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Aztecs Host Cal, Army, UCSD to Open 2022 Fall Slate


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SAN DIEGO — San Diego State opens its eagerly awaited 2022 volleyball campaign this weekend when it plays host to the SDSU Invitational inside Aztec Court at Peterson Gym. The Aztecs commence tournament play on Friday, Aug. 26, when they square off against California in a single match, beginning at 6 p.m. PT. The first 250 fans in attendance will receive a free Aztec Volleyball T-shirt.>    On Saturday, Aug. 27, SDSU will wrap up the event with two additional encounters, starting with a matinee vs. Army West Point at 11 a.m., followed by a clash with UC San Diego at 7 p.m. All fans attending the UCSD match will receive a free SDSU buff.

>    Live stats will be available throughout the weekend, while Friday’ tilt vs. the Golden Bears and Saturday’s showdown with the Tritons will be streamed live via the Mountain West Network. Links to both platforms will be available on GoAztecs.com. 

SERIES RECORD VS. CALIFORNIA

>    The Aztecs own a 6-1 advantage over the Golden Bears in a series that dates back to 1977.

>    The two sides have not met since the second match of the 2012 campaign when San Diego State claimed a thrilling 3-2 decision (25-22, 20-25, 25-17, 15-25) over then No. 17 Cal at the Aztec Invitational.

>    SDSU is 4-0 all-time vs. the Bears inside Peterson Gym and 2-1 on a neutral court. The Aztecs have never faced Cal in a true road match. However, San Diego State visited Berkeley for the California Invitational in 1980, where it played Stanford (twice), Portland State and Hawai’i-Hilo.

>    The Aztecs and Bears have squared off just once in postseason play, with the Scarlet and Black posting a 3-1 decision in the semifinals of the 1982 NCAA West Regional at UCLA.

SERIES RECORD VS. ARMY WEST POINT

>    Saturday’s clash marks the Aztecs’ first-ever meeting against the Black Knights.

>    San Diego State has never faced a team from the current alignment of the Patriot League in women’s volleyball. Entering the 2022 campaign, Army West Point, American, Bucknell, Colgate, Holy Cross, Lafayette, Loyola (MD) and Navy are all volleyball affiliates of the Patriot League.

>    The Aztecs last played a school from New York state in 2016 at the Art Carmichael Invitational in Kingston, Rhode Island, where it recorded a dramatic 3-2 victory over Stony Brook. Earlier that season, SDSU beat Marist College in its home opener with a 3-0 sweep at the Aztec Invitational.

>    SDSU sports a 17-1 all-time record against schools from New York state. The Aztecs defeated Hofstra seven times between 1990 and 2007 to go with a trio of victories over Syracuse during that stretch. In addition, SDSU emerged triumphant over Buffalo (1999), Canisius (1999), Cornell (2000), Binghamton (2005) and Niagara (2005). San Diego State’s lone defeat vs. a team from the Empire State came at the hands of Siena in a 3-1 setback at the 2007 Hofstra/ASICS Invitational.

SERIES RECORD VS. UC SAN DIEGO

>    The Aztecs have emerged triumphant in all 13 encounters with the Tritons dating back to 1977.

>    The teams last faced one another in 1993, when the Scarlet and Black notched a 3-0 sweep in the San Diego City Championships held at Point Loma Nazarene. 

>    Saturday night’s match represents UCSD’s first meeting with the Aztecs as a Division I member.

>    SDSU is 166-111 against current Big West schools in program history. The Aztecs went 2-1 vs. Big West opponents last season, sweeping UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside at neutral sites, sandwiched around a road loss to Long Beach State.

>    San Diego State will square off against one additional Big West adversary this season when it battles UCSB at the Pepperdine ASICS Classic on Saturday, Sept. 3, in Malibu, California.

FOR OPENERS

>    San Diego State’s record stands at 23-23 in season openers since the program’s inception in 1976.

>     The SDSU Invitational represents the first time since the 2018 campaign in which the Aztecs have opened their schedule at Peterson Gym.

>    SDSU is 17-12 all-time when it begins a campaign at home.

TOURNAMENT CONNECTIONS

>    Aztec sophomore outside hitter Reagan Merk was a prep teammate of UCSD outside hitter Zaria Henderson at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana.

