Senior co-captain Natasha Otte

The University of New Hampshire women’s volleyball team will look to become the second team in the 13-year history of America East to three-peat as conference champions.

The Wildcats return four starters, nine letterwinners and lose six seniors from the 2003 team that won the America East regular-season and tournament championships en route to a great showing in the NCAA Tournament against eventual national champion Southern California. UNH scored at least 17 points in every game and was only one of a handful of teams to do so vs. the Women of Troy.

The average attendance at Wildcat games has increased every season since head coach Jill Hirshinger arrived in 1996. The team also made history by breaking the 1,000 fan mark twice in 2003 for the first time in the program’s history. The team has deemed Saturday, October 9th vs. Stony Brook University as its annual “Pack the Arena Day” at Lundholm Gym. UNH will open the season on Sept. 3rd in the UNH Tournament at Lundholm Gym and will face Pac-10 foe Arizona State the next night.

The Wildcats graduated a big core of last year’s America East championship team with six seniors graduating. The team will be younger this season, but will work hard to repeat as America East champions. UNH returns four starters who contributed regularly, including three of the top five kill leader’s from last seasons team, along with Amy Dai, who is coming back after an ACL tear and a redshirt year in 2003.

The coaching staff filled the needs with highly skilled players that have athleticism, size and a competitive edge. It will be tough to replace the graduating class, but the coaching staff is very optimistic with the returning core of players and the six incoming student-athletes.

In the offseason, the team emphasized basic skill development and having a stronger base to build upon. Assistant coach Karolyn Kirby, one of the finest beach volleyball players in the history of the sport, has aided the high level of skill development by focusing on the technical aspects of the game. All of the returning Wildcat players spent the summer working with John Ciani, the Wildcats’ strength and conditioning coach who has made a huge impact with the volleyball program.

The Wildcats are deep at the starting middle hitter position and return a pair of Granite State natives in senior co-captain Natasha Otte (Plymouth, N.H.) and junior Karen Harrington (Windham, N.H.), both of whom are starters from last year’s America East championship team.

Otte’s 321 kills was third best for UNH in 2003 and she also amassed 202 digs and 102 total blocks, which was second on the ‘Cats roster. She will be the second captain in the history of UNH volleyball from New Hampshire with the first being former Wildcat Bethany Cole. Harrington had a breakout sophomore year with 206 kills and a team-leading 110 total blocks. Harrington posted five kills on 10 attempts and a .500 hitting percentage against Southern California’s pair of 6-foot-6 middle hitters.

At outside hitter, the Wildcats return one major contributor from last season in junior Erin Walker (Fulton, N.Y.). The Wildcats have a deep and talented group in junior Katie Steffens (Monroe, Conn.), sophomore Amy Dai (Calgary, Alb.), Emmy Blouin (St. Albert, Alb.) and Jeanne Czipri (Aurora, Ill.) to compete for playing time at outside hitter.

Walker, an America East All-Conference selection, registered 431 kills and a 3.42 kill per game average, which was second on the team behind departed senior Aly Coler, in her sophomore year. She also tallied a team-high 54 service aces and 210 digs. Dai is coming off a redshirt year after tearing her ACL at the beginning of the season, while Katie Steffens recorded 35 kills in 2003. Blouin and Czipri showed promise in the spring season and will be expected to contribute after redshirting last season. Sophomore setter Katie Weidner (Warrenville, Ill.) gained valuable experience in her freshman season platooning with departed senior Anne Davis. Weidner, an America East All-Rookie selection, posted 578 assists and her 6.80 assist per game mark was ranked eighth among conference setters.

Senior Jen Williams (Mountain View, Calif.) will be the starting libero for the 2004 Wildcats and she will anchor the Wildcats’ defense as one of the best defensive players in the America East conference. Williams was one of two Wildcats to play in all 129 games for UNH in 2003, along with defensive partner Sasha Scott. Williams ranked second on the Wildcats’ roster with 371 digs, 44 service aces and her 2.88 digs per game was third best on the squad. She needs 70 digs to become the sixth Wildcat in school history to record 1,000 digs in her UNH career.

The Wildcats added six incoming student-athletes for the upcoming season including: outside hitter Toni Barnas (Cary, Ill.), middle hitter Jessica Compton (Woodridge, Ill.), setter/defensive specialist Megan Hodson (S. Glastonbury, Conn.), outside hitter/defensive specialist Kristin Marcum (Laconia, N.H.), outside hitter/libero Sarah Rehn (Oceanside, Calif.) and outside hitter/setter Holly Young (Dennisport, Mass.).

The Wildcats added ball control and a highly skilled player in Rehn, a transfer from Northern Arizona. She adds experience to the core group of returning outside hitters. Rehn, who will be a sophomore this season for the Wildcats, posted 107 kills and 269 digs playing both outside hitter and libero for NAU.

The Wildcats added size with the signing of 6-foot-1 Barnas, a big booming outside hitter, and 6-3 Compton. Both players have had great training and come from high level high school and junior olympic progams. Barnas was rated one of the top 150 players in the country by Prep Volleyball.She played at Cary Grove High School and was captain of the 2003 team. Barnas was named one of the top five hitters in the Fox Valley Conference. She earned All-State Honorable Mention recognition, as well as All-Conference honors, last year.

Compton was a three-year letterwinner at Downers Grove South High School. She led her 2003 team to a 34-6 record and No. 4 ranking in the state. In 2003, Compton guided the Mustangs to Illinois’ AA championship and a top-10 national ranking.

Marcum, who will become the third Wildcat to call the Granite State home, played at Gilford High School and led the team to three state championships each of the last three years. Marcum was named Gatorade Player of the Year in 2003 and she was also an All-State selection in 2002 and 2003.

Hodson played at Glastonbury High School, were she captained the team in her senior year and was named MVP of her team in her junior and senior seasons. She was also a two-year member of the Central Connecticut Conference All-Conference Team and was also named All-State in 2002 and 2003.

Young attended Dennis-Yarmouth High School where she earned First-Team All-State in 2003 and was also named a Pilgrim Conference All-Star. In 2003 at Dennis-Yarmouth, she posted 158 kills, 52 aces and a .435 hitting percentage and set a team record with 18 kills in one game.

The Wildcats will be set for another great season of America East volleyball with a solid group of returning players and a talented and skilled incoming freshman class.

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