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Bulldogs picked fifth, open at No. 8 Oregon

Photo by David Silverman
Photo by David Silverman

BRYANT VOLLEYBALL SLATED FIFTH IN NEC PRESEASON POLL, OPENS SEASON WITH STRONG EXPECTATIONS

SMITHFIELD, R.I. — With 10 returning letterwinners and a host of talented newcomers, the Bryant University volleyball team is ready to take the 2013 season head on and will look to break through within a tough Northeast Conference lineup in just its second year competing for a Division I playoff berth.

The Bulldogs — who were slated fifth in the 2013 NEC Preseason Coaches Poll after finishing 2012 with a 12-21 overall record (6-10 NEC) — look to take advantage of their returning experience, bringing back five starters from a season ago, while injecting a new class of youth and athleticism into this year's roster.

The charge will be led by top returners Claire Van Dyk (New Richmond, Wis.), Kendall Gaffney (Colorado Springs, Colo.) and Kaitlyn Klein (Modesto, Calif.). Van Dyk, who paced the Bulldogs with 310 kills (2.61 kills per set) a season ago, will be out to prove that her rookie campaign was no accident, and returns as the team's top server after putting up a side-best 42 aces in 2012. The Wisconsin native played all the way around as a first-year Bulldog, surpassing the 200-dig mark while also chipping in 39 blocks.

The Bulldogs will also be counting on the healthy return of Gaffney after the senior captain spent part of last season sidelined by injury. A team leader on the court and off, Gaffney makes her presence known to teammates and opponents alike and will boost the Bryant offense to greater heights if she returns to top form in 2013.

Klein, whose 239 kills were good for third on the squad in 2012, headlines a group of six strong players vying for starting spots at middle and rightside. The sextet represents the tightest race this preseason and the most competition the Bulldogs have ever had for the positions. The senior also chipped in 40 blocks and 87 digs as a junior.

Classmate Alexandria Clyburn (Cartersville, Ga.) will also be in the fight to hold onto a spot she held last season, bringing a .249 hitting percentage and 273 kills back to the roster. The team's leading blocker as a junior, she posted 123 stuffs last fall, including six solo blocks.

After a strong second half in 2012, junior Jocelyn Taylor (Marlborough, Conn.) is another player in the mix on the front line and is ready to help fill the void left by player-turned-assistant-coach Emily Kaup (115 blocks last season). Sophomore Taylor Onoyan (Crystal Lake, Ill.) is also vying for the open spots at the net after spending a season honing her skills behind the strong upperclassmen of a season ago.

A pair of rookies wraps up the grouping, as 6-foot middle blocker Sara DePouw (Oconto, Wis.) and 6-foot-2 classmate Mallory Wilczynski (Cary, Ill.) are expected to make an immediate impact on the Black and Gold lineup. In the midst of a solid preseason, DePouw represents a strong, young option for head coach Theresa Garlacy, as the Bulldogs look to qualify for their first-ever Division I postseason. The tallest player on the squad, Wilczynski will be looked on to fill the holes in Bryant's blocking game and should be a solid addition to the Bulldog depth chart.

Garlacy will further bolster her team's offensive ranks with a number of additional young talents, including sophomore Victoria Bryan (Newton, Mass.), who performed well last spring and looks to challenge for time in 2013. Frosh Annie Ericksen (Eagan, Minn.) will also look to learn from her more experienced teammates as the year progresses.

Bryant's second question mark comes at the setter position after losing three-year starter Jadith Lorenzo to graduation, leaving the team's quarterbacking role open entering the 2013 preseason. But Garlacy is in no shortage of suitors for that spot, either, as three players will be looking to prove themselves and earn the role as floor general.

After a strong spring, sophomore Jana Kmec (Stratford, Conn.) has emerged as a frontrunner in the battle, alongside senior Leigh Fishback (Edmonds, Wash.), who brings experience and poise to the position. The pair contributed 172 and 107 assists, respectively, last season in support of Lorenzo, and both will look to claim the spot as their own this preseason. But local product and first-year Bulldog Carissa Gould (Woonsocket, R.I.) won't be overlooked, as Garlacy expects all three to vie for the position throughout the preseason and into 2013.

Defensively, junior captain and starting libero Elena Lohr (Loveland, Ohio) returns to the court this fall, but despite posting strong numbers as a sophomore (325 digs, .931 reception percentage), she will still have to fight for her alternate jersey, thanks to the arrival of Gould and the return of senior Mikayla LaRosa (Marysville, Wash.).

In Northeast Conference play, Bryant will look to challenge preseason top pick and defending league champ LIU Brooklyn, while Robert Morris and Central Connecticut follow the Blackbirds on the preseason ladder. Sacred Heart is predicted to finish fourth according to the league's coaches, while the Bulldogs and the Red Flash stand tied for fifth entering the fall season. Fairleigh Dickinson and St. Francis Brooklyn wrap up the eight-team field.

Bryant opens up 2013 action at the Oregon Classic in Eugene, Ore., August 30-31. The Bulldogs will kick off their season Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET against Ohio University before taking on the host and eighth-ranked Ducks Saturday at 2:00 p.m. ET.