>    SDSU freshman setter Sarena Gonzalez and UCSD freshman middle blocker Jasmine Saran faced one another as conference rivals on their respective high school teams in Temecula. Gonzalez’s Temecula Valley squad split two matches with Saran’s Great Oak team in 2021, as each side claimed a 3-2 victory on their home courts during the regular season.

>    Cal sports two players on its roster from San Diego, including opposite hitter Sam Taumoepeau (Mt. Carmel HS) and libero Sarah Schrag (The Bishop’s School). 

>    Army senior libero Sayler Butters attended the same high school as SDSU freshman McKenna Douglas: Notre Dame Prep in Tempe, Arizona.

>    In addition, Army junior outside hitter MacKenzie Karnig is a graduate of Carlsbad High School in San Diego County.

WELCOME BACK

>    Outside hitter Heipua Tautua’a leads the group of eight Aztec letterwinners who return for the 2022 campaign.

>    Tautua’a continued to display her tremendous versatility last season, finishing second on the team in kills (208), digs (239) and digs per set (2.28) while occupying the third spot in kills per set (1.96) and double-doubles (3).

>    The SDSU junior also compiled double-digit digs in 11 matches and surpassed double figures in kills on six occasions last year.

>    Since her arrival on The Mesa, Tautua’a has started 43 of 44 matches she has appeared in.

>    The Aztecs will also look for senior leadership from Noa Miller and Julia Haynie.

>    A 5-10 setter, Miller led the Scarlet and Black in assists in all but one of her 20 matches played last season. The Arizona State transfer also tied for the top spot on the squad with four double-doubles in her first season at SDSU.

>    Despite missing the final seven matches of the 2021 campaign, Miller averaged a team-leading 6.01 assists per set, which ranked seventh in the Mountain West.

>    Haynie also brought previous Division I experience with her to “America’s Finest City” after spending her first two seasons at Portland State. The 6-1 middle blocker led the Aztecs with 61 total blocks, including a team-high eight solo stops across 88 sets. She also ranked fifth on the team with 103 kills (1.17/set), finishing with a .222 hitting percentage.

>    In addition, Haynie topped the squad or tied for the team lead in blocks eight times. She also posted at least one kill in all 25 matches she played while recording at least one block assist in all but four contests, including eight straight to end the year.

>    San Diego State is also expecting continued improvement from a pair of sophomores – Mikela Labno and Jordyn Goldsmith.

>    Last season, Labno ranked fourth on the Aztecs with 132 kills and 1.81 kills per set while contributing 65 digs and 25 total blocks in 73 sets played. She also tied for second on the team with seven block solos and recorded at least one kill in all but two appearances. >    A native of Hilmar, California, Labno surpassed the double-digit kill plateau on four occasions, logging a breakout performance vs. No. 17 Pepperdine at the Gaucho Invitational, where she launched a season-high 13 kills on 23 attempts with just one error for a stellar .522 hitting percentage, which ranked as the team’s second-best clip of the year (min. 12 kills).

>    A 6-1 opposite hitter, Goldsmith also enjoyed a solid debut for the Scarlet and Black in 2021, ranking fifth on the team in kills (119) and kills per set (1.58. She also finished with 35 total blocks and 30 digs across 76 sets, making nine starts in 25 appearances.

>    Goldsmith posted her best hitting percentage of the 2021 season with a .636 clip in a three-set sweep of Air Force, blasting seven kills without an error in 11 attempts.

>    Also back in the mix are a trio of underclassmen in Kennedy Feuerborn, Reagan Merk and Sara Mukaj.

>    A 6-3 setter, Feuerborn appeared in 27 of 30 matches last year, starting six of the Aztecs’ final eight contests. As a sophomore, she averaged 3.11 assists (230 overall) while registering 38 kills and 24 block assists. In addition, Feuerborn eclipsed the 20-assist plateau on three occasions, including a season-high 23 helpers at home vs. Boise State.

