SMITHFIELD, R.I. – A year after the most successful season in the program's Division I history, the Bryant University volleyball team returns to the court, looking to build on its 2015 success with a lineup full of experience and talent.
The Bulldogs will use last season's first-ever appearance in the Northeast Conference Tournament as a jumping off point in 2016, with the goal of not just returning to the postseason, but advancing through it. Strong leadership will pace the Black and Gold, while an injection of potential in the form of up-and-coming underclassmen will help drive the team this fall.
Senior captain and reigning NEC Setter of the Year Vika Katzen (Kfar Saba, Israel) will once again headline the Black and Gold setters and provide the driving force behind the offense this fall. The two-year starter topped 1,000 assists for the second-straight season in 2015 and didn't miss a set quarterbacking the Bulldog attack.
Head coach Theresa Garlacy, now in her 21st season at the helm, will also rely on the strength and speed of Kirstyn Sperry (Phoenix, Ariz.), who, like Katzen, appeared in all 33 matches to post over 300 assists and nearly 200 digs. The versatile sophomore can also provide a scoring threat from the right side when needed. Sophomore Julia Malet (San Rafael, Calif.) will also battle for time at setter after seeing time in one match last season.
The Bulldogs boast a stacked and youthful group of outside hitters, guided by senior captain Sara DePouw (Oconto, Wisc.). DePouw returns to the court for the 2016 campaign after missing last season to injury and will look to pick up right where she left off in 2014, when she finished second on the team in kills (265), blocks (81) and points (324) and led the side in attack percentage (.251).
Three more top returning threats all come out of the sophomore class, with All-NEC Second Teamer Kristin Kingi (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) leading the way after posting a team-high 2.99 kills per set (341) during her rookie year. The second-year Bulldog also served up nine aces while gathering nearly 300 digs – good for third on the squad – and adding 28 total blocks. Julia Flynn (Pembroke, Mass.) and junior Kiley Robbins (Garland, Texas) also bring back better than two kills per set, while sophomore Margot Ruffieux (Cary, N.C.) is one of six returning Bulldogs to boast more than 100 kills a season ago.
Garlacy will expect Robbins and Ruffieux to once again contribute defensively as well, with the pair recording 33 blocks and 161 digs, respectively, in 2015. The hard-hitting Flynn will look to build on impressive numbers – 127 kills and 107 digs – that came despite appearing in only 17 matches last fall. Cassandra Sulmeisters (Centennial, Colo.) will also be an option for the Bulldogs as she enters her junior year with 62 kills and 146 digs in her career.
Junior Ally Lunsford (Minneola, Fla.) returns to anchor a youthful middle blocking corps after posting 108 blocks to complement 155 kills and a .254 hitting percentage as a sophomore. Lunsford was also a force with the serve, doling out 19 aces.
She will serve as a leader for three rookies and one sophomore who are striving to make their own impact in the middle, including 6-foot-3 frosh Ava Patterson (Danville, Calif.). Sporting a big block and an attacking mentality, Patterson looks to play into the mix right away, while classmates Brianna Bruny (Biscayne Park, Fla.) and Sydney Gorski (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) and sophomore Grace Richmeyer (DeSoto, Mo.) will all fight to see time at the position.
The biggest hole the Bulldogs need to fill comes on defense with the graduation of all-conference starting libero Debora Magalhaes. Garlacy has a deep defensive lineup to choose from, a group that will include Kingi, who added 292 digs to her stellar offensive numbers last season. Junior Erica Vendituoli (Nashua, N.H.) and senior Carissa Gould (Woonsocket, R.I.) will make their cases for time between the lines despite limited action in 2015, while a new face in rookie Nikki Kim (River Edge, N.J.) also has the potential to pull time in the alternate jersey.
The Bulldogs will open 2016 action Friday, August 26 and Saturday, August 27, when they host the Hampton Inn-vitational at the Chace Athletic Center. The five-team tournament will also feature St. John's, Rutgers, Rider and Hartford.
A full tournament schedule can be found here.