DURHAM, N.H. – A total of seven University of New Hampshire volleyball student-athletes, led by Player of the Year Morgan Thatcher (Brockton, Mass.), were honored at the America East annual banquet that was held Thursday night at Huddleston Hall on the UNH campus. Furthermore, head coach Jill Hirschinger and her coaching staff were bestowed the Coaching Staff of the Year award.
This marks the first time a Wildcat has been named America East Player of the Year since Alyson Coler earned the honor back in 2003.
Hirschinger garners her fifth America East Coaching Staff of the Year award with UNH. In her 18th season with the Wildcats, the head coach last received to the honor back in 2003. This season with Hirschinger at the helm, the 'Cats had a conference-best 12-2 record including a perfect 7-0 in America East play at Lundholm Gymnasium.
New Hampshire tied the highest total members on the America East All-Conference First and Second Team with two on both. Representing the conference First Team honorees were senior right side hitter Thatcher and sophomore outside hitter Tori Forrest (Powder Springs, Ga.). The last time UNH was honored with two First Team selections dates back to 2007 (Kirsten Bates and Emmy Blouin). In addition, Forrest was the lone representative of the sophomore class on the First Team ballot. The America East Second Team includes junior setter Taylor Dunklau (Mukwonago, Wis.) and senior right side hitter Destiny Tolliver (Rochester, Mich.).
The Wildcats also placed freshman middle blocker Demi Muses (Orangevale, Calif.) to the All-Rookie team, marking the third time in four years UNH has had a student-athlete named to the conference All-Rookie team.
The 'Cats had the highest amount of student-athletes named to the America East All-Academic team with three, tying a program-best with the 2007 UNH volleyball team (Kristen Bated, Kate Uitti and Jessica Compton). Sophomore middle blocker Cassidy Croci (Sylvania, Ohio), junior defensive specialist Sam Henke (Millersville, Md.) and Forrest all earned their first-ever All-Academic awards.
Thatcher continued her successful Wildcat career as the five-time Player of the Week was a consistent presence as the co-captain and right side hitter. Holding the second highest kills per set average in America East (3.06 kps), Thatcher registered 10-plus kills in 17 of 29 matches this season to rank second on the squad with 315 kills. The two-time America East first team selection became just the seventh-ever Wildcat to post 1,000 kills in a career, registering the milestone against UMBC on Oct. 6. In her career, Thatcher's 1,134 kills ranks fifth all-time by a UNH volleyball player. Defensively, Thatcher racked up 75 blocks as the runner-up of the team.
An All-Rookie selection last season, Forrest had a breakout year for the Wildcats. Pacing the team in double-doubles (11) and kills (324), the sophomore outside hitter played in 109 of 110 sets. Forrest set new career-highs in digs (19 vs. Rhode Island; Aug. 31) and kills (19 vs. Binghamton; Nov. 17) while being named America East Player of the Week three times this season.
Commanding the offense to a conference-best .204 hitting percentage, Dunklau earns her first-ever conference Second Team mention. In the first game of the season, the junior setter dished out a career-high 55 assists in a five-set win at Lehigh (Aug. 30). Furthermore, her 1,067 assists leads all setters in the conference and ranks seventh amongst a Wildcat in a single season. This season, Dunklau's 9.70 assists per set average is the highest mark by a Wildcat since 2007. Furthermore, her 2,016 career assists ranks third all-time in UNH volleyball history. Her aps average ranks her third highest in America East.
Tolliver made her presence felt at the net once again, leading America East by averaging 1.03 blocks per set. Her second season tallying more than 100 blocks, the senior right side hitter and co-captain became the fifth member of the 300 block club on Oct. 13 against Hartford. With 338 career blocks, she ranks fourth all-time in program history, Furthermore, her 108 blocks this season is tied for the eighth-best mark in program history.
Despite playing in just 19 matches and 47 sets, Muses was a catalyst surrounded by a cast of veteran student-athletes. Compiling 1.85 kps, a .275 clip and 0.85 bps, the freshman middle blocker has been a frequent option off the bench for the Wildcats. Against Stony Brook University (Nov. 10), Muses came off the bench late in the third set, tallying four kills and four blocks to top the Seawolves 32-30 to give UNH the match point and the three set win.
Henke was second on squad with 28 serving aces. The junior defensive specialist recorded three serving aces four times this season. On the backline, she has accumulated 218 digs which tied for third on the Wildcats. On Nov. 10 against Stony Brook, Henke scooped a season-high 16 digs in a three set victory.
Croci was a productive bench player for the 'Cats. Competing in 24 matches and 54 sets, the CoSIDA Academic First Team honoree accumulated 71 kills with 1.31 per set. On Sept. 7 against St. John's, the sophomore middle blocker struck down 11 kills for a season-high.
New Hampshire (18-12 overall, 12-2 America East) is the top seed and host of the 2013 America East Volleyball Championships. The Wildcats are matched up against the fourth-seeded Stony Brook Seawolves in the semifinal round for Friday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. The second seed University of Maryland Baltimore Country Retrievers is slated to play the third seed University at Albany Great Danes in the other semifinal match at 4 p.m. The winners of the semifinal games will advance to the championship game Saturday, Nov. 23 at 4 p.m in Lundholm Gymnasium. For more information about UNH volleyball, please log onto UNHWildcats.com.