>    Merk saw action in 18 matches during her freshman campaign on The Mesa, earning two starts. The 5-11 outside hitter posted 29 kills, 40 digs, five service aces and three blocks in 42 sets last year. Against Texas Southern at the Arizona Wildcat Invitational, she came of the bench and played all three sets, recording season-highs of seven kills and six digs to help the Scarlet and Black complete the sweep. 

>    A 6-3 middle blocker, Mukaj was off to a tremendous start in 2021 before suffering a season-ending ACL injury vs. San Diego. A standout international player from Italy, Mukaj hit .333 with 16 kills on 36 attempts against four errors across 27 sets while finishing with 22 total blocks, 16 dig and seven aces. She posted a .636 hitting percentage on seven kills in 11 attempts without an error against Sam Houston in the finale of the Bearkat Invitational, adding five digs and four block assists.

NEW KIDS IN TOWN

>    The prospects for the San Diego State volleyball program continue to brighten after head coach Brent Hilliard reshaped the Aztec roster with a solid newcomer class for the 2022 campaign.

>    SDSU’s early signing class last November featured three prep stars in outside hitters Madison Corf (Kansas City, Mo.) and Cara Braun (Tempe, Ariz.), along with middle blocker Kat Cooper (Springdale, Ark.).

>    Over the winter, the Aztecs added a pair of Division I transfers in middle blocker Elly Schraeder (San Diego) and opposite hitter Kayla Rivera (Georgia) before inking three more high school standouts during the spring in defensive specialists McKenna Douglas (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Ellie Geoghegan (Manhattan Beach, Calif.), along with setter Sarena Gonzalez (Temecula, Calif.).

>    As a senior at Liberty High School in suburban Kansas City, Missouri, Corf garnered second-team All-America accolades from the American Volleyball Coaches Association after earning a spot on the AVCA All-Region VI team. Last season, she established single-season career highs in kills (390, 4.1/set), digs (353, 3.7/set), blocks (50) and aces (33), helping the Blue Jays to a 26-5 overall record and a second-place district finish. 

>    Cooper also received national acclaim last year, earning AVCA All-America honorable mention to go with AVCA All-Region IV distinction after leading Har-Ber High School to a 33-2 record and a runner-up finish in the 6A bracket at the 2021 Arkansas state championships. A four-time all-conference selection, Cooper merited all-state recognition and landed on the all-state tournament team in each of her final three seasons.

>    Braun brings a winning pedigree with her to SDSU as well after leading her Valley Christian High team to the 2021 Arizona 3A state championship, garnering Conference 3A Player of the Year and 3A Metro Region Offensive Player of the Year accolades. According to MaxPreps, Braun totaled 1,290 kills and hit .344 during her prep career, helping Valley Christian to an additional pair of runner-up state finishes in 2019 and 2020.

>    Not to be outdone, Douglas also starred on the Arizona prep volleyball scene, capping a brilliant senior campaign in 2021 with all-state honors from the Arizona Republic after leading Notre Dame Prep to a 37-5 record, highlighted by a Conference 4A state championship. Last season, Douglas was named both the Conference 4A Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year while receiving identical acclaim in the 4A West Valley Region after averaging a career-high 4.8 digs per set (307 overall) to go with 61 assists and 47 service aces, according to MaxPreps.

>    Geoghegan is also eager to display her defensive prowess this season after she was named the Bay League Division I Libero of the Year and received all-conference recognition for Mira Costa High in 2021. The Manhattan Beach native led her Mustang squad to a 28-9 overall record and a regional semifinal appearance in the 2021 CIF Open Division state tournament. For her efforts, Geoghegan also collected first-team all-area honors by the Daily Breeze, as Mira Costa finished the year at No. 17 in the AVCA/USA Today Super 25 National High School Rankings.

>    Gonzalez, meanwhile, is a local product who attended Temecula Valley High and received all-Southwestern Conference recognition as a senior after helping her Golden Bears squad advance to the second round of the 2021 CIF Southern Section Division II playoffs.

>    The first of two transfers to last year’s signing class, Schraeder was a part of two teams at USD that advanced to the NCAA Tournament, including a second-round appearance in the fall of 2021. During her freshman campaign that was shortened and delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Schraeder ranked second in the West Coast Conference with a team-high 1.30 blocks per set, establishing a personal best with seven block assists in a road sweep at Gonzaga. A prep star at Coeur d’Alene High in Idaho, Schraeder merited the state’s Girls Volleyball 5A/4A Athlete of the Year honors in 2019 and 2020.

