DURHAM, N.H. -- Expectations are once again high in Durham as the volleyball team prepares for the 2010 season. The Wildcats finished last season as the hottest team in America East winning five of the final six regular-season matches. New Hampshire moved from outside playoff contention to the second over the final weeks of the regular season.

UNH returns nine letterwinners and four starters from the 2009 roster. Head coach Jill Hirschinger, who enters her 15th season at UNH, has added four newcomers to an already deep roster. While New Hampshire said farewell to a trio of Wildcats that helped rewrite the record books in Kirsten Bates, Lindsay Fogarty and Kate Uitti; the core pieces are back for another run at an America East title and a trip to the NCAAs.

Outside Hitters/Right-Side Hitters: Junior Lauren Laquerre (Concord, N.H.) will be called upon to lead an emerging crop of young pin hitters. Laquerre was fourth on the team in kills a year ago and was one of New Hampshire's most reliable attackers. Joining Laquerre are classmates Taylor Dressing (Gillette, N.J.) and Amy Keding (Northbrook, Ill.). Dressing was evolving into one of UNH's top outside hitters in 2009 until she was sidelined with a knee injury. The Wildcats are optimistic that she can pick up right where she left off. Filling in for Dressing was Keding; the junior outside hitter was a mainstay in the Wildcat lineup down the stretch when the team caught fire. The team won five of the final six matches of the regular season with Keding playing in all six matches. The 'Cats balance experience with youth by adding three freshmen pin hitters: righty Leah Thomas (Rochester, N.H.), lefties Destiny Tolliver (Rochester, Mich.) and Morgan Thatcher (Brockton, Mass.).

Middle Blockers: Senior tri-captain Justine Elliott (Mitchellville, Md.) anchors a crop of young middle blockers for New Hampshire. Elliott, who was the 2009 Ed Jentes Coaches' Award recipient, started a team-high 99 sets and tallied a team-best 73 blocks. Elliott is on pace to move into the top ten all-time in blocks at UNH and could make a run at cracking the top five in program history. Elliott's experience is complemented by redshirt sophomore Jessy Dick (Lethbridge, Alberta) and incoming freshman Kaja Schirmer (Pittsford, N.Y.). Dick saw increased role last season playing in 17 sets and tallying 13 kills, while Schirmer should add depth in the middle for the 'Cats.

Setters: New Hampshire is "set" in the middle despite losing just its second 3,000-assist performer in Kate Uitti. Senior tri-captain Sara Heldman (Greenwood, Ind.) will return to her native position for her final season. Heldman is no stranger to setting for the Wildcats. She has 520 assists of her own despite playing all of 2009 at the libero position. Heldman dished out 342 assists in 20 matches as a sophomore. Waiting in the wings is sophomore setter Jansan Falcusan (Plymouth, Mich.). Falcusan, who served as Uitti's backup in 2009, saw action in 10 matches and 13 sets as a freshman. She finished her first season in Durham with 76 assists including three double-digit performances.

Defensive Specialists: The Wildcat defensive efforts will be led by senior tri-captain Jayde Huxtable (St. Charles, Ill.). Huxtable will likely take over the libero duties with Heldman heading back to the setter spot. Joining Huxtable on defense will be sophomore, Jessie Schnepp (East Longmeadow, Mass.). Schnepp saw tremendous growth during the 2009 season as well as in the spring season and will she her time dramatically increase this season.

Schedule: The Wildcats open their 2010 campaign on Friday, Aug. 27 at the Army Tournament. UNH will play St. John's as well as the host Black Knights and Fairleigh Dickinson University during the opening weekend of competition in West Point, N.Y. Next, the 'Cats will play at the Harvard Tournament on Sept. 3-4 against Boston College, Eastern Illinois and Bryant.

The Wildcats open their home slate with a single non-conference match against Northeastern University on Tuesday, Sept. 7 at 7 p.m. The following weekend, UNH will travel to participate in the URI Tournament and will play the host Rams, Marist College and Maryland Eastern Shore. New Hampshire will return home to host the third-annual Holly Young Invitational Sept. 17-18 at Lundholm Gymnasium. The Wildcats welcome in in-state foe Dartmouth College as well as Sacred Heart and Rutgers. UNH concludes the non-conference play with a single match at UConn on Sept. 24.

UNH will open America East conference play on Friday, Oct. 1 as it plays host to Hartford (7 p.m.) and continues at home with Stony Brook on Sunday, Oct. 3 (1 p.m.).

The Wildcats hope to earn a spot in the four-team America East tournament slated for Nov. 19-20 at the site of the highest seed. This off-season, Providence College became an associate member of the America East conference in volleyball.

The Wildcats have won three America East tournament titles (1998, 2002, 2003) and three NCAA appearances in school history, all which have come under Coach Hirschinger. UNH has won 20+ matches in six of the last 13 seasons, including a school record 24 wins in 1998 and 1999. Hirschinger, who is one of just 15 active coaches to posted 600 career highs has also amassed over 200 win as UNH head coach.

View: Mobile | Desktop