and involved several relocations.
With the middle and outside in seemingly good hands, the Saints will turn to a new face on the right side to round out their solid attack.
Freshman Blair Atkins has impressed since arriving on campus and will see most of her time on the right side. The southpaw played primarily on the right side in high school and club volleyball, which should help ease her transition to the Division I game. She is also renowned as a great blocker - a trait which will help her earn major minutes in support of Siena's front row defense.
Classmates Brianne Bobo and Lintelman will also see some time on the right side.
When the ball eludes the Siena front row, Pierre has little to worry about, as the league's top defense awaits.
Siena's back row defense is so deep and talented that it's difficult to know where to start.
Libero Kathi Kobayashi has led the team in digs in each of her first two seasons with the program. She is a selfless, hard-nosed talent whose trademark dives and improbable digs have become as commonplace as her accurate passes and team-first attitude.
Kobayashi is partially responsible for the other staple in the back row, Hawaiian high school teammate Kau'i Robello. Robello played in all 35 matches and 120 games as a freshman, helping stabilize the team with her versatile, if often under appreciated game. Robello can literally do it all, adding great skill and vision to the defense, and a surprising punch to the non-traditional attack.
Kobayashi and Robello will share the back row with senior defensive specialist Jessica Hackett. Hackett has enjoyed a whirlwind career in Loudonville, developing from a step-in-setter as a freshman to a polished and often called upon role player. Hackett is a solid defender and capable server, qualities that will be useful on a regular basis this fall.
Junior Celeste Sisson saw a major boost in her playing time last year after proving her defensive abilities on the practice floor. Sisson provides Pierre with another capable defender, should he decide to mix up the rotation.
Freshman Aimee Gosse comes to Loudonville after a standout high school career at Long Island's Connetquot High School (the same school Lauren Weber '04 - Siena's all-time leader in career digs - attended). Gosse has a promising career as a defender for the Saints and will gain valuable experience spelling the team's talented back row this season.
All of Siena's defenders specialize in precision passes that often ignite the Saints' counter attack. If all goes according to plan, the person on the receiving end of these passes will always be the same.
April London grabbed hold of the setter responsibilities when she arrived in the fall of 2005 and has not let go. Two MAAC Championships later, little has changed in the junior's make-up or decision making.
And that's just fine with everyone associated with Siena's program.
"April is the person who makes us go," Pierre said. "She understands this and has embraced it. We have full confidence in her ability, and she will be challenged this year, as we look to diversify our attack."
London has already broken every single-season record for a setter in program history, and as a junior, she is poised to become the career leader in assists and assists per game.
London's chief attributes are her soft hands, vision and consistency. This season she will have more options to utilize, which should make her even more dangerous.
The road to a three-peat begins August 25 in Mount Pleasant, Mich. as Siena partakes in the four-team, two-day Central Michigan Chippewa Classic. The following weekend, the Saints return to the Empire State where they meet a highly competitive field in the Hofstra Invitational. San Diego State and MAC member Ball State join Siena and the host Pride on the first weekend of September in Hempstead.
Tournament play concludes the following week with a return trip to the Colgate Raider Classic in Hamilton, N.Y. Siena will take on Montreal and Bucknell along with the host Raiders.
Siena returns home to start the MAAC season against archrival Fairfield on Saturday, September 15. The Saints and Stags have played for the MAAC title in each of the last two seasons, so emotions figure to be running high after the Saints unveil their Championship banner.
Once again, Siena will play all nine MAAC members twice, matches which make up the bulk of the remainder of the schedule. Still, the Saints have managed to squeeze regional powers UAlbany (10/21), Binghamton (10/23) and Syracuse (11/6) onto their non-league docket.
The schedule should have the Saints well prepared for the four-team MAAC Championships set to take place November 17-18 on the hostile grounds of Fairfield University in Fairfield, Conn.
"We want to challenge ourselves against the programs that are perceived to be the best out there," Pierre said. "This will help us improve as the season advances and hopefully have us peaking for the MAAC Championships. We also realize if we don't play the best, we can't become the best. And we have some very big goals."
And if the Saints happen to reach Pierre's goals?
We're guessing even Caesar would be impressed.