Belles of the Ball

Everyone in sports loves lists, and here is The Bootleg's own 2007 preseason roll call of the best collegiate volleyball players in the nation, at all positions. Some names are instantly recognized, but by the time the season ends in Sacramento (Calif.) on December 15, all 25 of these athletes should be grabbing national headlines. Also a sneak peak at seven top impact freshmen to watch.

Star Outside Hitter:
Christal Morrison, Washington, 6-2, Sr.
A three-time All-American, Morrison is looking to lead Washington in 2007 to its fourth straight Final Four appearance and hopefully a second national championship in four years.  She has all the shots in the book, disrupts the other team's serve receive with her serve, and is rock solid in the back row.  The best player on her team who is the constant focus of the opposing defense, the Puyallup (Wash.) native is the complete package for Huskies head coach Jim McLaughlin.

The Understudies
Cynthia Barboza, Stanford, 6-0, Jr.
Success after graduation is virtually guaranteed for Barboza, whose all-around game will translate well whether she's on the beach or indoors for the U.S. Senior National Team.

Megan Hodge, Penn State, 6-3, Soph.
The Big-10 Player and Freshman of the Year in 2006, Hodge is looking to vastly improve her back-row skills in 2007 to go along with her huge hitting and blocking abilities.

Jordan Larson, Nebraska, 6-1, Jr.
On a team loaded with stars, Larson is able to still stand out in Lincoln (Neb.) with her huge jump serve, outstanding digging abilities, and ball-crushing swings.

Angie Pressey, California, 5-8, Sr.
The best player under six-feet in the college game today, Pressey is a bundle of power who has improved throughout the years to become the undisputed face of Cal volleyball.

It should be noted that only outside hitters who played all six rotations were considered for this category because an outside hitter should have the ability to contribute from both the front and back row.  As a result, Big Bombers like Penn State's Nicole Fawcett and Jump-Out-of-the-Gym-Athletes like Texas' Destinee Hooker were omitted from this list.

In addition, Nebraska's Christina Houghtelling was left off the list because she spent all of last year rehabbing a shoulder injury.  However, the 2006 AVCA Player of the Year could very well be among the Top Five outside hitters by season's end if she is healthy.

Star Opposite:
Sarah Pavan, Nebraska, 6-5, Sr.
Anointed as the next great Cornhusker since arriving in Lincoln, Pavan has lived up to the hype and is set to become only the fourth four-time AVCA First-Team All-American and the first non-Stanford player to do so.  The 2006 AVCA Player of the Year is one of the top attackers in the game today, scoring points in bunches from the right side, and is just as feared when she rotates to the back row.  Her jump serves are guaranteed scoring sprees for head coach John Cook, and she is a clamp down defender at the net.  The Canadian import led her squad to the national title last season, and her competitive drive is ready to make it two in a row for the rabid Husker Nation.

The Understudies:
Kylie Atherstone, Cal Poly, 6-1, Jr.
Originally signing with Saint Mary's (Calif.), but later switching to Cal Poly to follow Jon Stevenson, Atherstone is a candidate to earn All-American honors after a coaching gaffe denied her last year.

Ashley Engle, Texas, 6-3, Soph.
A Jack-of-All-Trades for the Longhorns, Engle is a budding young star whose potential is unlimited thanks to her solid all-around play and is a hopeful for future U.S. Senior National Teams.

Asia Kaczor, USC, 6-4, Jr.
Questions surrounding Kaczor's eligibility last season never phased the Polish star, as she garnered AVCA Second-Team All-American honors after leading the Trojans into the Sweet 16.

Amber McCray, Florida, 6-3, R-Sr.
Despite battling a sore shoulder all season long in 2006, the left-handed McCray still earned AVCA Second Team honors and will attempt to get the Gators into their first Final Four since 2003.

Star Middle Blocker:
Foluke Akinradewo, Stanford, 6-3, Jr.
A late bloomer to the game of volleyball, Akinradewo has proven to be one of the best middle blockers in the collegiate game today thanks to her unmatched work ethic and awe-inspiring athleticism.  On pace to become a four-time All-American selection after earning Second Team honors as a freshman and First Team accolades as a sophomore, the Plantation (Fla.) product was one of the nation's most efficient hitters last year after putting attacks away at a .431 clip, breaking Sara McGee's single season record set in 2002.  A prime candidate for a spot on future Olympic squads, Akinradewo spent her summer training with the U.S. Senior National Team and helped the Americans earn a bronze medal at the Pan American Games as a starter throughout the weeklong competition.  Head coach John Dunning will be counting on Akinradewo to be a leader and force out of the middle if the Cardinal is to capture its seventh National Championship in 2007.

The Understudies
Alexis Crimes, Long Beach State, 6-3, Sr.
A three-time First-Team All-Big West selection, Crimes possesses a great attacking presence up at the net and has extensive experience with the U.S. Junior National Team.

Christa Harmotto, Penn State, 6-2, Jr.
A great player who stands out as a middle blocker or right side hitter, Harmotto uses her unparalleled quickness to stuff an opponent or terminate the ball off of one foot.

Kisya Killingsworth, Florida, 6-3, Sr.
The 2005 AVCA Second-Team All-American returns to her natural position after spending the previous season as an outside hitter when injuries decimated the Gators' depth on the left.

Alesha Deesing, Washington, 6-1, Sr.
Athletic and quick, the returning Second-Team All-American and three-year starter is an offensive sparkplug with good blocking skills.

