Competition, Strong Finish Fuels Volleyball As Season Starts Friday
There is an energy inside Dillon Gym that is both refreshing and exciting to Sabrina King ’01, the face of Princeton Volleyball and somebody who has been part of the Tigers’ last five Ivy League championship teams.
It is far too early to know just how that energy will translate in the win/loss column, but it has her excited to get the season started this weekend.
The women’s volleyball team will officially open the 2014-15 Princeton athletic calendar Friday at 12:30 when it opens the Temple Invitational against UNC-Charlotte. That will be the first of 11 tournament matches over a three-week stretch to help prepare Princeton for the rigors of the Ivy League season.
King has several capable returners and a couple of exciting prospects looking to break into the lineup, but she is interested to see how the gel together as a unit against strong competition. And she knows that there are plenty of Tigers looking to break into the rotation by the time Ivy play rolls around.
After a 4-2 end to the 2013 Ivy season, the Tigers have looked forward to the opportunity of challenging for the program’s 15th Ivy title.
The wait ends Friday.
There are times when a team can be a well-oiled machine, making the perfect pass and the perfect set, and it just all looks so easy.
And then there are times when you need to just get the ball in the air and hope for somebody to put it away.
Princeton has two of the best in the league at that, as junior Kendall Peterkin and sophomore Cara Mattaliano ranked as two of the league’s top three in both kills and points last season.
Peterkin has played both outside and opposite in her first two years; while she posted big numbers from the left side, she has been at her best on the right, and that is probably where she will start the 2014 season. She has averaged over three kills per set throughout her career, and has looked dominant at times, but the coaching staff is looking for an improvement in her hitting percentage and overall consistency this season.
Peterkin earned First-Team All-Ivy honors as a freshman in 2012, and Mattaliano matched that effort last year. She led all freshmen in both kills and points last season — and ranked in the Top 3 overall in both — and she was far stronger in the Ivy portion of the season after getting used to the pace of the collegiate game. A capable hitter, Mattaliano also brings a fiery presence to the court, similar to that of All-Ivy middle Cathryn Quinn ’12.
Injuries aside — and King has learned that you can’t put injuries aside this year — you can probably write both Peterkin and Mattaliano into the starting lineup confidently this season. But that leaves one open spot, either at the second outside or the opposite, should Peterkin move across the court.
And this is where both competition and injuries play a major factor.
Senior co-captains Sarah Hanna and Francie Jenkins have both seen time, but both dealt with injuries last season. Hanna has been a starter and would probably be the most consistent option of the left side. Sophomore Ellie Shannon started on the rightside early in the Ivy season last year, but she suffered a season-ending knee injury at Brown and missed the entire offseason rehabbing from that.
A freshman who could get an early opportunity for quality playing time is Pauli King, a Menlo-Atherton graduate who was a four-time invitee to Junior Nationals. King (the coach) has been impressed with the athleticism of King (the player), and is very interested to see how she competes at this level.
King counted on a senior duo to anchor the middle of the court this season, but another injury has opened the door for an underclassman to make an early impact.
Senior Nicole Kincade has dealt with her own injury issues throughout her career, but she could be primed for a breakout senior season. At 6-2, she now adds experience to her athleticism, and she has the opportunity to post an All-Ivy caliber season to end her career. But she improved her hitting efficiency by 70 points last season, and she led the team with almost one block per set.
Her partner in the middle was supposed to be All-Ivy classmate Tiana Woolridge, but a preseason injury has opened the door for sophomore Brittany Ptak to start this weekend. Ptak had limited experience last season, but she seems more comfortable this season, especially on offense. She doesn’t bring the same physical presence as Woolridge, but she brings a speed that Princeton can utilize, especially if it passes well.
Junior Stephanie Marani has also seen limited time early in her career, but she will likely get several opportunities in the opening tournaments.
Sophomore Lauren Miller earned the starting nod at setter last season and ranked in the top half of the league in assists. Senior Ginny Willis has two years of starting experience and has earned All-Ivy recognition. Their competition for the position has raised both their games, and given King several options on the court.
Miller should see an improvement just from experience, as well as her developed chemistry with the likes of Mattaliano and Peterkin. Willis has pushed hard this preseason, though, and she has guided Princeton to several big wins in her career. One could emerge the full-time setter, while the two could rotate if that lineup seems most effective these next three weeks.
Junior Sarah Daschbach has been the starting setter since she first stepped foot on campus two years ago, and she ranked fourth in the league with 3.8 digs per set last season. While she has the experience heading into this season, freshman Maddie Huber has been impressive during the preseason. Huber was selected to the 2013 California all-state team, and she led the Menlo School to the state final last season. Another freshman, Kelly Matthews, could also factor here, although she is another candidate on the outside as well.