Since Ginny Alexander took over as volleyball coach at Utah State three years ago, the Aggie program has made incredible progress.

Starting at rock-bottom 0-30 in 1995, the Aggies improved to 7-27 the following year and to 18-15 last year. This season, which begins Friday night against Jacksonville at the Portland Invitational, the Aggies are setting their sights even higher."Our main focus is to get to the NCAA tournament and bring the program back to national prominence," said Alexander.

Alexander is referring to the AIAW national championship Utah State won in 1978. While a national title may be out of the question, a trip to the NCAAs this year isn't.

The Aggies were a surprising third place in the Big West Eastern Division last year. This year, the they have upgraded their schedule, and if they get a few key non-league wins to go with a division title, the Aggies should advance to the NCAAs.

Playing in the strong Big West Conference, which features three top 20 teams (Long Beach State, Pacific and Santa Barbara), should help the Aggies along with the fact that the NCAA tournament is expanding from 56 to 64 teams.

The Aggies return all of their main players from a year ago and are welcoming several newcomers. Leading the way is sophomore Denae Mohlman, who was the Big West Freshman of the Year and named one of the top seven freshmen in the country.

"We expect a lot of her," said Alexander. "She's technically sound, and she's a year more mature."

Other top returnees include senior outside hitter Niki Conner, sophomore outside hitters Amy Goulding and Melissa Schoepf, junior middle blocker Tiffany Kitley and junior setters Sarah Slayton and Lori Sargent.

Juniors Nicki Fusco, Heather Black, senior Marsha Moulding and sophomore Jennifer Gracen will add depth along with a couple of freshmen frontliners, Michelle Matheson and Heather Olmstead.

The Aggies play nine road games before finally playing at home. They open the home season with a bang on Sept. 24, playing Long Beach State, which has been ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in most preseason polls.