After an up-and-down 2009 season, Brandeis volleyball coach Michelle Kim enters her seventh season at the helm hoping to break through in the ultra-competitive University Athletic Association in 2010. Kim's squad will rely on a trio of experienced seniors while look for emerging stars from the returning sophomore class and three new members of the squad.
Leading the way for the Judges is senior setter Abby Blasco (Greeley, Colo./Frontier Acad.). Blasco was the UAA Rookie of the Year in 2007 and has quarterbacked the team to a pair of ECAC tournament berths, including a title in her rookie season. Blasco is a three-time All-UAA Honorable mention and one-time All-New England honoree who has been ranked as high as second in the conference in assists and was fifth in the league in service aces (0.40 service aces per set) and seven in assists (8.64 assists per set) last season . Blasco will show her versatility this season, as Kim says she may see some time at libero.
The primary beneficiary of Abby Blasco's setting in 2010 will be an extremely familiar face at outside hitter - her twin sister, Paige Blasco (Greeley, Colo./Frontier Acad.). After missing her rookie season because of injury, Paige has been one of the top hitters in the UAA the last two years. She was named a second-team All-Association player and honorable mention All-New England as a junior after claiming All-New England honors in her debut season as a sophomore, when she finished third in the UAA in kills (3.26 kills per set). Paige tied for third in the Association last season at 3.41 kills per set and was fifth in points (3.86 points per set) while also leading the squad in digs (2.80 digs per set).
The third returning senior in 2010 will be the Judges' biggest defensive force at the net, middle blocker Nicole Smith (Marietta, Ga./Alan C. Pope). Smith had a breakout year in 2009, earning honorable-mention All-UAA honors after leading the league in blocks and finishing second in hitting percentage. Smith ended the season among the national leaders in both statistics, ranking 20th in hitting percentage (0.367) and 22nd in blocks (1.12 blocks per set). Smith also finished third on the squad with 1.79 kills per set, second among returning players. She also turned in the team's top hitting percentage performance of the season with 14 kills and just two errors in 20 attempts in a 3-1 loss to Williams College on Sept. 12.
"This senior class has a ton of playing experience," says Kim. 'We're really looking for their leadership to shine through and help boost the rest of the team."
Among the underclass returners, sophomore Becca Fischer (San Antonio, Texas/Clark) got the most experience on the team in 2009, starting all but four of the team's 34 matches at middle blocker and right-side hitter. Fischer finished second on the team with 92 blocks (21 solo) and was fifth in kills (1.16 kills per set). Classmate Lauren Berens (Boulder, Colo./Fairview) an outside hitter and middle blocker missed much of the season due to injuries, while sophomore Susan Sun (Acton, Mass./Acton-Boxborough) will hope to break through as an outside hitter after playing behind two departed players in 2009 at the libero position.
The newcomers in 2010 represent three different classes. Rookie Yael Einhorn (Cherry Hills, N.J./Cherry Hill East) will back up Abby Blasco at setter. Einhorn was named the Courier Post South Jersey Player of the Year as a senior for the Cougars, leading them to Olympic Conference championship and the Garden State Group IV semifinals in 2009. She also helped the U.S. to a silver medal at the 18th World Maccabiah Games in Israel last summer. "Yael has terrific fundamentals," says Kim. "She has the potential to be a great setter."
The Judges open their home schedule on September 1 against local rival Babson. In addition to their two non-conference tournaments this season, the Judges will host their University Athletic Association foes for the second UAA Round Robin on Oct. 16 and 17. As usual, the UAA is stacked in 2010, featuring the top-ranked and defending national champions Washington University, third-ranked and 2010 conference champions Emory and No. 21 New York University. Brandeis also has two scheduled showdowns with 22nd-ranked Tufts University, the highest-ranked team in New England. For the first time in 2010, all Brandeis home matches played in Red Auerbach Arena will be streamed live over the internet at http://www.brandeis.edu/streaming/athletics/