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Women's volleyball preview: UCI faces uphill climb

College SportsArizona WildcatsBig West ConferenceHawaii WarriorsUC IrvineUC Santa BarbaraKansas State Wildcats

UC Irvine women's volleyball coach Paula Weishoff said she doesn't like to coach effort, though she has come to realize the necessity of managing it.

Coaching effort typically refers to the need to generate energy from players, most often on the practice floor. But Weishoff, entering her fourth season, said she has not had to motivate her players in this regard. Instead, she believes that her players' propensity to try too hard has contributed to shortcomings that have produced a combined 18-41 record the last two seasons, including a 7-25 mark in Big West Conference play.

"I think this group wants to win so badly that they start to force it," said Weishoff, who returned to campus Monday after helping the U.S. women's national team collect a silver medal at the London Olympics as an assistant coach. "When they don't have the set, they try to make it be the set they can take a good swing at. If you can't hit the ball where it's set, you've got to [take a smarter shot]. They sometimes don't have the patience to just say we're going to try another shot. We have to work on that."

There is plenty to work on for a team that tied for last in the nine-team Big West in 2011 and has been picked to finish ninth in the 10-team conference that this season has added Hawaii, ranked No. 8 in the national preseason poll.

UCI, which lost its last five matches and seven of its last eight last season, hit just .153 as a team in 2011. That ranked No. 278 among 322 NCAA Division I schools.

"We have a lot of errors," Weishoff said. "Serving errors (221 with 129 aces in 2011) and hitting errors. We need to manage those. When we do, it's pretty clean. And when we don't it's like the gold-medal match [in London, in which Team USA won the first set, but was blitzed by Brazil the next three]."

The Anteaters, who open the season Aug. 24 against the host Wildcats in the Kansas State Tournament, are also dealing with injuries and defections from a roster that welcomes two incoming freshmen who figure to make an impact, Weishoff said.

Shaina Olsen, a 6-foot junior outside hitter whose 230 kills last season ranked second behind then-sophomore Aly Squires' 372, has elected not to return to the program, Weishoff said.

Mary Carls, who led the team with 735 assists as a sophomore in 2011, has given up volleyball and plans to study abroad for a semester during the upcoming academic year.

Sydney Wright, a 6-1 freshman who can play opposite and outside hitter, is expected to miss the pre-conference campaign due to mononucleosis, said Weishoff, who is also keeping her fingers crossed about the health of 6-3 redshirt freshman outside hitter Marisa Bubica, 6-4 sophomore middle blocker Arielle Manz and 6-1 senior opposite Taylor Smith.

Bubica redshirted last season with a stress fracture, Manz has a lingering foot problem and Wilson has been managing a balky shoulder, Weishoff said.

Squires, who along with senior libero Kristin Winkler is expected to carry a heavy load once again, joined Winkler on the A2 national team over the summer.

The 6-1 Squires is expected to field the majority of the sets, at least until others can get fully healthy, while Winkler, a fourth-year starter, has led the team in kills each of her first three seasons.

"Aly looks good," Weishoff said of the primary attacker.

"And Winkler is fantastic, a great player, leader and person for this team," Weishoff said. "She is going to hold a big responsibility, not just on the court, but she is one of our leaders, our captains. I think our leadership group with Squires, Sarah Wilder and Winkler is as good as it gets. Those three are doing a really good job.

Wilder is a junior defensive specialist who played in eight sets last season.

Marissa Alvarez, a senior who had 298 assists in 64 sets last season, is battling for the starting setter spot with junior Mackenzi Campbell, a Newport Harbor High product who played sparingly last season after transferring from Montana State.

Victoria Dennis, a 6-3 outside hitter, is another freshman expected to contribute, Weishoff said.

Manz and Shannon Fleming, a 6-1 junior, are expected to start at middle blocker, while Ella Rosenfeld, a 6-3 redshirt freshman, provides depth. Fleming led the team with 110 total blocks in 2011.

UCI's first home match is Aug. 31 against Arizona State at 10 a.m. at the Bren Events Center. The 'Eaters also play host to Nebraska, ranked No. 4 in the preseason, on Sept. 1 at the Bren, and open conference play at home on Sept. 21 against UC Santa Barbara, also at the Bren.

The team will play five matches at the Bren and seven at Crawford Court.

barry.faulkner@latimes.com

Twitter: @BarryFaulkner5

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