>    A native of Ventura, Rivera returns to the West Coast after playing three seasons at Georgia, where she started 34 matches in 76 appearances. In 2021, she enjoyed her most productive season as collegian, finishing with 201 kills (2.05/set), 77 total blocks (0.79/set) and 73 digs (0.75/set) in 98 sets played. In addition, Rivera surpassed the double-digit kill plateau eight times during the year and posted three or more blocks in 17 outings.

SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION

>     After finishing with an overall record of 7-24 last year, including a winless league slate, California was picked to finish 12th in the Pac-12 Conference preseason coaches poll.  The Golden Bears welcome the return of outside hitter Leah Schmidt, who ranked third on the squad  last season with 200 kills (2.38/set) while adding 34 blocks. Also back in the mix are middle blockers Ellie Hamm (76 blocks, 13 block solos) and Lydia Grote (109 kills, 2.66 kills/set, 19 blocks), the latter of whom set a season team-high with 21 kills against Utah last year on Oct. 17, 2021. Schmidt and Grote received an invitation to the USA Volleyball National Team open program in recognition of their play. Not to be outdone, Cal is expecting an added boost from setter Annalea Maeder, who ranked 11th in the Pac-12 with 7.38 assists per set (701 overall) last season and topped the squad with eight double-doubles. Collectively, the Bears are looking to improve their team rankings among their Pac-12 counterparts this year after finishing at the bottom of the conference in kills (11.08/set) and blocks (1.86/set) while occupying the 10th position in digs (13.55/set) and the 11th spot in hitting percentage (.174). Cal is guided by fourth-year head coach Sam Grosson, who arrived in Berkeley after spending seven seasons at Cal Poly from 2012-18, highlighted by consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances and Big West Coach of the Year honors in his final two years. In his first year with the Golden Bears, Grossen had his squad ranked among the top 25 in the AVCA Coaches Poll in eight weeks during the 2019 campaign,

>    Army West Point arrives in “America’s Finest City” for its 2022 lid-lifters after it was pegged for a third-place finish in the Patriot League preseason poll. Despite receiving the highest number of first-place votes (4), the Black Knights garnered 110 points to trail Colgate (124 pts, 2 first-place votes) and American (105 pts, 2 first-place votes). Individually,  junior middle blocker Paige Fixemer earned a spot on the preseason all-Patriot League team after meriting first-team all-conference distinction in 2021. A native of Omaha, Nebraska, Fixemer finished third in the conference last year with an average of 1.04 blocks per set (101 total) while ranking seventh in kills (2.86/set, 277 overall) and hitting percentage (.270). Libero Sayler Butters will once again anchor Army’s back row this season after finishing second in the Patriot League with 4.80 digs per set, which ranked 43rd nationally. In addition, the Black Knights will be bolstered by the return of setter Diana Ethridge, who collected Patriot League Rookie of the Year honors last season after ranking third in the conference with 9.34 assists per set (925 overall) while adding 215 digs (2.17/set) and 30 blocks. Defensively, Army finished second as a team in the Patriot League last season in digs (15.73/set) and opponent hitting percentage (.168) while ranking third in blocks (2.14/set). Despite occupying the third slot in the conference in kills last year with 12.38/set, the Black Knights were just sixth in hitting percentage with a .191 clip and finished eighth in service aces (1.26/set). Entering her 16th season at the controls of the Army West Point volleyball program is Alma Kovaci Lee, who led the Black Knights to Patriot League titles in 2009 and 2020. She played collegiately at Temple, garnering ASICS All-America accolades in 1999-2000 and was twice named Atlantic 10 Most Valuable Player.

