Volleyball Renews Faith in Coach, Program

ATHENS – Georgia volleyball is back, better, and stronger than they've been in recent memory.

After posting an 11-19 record (7-13 conference) last year, the team feels much more prepared heading into the 2012 campaign. It's largely due to a cultural shift of the entire program, which stems from second-year head coach Lizzy Stemke –– a former NCAA All-American and U.S. National team member.

"She's helped us establish a culture here with a really good mindset and work ethic that I think everyone is adopting," said senior Nicole Choi. "I think that not everyone was buying in last year, but now everyone is invested and we're all behind Coach Lizzy and support her for whatever it is she wants to do."

One big reason the Bulldogs feel more confident about their chances this year is the offseason conditioning, though it goes much further than the weight room. Athletic Director Greg McGarity has given full support to the program by adding training tables, hiring outside yoga instructors, and investing in a first-class nutrition program.

"As an athlete, nutrition is a huge part of performance in our day to day lives," Choi said. "We're going to school all day then have to come to practice, so we need to ensure that we stay focused and that our bodies sustain themselves. It's not just about foods, either. You have to watch your liquids and sleep as well."

Choi is doing everything she can to help the Bulldogs clinch a berth in the postseason this December. After all, Georgia has not qualified for the NCAA Tournament since 2004 - a fact that lingers in her mind since this is her last shot.

Stemke wants to help Choi get there too, according to junior Brittany Northcutt.

"Coach's main goal is to make us better players throughout the season and tournament," Northcutt said. "She just wants the best for us, and she shows it by pushing us hard every day in practice. Our competitive attitude and refuse-to-lose motto is the key to making it to the tournament, and it all starts at the top because she's a great coach."

If the Bulldogs fail to qualify this December, the squad's depth won't be the cause. This offseason they've added three transfer students – Lauren Teknip (Michigan), Chloe Buckendahl (Oregon), and Jasmine Eatmon (Los Osos). Two redshirt freshmen also add depth to the roster.

"I think the ability to have transfers – with a year or two under their belt – is great for our gym and program," Stemke said. "They've filled the needs that we had and entered our gym seamlessly because of their personalities and their fight. They're all great, competitive and athletic kids who will make huge contributions to this program."

Surprisingly, the newcomers have displayed the most strength in offseason workouts.

"I'd say the new girls that came in – partly because they are transfers – are much stronger than the class we had last year," said Chris Herold, student strength intern. "Since they are transfers, we knew that they'd be strong. But the freshmen are also catching up pretty fast."

This 2012 season officially tips off Friday at the Ramsey Student Center, where the Bulldogs take on Georgia Southern at 7 p.m. Saturday they play Troy, and they close out the weekend on Sunday against Georgia State and Slovenia.

"They're ready to get out there," Herold said. "It's going to be a great season."


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