With five returning starters and a solid crop of newcomers joining the team, coach Todd Caughlin is optimistic about St. Mary’s chances for success in the 2009 season. However, with a roster dominated by underclassmen, the road will not be an easy one for the Rattlers.

St. Mary’s will have just two seniors and three juniors on the squad this season, meaning that the nine underclassmen on the roster will play a prominent role in the Rattlers success

“I’m very excited about the new direction our program is heading,” Caughlin said. “We worked hard last spring developing a new aura to never accept losing and the combination of new and incoming student-athletes is combining to achieve our new goals and direction.”

Outside Hitter
The Rattlers return three players at the outside hitter position: Katelyn Kershner (Jr., San Antonio), Adrianna Keys (So., San Antonio) and Kori McCarver (Jr., San Antonio). Two other players will join the mix for the position this season: Alexa Ignasiak (Fr., Bellville, Texas) and Luisa Rodriguez (Jr., Belo Horizonte, Brazil).

McCarver comes in as the most accomplished of the group, having played in 210 games over the past two seasons. She has been named All-Heartland Conference, while playing as both a setter and outside hitter. For her career she is averaging 2.35 kills, 1.70 assists, 1.25 digs and 0.43 blocks per game.

Kershner joined the Rattlers last season and made an immediate impact. She was one of the top all-around players on the squad, seeing action in 27 matches, averaging 1.02 kills and 2.21 digs per game. She reached double figures in kills three times, while posting double figures in digs seven times.

Keys saw limited action in her first season with the Rattlers, but still averaged 1.17 kills, 0.56 digs and 0.33 blocks per set.

Ignasiak was a three-time all-district honoree and all-state pick at Bellville High School. She helped to lead BHS to three straight regional tournament appearances. Rodriguez is a junior transfer who should give the Rattlers depth and challenge for a starting spot.

“All our outside hitters are going to play an important role,” Caughlin said. “It’s a benefit to have a combination of new and returning players to enhance competition for spots. Every player has the ability to be an impact player.”

Middle Blocker
The middle blocker is a position of significant experience and depth for the Rattlers. Three players with experience return: Stephanie Crowell (Sr., The Woodlands, Texas), Kirsten Chapman (So., Jourdanton, Texas) and Stephanie Proske (So., LaGrange, Texas). The Rattlers also add a talented newcomer to the mix in Mallory Moeller (So., Seguin, Texas).

Crowell is the veteran of the group, entering her fourth year on the team. In her career, she has played in 89 matches, averaging 1.49 kills and 0.75 blocks per game. Last season she averaged 1.87 kills and 0.53 blocks per game. She owns the St. Mary’s three-game single-match record for blocks in a match with nine against Oklahoma Panhandle State in 2006.

Chapman and Proske both joined the team last season and each made an immediate impact on the team. Chapman was a contender for Heartland Conference Freshman of the Year after averaging 2.11 kills and 0.67 blocks per game. Proske saw more playing time as the season went on and averaged 0.60 blocks per game for the season.

Moeller joins the Rattler volleyball team after playing the last two seasons with the women’s basketball team. Prior to her time on the Rattler basketball team, she was a standout for Navarro High School, setting school records for kills (1,196), solo blocks (214) and block assists (304) and was an all-district honoree.

“I love the idea of having four players that can compete with one another, but also learn from one another to make the middle our dominant position,” Caughlin said.

The Rattlers may be deeper at the setter position than they have been in years. Sondra Cui (So., Schertz, Texas) and McCarver split the setter duties last season, while newcomer Allie Murray (Fr., San Antonio) joins the team for the 2009 season.

Cui was a bright spot for the Rattlers in 2008. She led the team with 9.57 assists, while also averaging 2.61 digs and 0.27 service aces per contest. In her second year with the Rattlers, Caughlin is looking for her to take her place as one of the top setters in the Heartland Conference.

“Both setters bring a knowledge and desire to play that compliments the position itself,” Caughlin said. “It’s that combination that will provide us with an experienced leadership role to allow us to improve towards the goals of the program.”

Defensive Specialist
Though not as deep as they would like, the Rattlers have experience for the libero and defensive specialist position. Allison Avalos (Sr., El Paso, Texas) is one of two seniors on the team and averaged 2.21 digs per game last season. Stephanie Flores (So., San Antonio) is in her first season at St. Mary’s, but her second year in college as she is a transfer from the University of Texas-San Antonio. She will help to provide quality depth at the position.

“Both student-athletes bring a very strong ability to anticipate the flow of the game, which is needed for such an important position.”

The Opposition
Caughlin has always believed in playing the best to be the best. This season, despite their youth, the Rattlers will be playing one of the toughest schedules in the South Central Region. In addition to a tough Heartland Conference slate, the Rattlers will play eight teams that advanced to the NCAA regional tournament last season.

The St. Mary’s/Texas MedClinic Invitational will again be one of the top season-opening events in the region. Included in the field will be Florida Southern College and Metropolitan State University, both of whom advanced to the NCAA Regionals last season. At the Dowling Tournament, they will face Lock Haven University and Dowling University , two more NCAA Regional participants.

The Peggy Martin Classic in Warrensburg, Mo. will also feature a pair of NCAA Regional opponents: Pittsburg State University and the University of Central Missouri. Another experienced NCAA Regional tournament team, West Texas A&M University awaits the Rattlers, as does the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, who won the Heartland Conference Championship last season. The Heartland Conference Tournament will be played on Nov. 12-14 at the regular season champion’s arena.

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