Volleyball earning early success

Senior set Kristen Gengenbacher in action against the University of Hawaii. Photo courtesy of USD Athletics.

     The women’s volleyball team is consistently one of the strongest athletic programs at the University of San Diego. This year the team is off to a strong start, opening the season with six wins and three losses.
     According to head coach Jennifer Petrie, the team goal has always been the same.
“We want to win the West Coast Conference,” Petrie said. “One of our goals, year in and year out, is to host the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament.”
     The Toreros began their season in early August in a tournament across the Pacific Ocean, one in which they topped home team and nationally-ranked Hawaii in straight sets.
     Afterward, the Toreros returned home to host the San Diego Invitational, a tournament that included teams from across the country such as the Texas Longhorns, ranked fourth in the nation at the time. All tournament, Coach Petrie thought the atmosphere in the friendly confines of the Jenny Craig Pavilion could not have been better.
     “Especially for the Texas game, the atmosphere in the JCP was absolutely tremendous,” Petrie said. “That stadium was buzzing when we walked out onto that court. We were fired up and ready to play in front of the home crowd. We hosted the tournament, and wanted to bring that trophy with us.”
While the Toreros ultimately fell to the Longhorns in four sets, the team used the loss as motivation as they flew to Utah for the Utah Classic last weekend, a showing that included sweeps of both Missouri and Green Bay.
     The successful start to the season has elevated the Toreros to number 17 in the nation, as one of the top programs on the West Coast continues to turn heads.
     After the first nine games Coach Petrie is very impressed with how her athletes have played so far.
“Roxie Wiblin, who is our starting outside hitter, is producing a lot in just her first year on campus,” Petrie said. “Jayden Kennedy was recently named the conference player of the week, so I would love to see her keep up that production.”
     Kennedy, one of the team’s senior leaders, agreed that her teammates have played very well so far. However, she notes that there is still room for improvement.
     “I want to see the team continue to become stronger as the season progresses,” Kennedy said. “I want our girls to unlock our true potential.”
     The senior opposite hitter added that she’d like to see the team continue to aim high as well. “Our primary goal as a team is to win the West Coast Conference, but I want to see our team shoot even higher,” Kennedy said. “For me, there would be no better goal than to bring a national championship trophy back with us to San Diego.”
     Alongside those team goals, Kennedy noted that she has a few personal motivators as well as she begins her last season as a Torero.
     “My own personal goal is to be an All-American,” said Kennedy. “I would also like to be the Offensive Player of the Year for the West Coast Conference and make the All-WCC team.”
Coach Petrie believes that along with Kennedy, the senior class will continue to be the driving force behind the team.
     “Kristen Gengenbacher, our starting setter, and Lizzy Tardieu, our starting libero, have really taken over our leadership responsibility,” Petrie said. “They are always the first ones to whip us back into shape.”
     Even though Coach Petrie has been impressed with her team’s performance so far, there are still some things she wants the team to improve upon. “I want to try to improve our blocking game,” Petrie said. “I believe that we can become a bigger force at the net. Our offense has been looking really good right now, so I want to keep balancing our distribution and our attack.”
     Even with those areas for improvement in mind, the team’s strong start to the 2017 season has set them up well for continued success. With WCC play set to open for the Toreros next weekend, the team appears primed to climb to the top of the conference ladder once again and aim for an eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
Jake Ellis | Asst. Sports Editor | The USD Vista

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