This is the second of a two-part series previewing the 2018 Bryant University volleyball team. To read the preview of the Bulldogs' outside hitters, middle blockers and opposites, click HERE.
SMITHFIELD, R.I. – The Bryant University volleyball team opens its 2018 season Friday in Chicago with a veteran group that includes five seniors and 11 total returners on the 15-athlete roster.
Bryant went 21-12 in 2017 and captured its first NEC regular season co-championship with an 11-3 mark in conference play. The Bulldogs return a wealth of experience at all positions, including six returners who played in at least 100 sets a year ago.
The setting corps is led by a pair of senior Bulldogs who expand the options for Coach Garlacy's 6-2 system. Kirstyn Sperry (Phoenix, Ariz.) returns after a junior season in which she earned Bryant's third-consecutive NEC Setter of the Year honor and a first-team all-conference nod. Sperry was also one of the most proficient servers in the conference and is one of just three seniors nationally to have recorded 40 or more aces in each of her first three collegiate seasons.
Senior Julia Malet (San Rafael, Calif.) appeared in 69 sets a year ago and put up two of her top assist totals of the year in wins over NCAA tournament participants Stony Brook and LIU Brooklyn. Sophomore Alisi Motu'apuaka (Virginia Beach, Va.) played in 112 sets as a freshman and served an increased role in the final month of the season. Freshman Jenna Knight (Scottsdale, Ariz.), who will also see time on the right side, rounds out one of Bryant's deepest position groups.
"Kirstyn Sperry returns with her tough serves, great playmaking decisions and ability to attack as well. Julia Malet has been incredible on defense and has increased her setting range immensely. Alisi Motu'apuaka has a coach's mindset. She makes excellent choices, plays scrappy defense and is emotionally a part of every play. Freshman Jenna Knight, like Sperry, will play both as a right side attacker and a setter. She has a very aggressive float serve and sets a very strong block." – Theresa Garlacy
Sophomore Erika Ward (Rochester, Mich.) appeared in all but two sets in her first season in Black and Gold and was the first Bulldog freshman to lead the team in digs in the Division I era. Ward tallied 20 or more digs nine times on the year and started the year averaging 5.71 digs per set in her first five collegiate matches.
Junior Nikki Kim (River Edge, N.J.) played in 55 sets with 34 of them coming in NEC play. Kim saw increased serving success down the stretch, including four aces in the comeback win at Sacred Heart in November. Bryant returns its top seven players in total digs from a year ago.
"Erika Ward continues to be a vacuum defensively and takes charge of the backcourt. She is fast and aggressive to every ball and brings a positive energy to the court. She is aggressive on serve receive and will be sure to frustrate the big hitters. Nikki Kim is a spark plug and is working on her jump float serve which will be tough to pass." – Theresa Garlacy
Bryant begins the 2018 season Friday at 8 p.m. when the Bulldogs square off with host UIC in their first match of the UIC Invitational. The match can be seen on ESPN+.