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USU volleyball: returners and newcomers prepare for playing time this weekend

By Doug Hoffman

For the Deseret News

Published: Wednesday, Aug. 28 2013 5:29 p.m. MDT

Utah State volleyball opens the 2013 season on Friday, Aug. 30, in Salt Lake City at the Utah Classic, opening against host Utah at 7 p.m. The Aggies then play Northern Iowa on Saturday, Aug. 31 at 10 a.m., before wrapping up their tournament action against Fairfield at 5 p.m. All matches are at Utah's Hunstman Center.

Setter

The Aggies return one of their four returning starters and one of four returning all-conference players at setter in junior Paige Neves. In 2012, Neves earned first-team all-WAC honors after ranking third in the league with 10.16 assists per set, dishing out 1,097 total assists, ranking No. 12 on USU’s single-season record list. Neves also led the league’s setters in blocking with 0.65 blocks per set. She was also second on the team in attack percentage at .261, averaging 0.5 kills per set, to go with 2.4 digs per set and 0.16 aces per set. Neves enters her junior season at No. 8 on USU’s career assists list with 1,971, needing just 29 more to become the eighth player in USU history to reach the 2,000 assists plateau. Neves distributed 30 or more assists in total of 24 matches, including 11 with 40 or more and four with 50 or more helpers, highlighted by a career-high 58 against Montana on Aug. 31.

Learning the ropes and the Aggies’ system is freshman Erica Moscoso, who has impressed the USU coaching staff with her running of the offense.

Middle blocker

Another of USU’s returning starters and returning all-conference honorees is junior Kaitln VanHoff, who earned second-team all-WAC honors last season after ranking 30th in the NCAA and fourth in the WAC with 1.33 blocks per set. VanHoff ended the season with 148 total blocks and 138 block assists, ranking No. 5 on USU’s single-season total blocks and block assists lists. She enters her junior campaign with 251 block assists, needing seven more to crack into the USU top-10 career list, as well as with 265 total career blocks, needing 14 more to break into the Aggies’ top-10 career list. Last season, VanHoff logged six or more total blocks in 11 matches, highlighted by a career-high 12 blocks against Sacred Heart on Sept. 1, adding 10 blocks each against Seattle on Sept. 20 and Denver on Oct. 6. VanHoff also averaged 1.32 kills per set with a .188 attack percentage (146-70-404).

In addition to VanHoff, the Aggies welcome back senior Alyssa Everett to the blocking line, as she missed last season with an injury. In 2011, Everett averaged 1.27 blocks per set with 80 total blocks. She added 0.62 kills per set on a .135 attack percentage (39-24-111). Despite last season’s WAC Freshman of the Year, Elle Brainard, shifting back to opposite side hitter, the Aggies have depth at middle blocker in a talented, promising pair of freshmen in Carly Lenzen and Hannah Smith.

Outside/opposite side hitter

For the second year in a row, Utah State must replace its most-talented spot in outside and opposite side hitters. A year ago, the Aggies were looking to replace All-American Liz McArthur, while this season USU must replace a pair of first-team all-WAC players in Shay Sorensen and Josselyn White. Sorensen averaged 3.13 kills, 2.34 digs and 0.95 blocks per set, while White added 2.77 kps, 2.72 dps and 0.70 bps.

USU does return junior outside hitter Rachel Orr, and sophomore Elle Brainard is shifting over from middle blocker to opposite side hitter. Orr earned first-team all-WAC honors after ranking ninth in the league in kills (2.96), logging a .224 attack percentage (326-141-825). Orr registered a .300 attack percentage or better in nine matches, led by a career-high .600 (12-0-20) against Texas State on Nov. 14. She pounded double-digit kills in 19 total matches, including a streak of seven in a row and 11 of the last 14 matches of the season. Orr logged 15 or more kills in six matches, highlighted by a career-high 18 at UTSA on Sept. 13, adding 17 twice. Last season at middle blocker, Brainard was named the WAC Freshman of the Year, while also earning second-team all-WAC honors, as well as being named to the all-Freshman team. She ranked third in the WAC and 20th in the NCAA in blocking (1.41 bps), while also ranking ninth in the conference with a .291 (188-67-416) hitting percentage. Brainard added 1.69 kills per set. She averaged her 1.41 blocks per set on 157 total blocks with seven solo and 150 block assists. The 150 blocks assists is No. 3 on USU’s single-season block assists list, while the 157 total blocks is No. 3 on the Aggies’ total blocks list and the .291 attack percentage is No. 10 in USU history. Brainard had five or more total blocks in 18 matches, highlighted by a season-high nine twice.

Senior Tumua Etimani is poised for a noteworthy senior season, while freshmen Maddie Day, Kayla DeCoursey and Kaylie Kamalu will provide talent and depth to the outside hitter and opposite side hitter corps.

Libero

For the second year in a row, the Aggies have their starting libero returning in junior Ashlan Rogers-Court. Last season, Rogers-Court ranked sixth in the WAC in digs with 3.72, posting 413 total digs, good for No. 6 on USU’s single-season digs list. She posted double-digit digs in 24 of the 30 matches including 17 of last 22 matches of the season, featuring a streak of nine-straight matches, highlighted by season-high and tying career-high 27 digs at UTSA on Sept. 13. Rogers-Court also ranked seventh in the WAC in service aces with 0.25 per set, leading the team with 28 aces, tying her career-high of three service aces in three matches last season.

Freshman Hannah Gleason adds to the mix as a defensive specialist and libero-in-waiting.

Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.

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