By Geoff Thurner
FRESNO, Calif. - With the Fresno State volleyball team's season opener less than two days away at the Adidas Rice Invitational, fans can preview a different portion of this year's squad each day this week.
The outside and right side hitter positions will feature the most newcomers after the graduation of a pair of All-Mountain West selections - Marissa Brand and Korrin Wild - and last year's MW Newcomer of the Year Holly Franks.
In their absence, the squad welcomes back three returnees and three freshmen to fuel the Bulldog offense.
The team's lone returning outside hitter starter, junior outside hitter Zana Bowens was one of the team's biggest surprises at the beginning of 2013, and ultimately started 12 matches.
She quadrupled her previous career kills high the opening weekend of 2013 thanks to her first 20-kill matches in five-setters vs. Rice (21) and Santa Clara (20), and later had another 17-kill effort in a four-set win at UC Irvine.
At season's end, the Long Beach, Calif., product ranked fifth on squad in kills (1.49 per set) and tops among underclassmen.
Among her 30 matches in 2013, she led the squad in in aces in three contests; kills and points twice, and digs once. Her 24 points vs. Rice stood as the team season high; her five blocks in three sets vs. CSUB was a career high; and her three aces vs. UC Irvine tied for fifth-best for the `Dogs on the campaign.
Playing +20 matches for the third straight season, senior outside hitter Jaimee-Lee Morrow was one of the team's most called-up serving specialists in 2013.
The Mooroolbark, Australia product ended with a 0.20 aces per-set season average that ranked fourth for Fresno State last year, and she logged aces in seven contests.
Among the 20 matches she played in 2013, she led the team in aces in tilts vs. No. 20 Oregon (2) and at Air Force (1). She also connected on a pair of aces vs. NCAA Tournament returnee Wichita State and at New Mexico.
Redshirt junior Molly Pearson may switch back to the right side after she posted many of her career highs last year at middle blocker.
The San Jose, Calif., native stepped up with six starts among her 18 matches played, and stood third on the team in blocks (0.76 p/s) for the campaign.
Her nine blocks in a four-set win vs. Utah State ranked as the team season high and was one of four match highs for the `Dogs. Other top efforts came vs. NCAA advancer American (6 blocks, 1 ace), Xavier (6 kills, 0 errors, .857 hitting mark) and Belmont (7 kills, 0 errors, .700).
Redshirt freshman Haylee Roberts arrives with a talented prep resume from her career at Liberty High School in Bakersfield. A Prep Volleyball Senior Ace nominee, she was also accorded Volleyball Magazine Fab 50 and Under Armour All-America Honorable mention status and transferred from the University of Oregon. Her 6-3 frame and quick, strong swing should help her make an immediate impact on the offense.
Freshman Taylor Brubaker (San Clemente, Calif.) helped lead San Clemente High School to a South Coast League title and runner-up finish and CIF third- and second-round placings. A team captain as a senior, she was a Regional High Performance Team selection in 2010 and played for the Saddleback and T-Street Club teams.
Freshman Carly Scarbrough (Sarasota, Fla.) was a four-year letterwinner for Riverview High School squads that claimed a league runner-up finish. A team MVP and two-time captain, she was an 2012 all-area honoree and Florida Indoor High Performance selection in 2011 and `12 and Team USA Indoor High Performance selection in 2012.
Team-wise this weekend, the `Dogs kick off the 2014 campaign in Houston on Friday, August 29 and take on Louisiana-Lafayette at 2 p.m. Pacific Time. They return on the final day of the Adidas Rice Invitational on Saturday, Aug. 30 to face UC Davis and Rice at 11 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. PT, respectively.
More tournament information and a link to online broadcasts (for purchase) are available at the www.RiceOwls.com website.
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