>    In 2021, UC San Diego finished its inaugural Division I volleyball season with a 10-21 overall record and a ninth-place mark of 7-13 in the Big West. The Tritons, who were predicted to finish eighth in the 2022 Big West preseason coaches poll, return 10 veterans to this year’s squad, including outside hitter Ava McInnes and middle blocker Emily McDaniels, who landed on the Big West All-Freshman team last season to go with all-conference honorable mention. McInnes ranked sixth in the Big West with 3.21 kills per set (359 overall) in 2021, while McDaniels finished among the conference leaders in hitting percentage (11th, .285) and blocks (0.76/set). In addition, UCSD welcomes the return of senior libero Naya Dong, who finished second in the Big West last year with an average of 4.36 digs per set, while sophomore outside hitter Sabire Karacaova (12th Big West, 0.26 aces/set; 14th, 2.86 kills/set) also finds herself back in the mix. The Tritons will employ a new setter this season, with junior Izzi Strand (2.83 assists/set), sophomore Portland transfer Gabby Quach (2.40 assists/set) and freshman Aubrey Tanner competing for the starting nod. As a team, UCSD finished second in the Big West last year with 15.84 digs per set, but ranked just seventh in kills (12.61/set) and assists (11.55/set) while occupying the eighth spot in hitting percentage (.185). The Tritons compiled a 4-6 record at home in 2021 and went a combined 6-15 in road/neutral matches. UCSD is led by head coach Ricci Luyties, who has compiled a 189-121 record in 11 seasons on the La Jolla campus. (Tritons did not compete in 2020 due to COVID-19 pandemic). In May 2017, Luyties was among the inaugural induction class of 25 individuals to the Southern California Indoor Volleyball Hall of Fame. A legend during his collegiate playing days, Luyties started on four straight NCAA Championship teams at UCLA from 1981-84, earning All-America and NCAA MVP honors in his final two seasons. Before enjoying a highly successful pro beach volleyball career, he also won gold medals as a member of the U.S. national team at the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea and the 1987 Pan American Games in Indianapolis, Indiana.

PRESEASON PROGNOSTICATIONS

>     San Diego State was pegged for an eighth-place finish in the 2022 Mountain West preseason coaches poll released on Aug. 17.

>     In the 23-year history of the Mountain West, SDSU has finished first (2012), second (2002, 2011), fourth (2000, 2001, 2003, 2013, 2017), fifth (2005, 2015, 2019), sixth (1999, 2004, 2006, 2009, 2010, 2014, 2016), seventh (2008), eighth (2007, 2018, 2020), and ninth (2021) in the final league standings.

    2022 Mountain West Preseason Poll

    Rk.  Team (1st-place votes), Pts.

    1.     Colorado State (6) – 93

    2.     Utah State (3) –  91    

    3.     San José State (1) – 75

            Boise State (1) – 75

    5.     New Mexico – 68

    6.     UNLV – 57

    7.     Wyoming – 47

    8.     San Diego State – 33

    9.     Fresno State – 29    

    10.   Air Force – 27

    11.   Nevada – 10

MOUNTAIN WEST VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIP TICKETS ON SALE

>    Tickets are now on sale for the 2022 Mountain West Volleyball Championship in Fort Collins, Colorado. The three-day event will run from Nov. 23-25, at Moby Arena on the campus of Colorado State University.

>    Single-session tickets range from $7-15, while all-session passes are $17-35. 

>    Tickets can be purchased at CSURams.com, at the Moby Arena box office or by phone at 800-491-RAMS (7267).

>    The top six teams in the conference standings will qualify for the Mountain West Volleyball Championship. First-round action starts on Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 1 p.m. MT and 4 p.m. MT. Two semifinal contests will be featured on Thursday, Nov. 24, beginning at 1 p.m. MT and 4 p.m. MT, while the championship match is slated for Friday, Nov. 25, at 6:30 p.m. MT.

>    All matches will air live on the Mountain West Network. The MW app is available on your TV through Apple TV, Android TV, Amazon Fire TV or Roku. Mobile applications are available through the iOS App Store and Google Play. 

ON THE HORIZON

>    Following the SDSU Invitational, the Aztecs continue their non-conference schedule next weekend, traveling up the coast to compete in the Pepperdine ASICS Classic in Malibu, California. San Diego State will open the tournament on Friday, Sept. 2, when it takes on Baylor, starting at 4 p.m. PT, before wrapping up the event on Saturday, Sept. 3, with a pair of matches against host Pepperdine (noon PT) and UC Santa Barbara (7 p.m. PT).

 



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