Volleyball Season Outlook
Aug. 7, 2003
The 2003 season represents the culmination of years of preparation for GW Volleyball. After orchestrating one of the most dramatic turnarounds in Division I last season, coach Jojit Coronel's veteran team is poised to take the next step: secure the A-10 title and make a run in the NCAA Tournament.
Upon returning from winter break in January, players, coaches and staff committed themselves to an elevated set of goals. GW welcomes back all six starters (plus the starting libero), including all-conference performers Ruth Lazzari, Sarah Hokom, Shannon Parks and the A-10's Rookie of the Year, Lindsey Vernand. In addition, a class of four outstanding newcomers, from the four corners of North America, join the returnees.
The 2003 Colonials will rely on the leadership of four seniors: co-captains Lauren Dunning (setter) and Sarah Hokom (outside hitter), Ruth Lazzari and Laura Harrison. Every successful team needs an experienced setter and Dunning, daughter of Stanford volleyball coach John Dunning, is a team co-captain for the third straight year. Dunning appeared in 113 of GW's 118 games (96%) last season and 86 percent of GW's games during her first two seasons. Primarily a defensive specialist as a freshman, she took over as the Colonials' starting setter as a sophomore and tallied 768 assists (9.25 apg) and 217 digs (2.61 dpg). Last year, she averaged 10.75 assists with 343 digs and 21 service aces.
Hokom is a second-year team captain who had a breakout year last season and will again be relied upon as a primary attacker.
Hokom's 492 kills (4.21 kpg) led the team and was second-highest in the league. Defensively, she recorded 396 digs (3.38 dpg) and led the team with 44 service aces. Also returning are outside hitter Ruth Lazzari and opposite hitter Laura Harrison. Lazzari complements Hokom as an effective hitter from the opposite side. She pounded 385 kills (3.26 kpg) and an single-season school record 510 digs (4.32 dpg). As a sophomore in 2001, Harrison's 2.48 kills-per-game average was third-highest on the team, though injuries limited her to just 48 games that season and 47 games last year. According to Coronel, "Laura is a tremendous team player and leader on and off the court. She will be invaluable to our team's success."
A bright young star emerged last year in Lindsey Vernand (middle). Vernand was named the A-10 Rookie of the Year last season after posting 323 kills with 31 aces and 37 total blocks. With the trio of Hokom, Lazzari and Vernand, the Colonials have three potent offensive weapons.
Downey appeared in 114 of GW's 118 games and posted 178 kills and 83 digs last season.
Law appeared in all 118 games and contributed 79 kills and 17 service aces and 254 digs. Coronel is excited about the return of sophomores Shannon Parks, Abigail Hatter, and defensive specialist Jessica Vesey. An A-10 All-Rookie team selection, Parks slammed 138 kills with a team-high 53 block assists. The 6-foot-3 Hatter provides a formidable blocking presence in the middle who will give opponents trouble. Vesey was steady last season as the team's first libero. Her 204 digs was an average of nearly two digs per game.
Coronel's team enters the season with high expectations for the level of competition it must face. "We will be facing teams from the ACC, SEC, West Coast and Big East Conferences," Coronel said. "That level of competition will prepare us for the A-10 portion of the schedule."
The Colonials will open the season in a tournament at George Mason before hosting the four-team GW Invitational at Smith Center. GW then travels to New Jersey for the Rutgers Invitational. The Colonials face Georgetown on the road before concluding the non-conference portion of the schedule in the South Carolina Gamecock Invitational. Defending Conference champion Temple, a team the Colonials have not beaten in the last 10 meetings, provides the opposition on "Senior Night" for GW's four graduating seniors followed by the A-10 Championship. The A-10's top four teams will advance to the Atlantic 10 championship tournament Nov. 21-22, where an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament is at stake. Following the conference tournament, GW will host crosstown rival and defending Patriot League champion American University in what the staff hopes will be a tune-up for an NCAA Tournament first-round match.
"These tournaments will yield instant feedback about our offense, defense and ability to compete and prepare for the A-10," said Coronel. "With the senior leadership we have on this team, along with the talent up and down the roster, I expect nothing short of a breakthrough season. This group of players will be very exciting to watch."