Star Setter:
Nellie Spicer, UCLA, 5-11, Jr.
It's been 12 years since UCLA advanced to the Final Four, but last season's squad had all the makings of a championship contender - solid outside hitters, dependable passing and a superstar in the middle.  However, the glue that held the team together was none other than Spicer, the ultra-smooth quarterback from Barrington (Ill.).  The 5-11 playmaker ran the Bruin offense to a "T" and dished out 13.66 assists per game last season, good for seventh in the country.  Spicer was a fan favorite on the court in Westwood, as her athleticism allowed her to chase down the most errant pass and turn them into a killable set.  The hallmark of a great setter is the ability to get teammates open, and with hands like butter and an uncanny knack to fool the opposing defenses, the 2006 First-Team All-American established herself as a legend in the making.  Even with the graduation of All-Americans Nana Meriwether and Katie Carter, Spicer is reason enough to keep UCLA a threat to punch its ticket to Sacramento in 2007.

The Understudies
Rachel Holloway, Nebraska, 5-11, R-Soph.
Thanks great decision making and pinpoint sets, Holloway not only displaced Nebraska veteran Maggie Griffin as the starting setter, but she also guided Nebraska to the NCAA title last season.

Bryn Kehoe, Stanford, 5-11, Sr.
Considered one of the most competitive players in collegiate volleyball, Kehoe knows the Cardinal offense like the back of her hand and is also an underrated back- and front-row defender.

Crystal Matich, Santa Clara, 5-11, Sr.
Known as one of the top athletes in her class, Matich is looking to regain her form that earned her AVCA Third-Team All-American accolades as a sophomore after having an injury-plagued 2006.

Angie McGinnis, Florida, 5-11, Sr.
Long heralded as the future setter of the U.S. National Team, McGinnis lived up to the hype after being named the SEC Player of the Year and earning AVCA First-Team All-American honors last year.

Star Libero:
Tatum Ailes, Missouri, 5-6, Sr.
Named the Big 12's Libero of the Year as a sophomore in 2005, Ailes looks to recapture her conference title as the best back-row defender entering her final season as a Tiger.  The Bellevue (Neb.) native has dazzled crowds at the Hearnes Center with her record-breaking performances throughout the years.  She is the all-time school record holder in digs with 1434 – and she has one more year to add to her total.  Described by opposing teams as a ball magnet, Ailes is a steadying influence in the back row and passes nails on serve receive, while neutralizing the opponent's attack with her superb digging abilities.  Missouri may have lost a lot of firepower with the graduation of opposite Jessica Vander Kooi and middle blocker Nicole Wilson, but with Ailes patrolling behind the three-meter line ready to scoop up any ball that comes her way, the Tigers will always have a fighting chance at a victory.

The Understudies:
Elyse Cusack, Florida, 5-9, Soph.

A defensive dandy who stabilized the Gators' back court last season despite playing with a stress fracture in her foot, the SEC Defensive Player of the Year looks to be finally healthy in 2007.

Sydney Donahue, Arizona State, 5-7, Sr.
Niece of Stanford Associate Head Coach Denise Corlett, Donahue claimed the Pac-10 single season record for digs in 2006 with 742 and only needs 328 saves to claim the all-time Pac-10 record.

Tamari Miyashiro, Washington, 5-4, R-Soph.
Recruited to Seattle as a setter, Miyashiro found her true calling as a libero because of her phenomenal instincts, great passing touch, and ability to never let the ball touch the floor.

Kate Nobilio, Northwestern, 5-4, Soph.
Not known to many because she plays for the cellar dweller Wildcats, Nobilio is a young, athletic ball control wizard who will contend for Big-10 Defensive Player of the Year honors for seasons to come.

Fresh-Faced Newbies

While some of their classmates are projected to be All-Americans by the end of their collegiate careers, these players are the ones who will make an impact from the get go.  Whether it's due to graduation or flat-out talent, these first-year phenoms will have the opportunity to see court time and make an immediate impact for their respective squads.

Alix Klineman, Stanford, OH, 6-5
The second-highest point scorer at the recently completed Under-19 World Championships.  ‘Nuff said.

Krista Kelley, Santa Clara, OH, 6-2
Kim McGiven, the Broncos' go-to player the last three years, completed her eligibility in 2006, opening up a spot for an all-around talent like Kelley to fight for court time.

Ali Troost, San Diego, OPP, 6-1
With the graduation of big guns Kristen Carlson and Christie Dawson, the Toreros will need Troost to produce in the front and back row and show why she was so highly regarded coming out of high school.

Lauren Gibbemeyer, Minnesota, MB, 6-2
The Minnesota native will have big shoes to fill with the graduation of Meredith Nelson, but Gibbemeyer will score a lot of points out of the middle thanks to her huge offensive capabilities.

Zoe Garrett, USC, MB, 6-2
A stalwart on the U.S. Junior National Team, the future Trojan is devastating on the slide and has the mentality of a shutdown blocker.  Look for her offensive abilities to move her into the starting line-up.

Paige Weber, Arizona, S, 5-11
Honored with the 2007 Andi Collins Award given to the top senior prep setter, Weber follows the three other recipients to the Pac-10 where she'll look to direct the Wildcats back to the top of the conference.

Alyssa D'Errico, Penn State, L, 5-9
It was evident last year that passing was not a strength for Penn State; enter D'Errico, who will instantly upgrade the back-row skills for Penn State with her game-changing defensive digs.


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