MIAMI SHORES, Fla. -- Barry University volleyball team is back with a new look.
The Buccaneers open the season Friday at Palm Beach Atlantic's Hyatt Place Volleyball Classic beginning with Washburn University at 1 p.m. Barry will play Northwest Missouri State at 5 p.m. in the second match of the two-day tournament, which concludes Saturday.
Head coach Steve Hendricks ushers in his first recruiting class after inheriting the program late last summer. After addressing ball control, athleticism and depth, Hendricks and Barry are poised to improve upon an 11-17 season a year ago.
With better play at the net, the Buccaneers give themselves a chance to compete with some of the more potent hitting teams.
Barry brings back Sunshine State Conference All-Newcomer Team member Tania Torres, a middle blocker/outside hitter who led the Bucs in kills as a junior. She is surrounded by three other senior leaders in defensive specialist Alicia Guerrero, setter Mima Hajdukovic and outside hitter Mariana Lisboa, who was second on the team in kills in 2011.
All of that bodes well with the addition of nine talented new players who bring experience and potential to the table.
"We will have excellent leadership from four experienced seniors, and the incoming players are very talented and committed," Hendricks said. "We are going to be a fun team to watch with strong ball control and a lot of options in the front and back row. I know they are excited to gel as a team and represent Barry University and our great alums."
The Bucs extended their recruiting efforts overseas and to the far reaches of the country in search of a better combination to begin restoring the roar in the program. Barry recruited two players from New Mexico, one from Latvia, another from New Zealand, one from Puerto Rico and three from Florida.
What this all means won’t be determined until the Buccaneers begin putting its puzzle pieces together on the court.
"I am really excited about the team we have put together for this fall," Hendricks said. "We could not be more pleased with the intelligence, work ethic and competitive drive of this group. We have added depth in each position and created a very competitive environment that will foster the team’s overall development to compete at a higher level in 2012. Each new player brings talents and experience that will complement the returners, making us a stronger program. We will be jumping higher, hitting the ball harder and have better ball control. Because of these improvements and a year’s coaching experience in the SSC, I have very high expectations of this team and the success we can have this fall."
Barry also has new additions to its coaching staff. Along with veteran assistant Katie McCrath, who returns for her fourth season with the Buccaneers, Barry added volunteer assistants BJ Hiapo, who played for Brigham Young men’s team, and Greg Villareal, who also coaches high school and club in Miami.
"Our expectations are high, and I feel we have the athletic ability and volleyball IQ to have a very successful season," Hendricks said. "I am very excited to lead my staff and this group of strong, young women. They are a committed group, a tight family and a lot of fun to be around."
Hajdukovic returns after establishing herself as the floor general in 2011.
As a junior, Hajdukovic led the Bucs in assists with 717 last season. She also had 182 kills, 186 digs, 31 aces and 30 blocks. Her leadership will be key in the early going to newcomers Jasmine Serna, a freshman from Albuquerque, N.M., and Mariana Ruiz, a rookie local product out of Aventura, Fla.
"Mima Hajdukovic will most likely direct our offense, and I am excited to have her mentor Jasmine and Mariana in the setting position," Hendricks said. "Mima has such a great eye for the game and ability to isolate our attackers and attack the second ball it will be fun to watch our offense. Jasmine and Mariana both bring a more American style of setting to the program and will push Mima to be better. This competition and combination of styles will give our team more versatility and create an exciting offense."
Serna played for Hendricks with New Mexico Juniors club team while the current Barry coach was an assistant at New Mexico. She had 633 assists as a senior in high school. She also had 186 digs, 61 kills, 50 aces and 31 blocks.
Serna had a career-high 61 assists in a 3-2 win over Sandia on Sept. 27, 2011.
Ruiz, a South Florida native, has good defensive instincts. She is expected to fill roles as a setter and on the defensive end.
Ruiz spent her prep years at Krop High in North Miami. She played club ball for Miami Select.
Barry’s depth at the setting position gives the Bucs multiple options, not to mention flexibility in running different offensive sets for the multi-talented hitters and middles that augment the Buccaneers’ attacking game.
The Bucs have a lot of options in the attacking game with hitters who can play multiple positions.
Lisboa is back after putting away 248 kills in her first season with the Bucs. Lisboa is also a talented defensive player. Last year she led the Buccaneers in digs with 265 while spending half her time on the front row.
This season the Bucs add six new hitters to the attacking game, opening up a lot of doors.
Sophomore transfer Jayla Trombley makes her way to Miami Shores after a season with Division I New Mexico in Albuquerque, where she also played club ball with Hendricks. Junior Ashley Carrero spent two years in Puerto Rico playing collegiately. Freshman Rosie Johnston has New Zealand international experience, and comes from a strong family lineage of volleyball roots.
Along with Torres, freshmen Tashalyn Begon, Laine Cielena and Kate Dooley are other viable options in the hitting game. And Guerrero, who is labeled as a defensive specialist, has the ability to terminate.
Even then, there are still question marks that even the coaching staff will need time to tinker with as the season wears on.
"In terms of who will play as an outside hitter or in the middle, one of the great things about the incoming class is their ability to play multiple positions along the net," Hendricks said. "Jayla, Rosie, Tash and Laine all have experience in the middle as well as on the pins. Kate has the ability to play middle and dominate the right side with her blocking. You add Ashley to the left side, along with Mari and Alicia from last year’s team and Tania Torres, who was an All-SSC Newcomer team choice as an attacker ... it is going to be a great challenge for them and the coaching staff to finalize a starting lineup."
Torres is an excellent centerpiece to build around in what may be one of the hallmarks of this year’s Buccaneers team:
She pounded a team-high 322 kills as a junior. Begon, Cielena and Dooley all give the Buccaneers something void from last year’s team. Well, actually two things:
Termination and blocking skills.
"Because of our versatility, I know we will be better on the outside and in the middle in 2012," Hendricks said. "The collective ability to attack at a higher point on the net has improved tremendously, and the power we can hit the ball will make it much more challenging for our opponents to defend us. I am excited to see us be a more explosive and powerful attacking team. During our early season, we will spend a lot of time training and competing in each of these positions to let the players earn their spots on the court."
Begon was a First-Team All-County selection as a high school senior in South Florida after leading her team with 292 kills. Dooley was an all-conference pick in the powerful Tampa prep circuit. Cielena brings smarts and international experience to this year’s team.
Last year, the Bucs were outblocked 173 to 157.5. That is an area Hendricks addressed, and believes will change for the better. In 2011, Barry managed just 39 solo blocks. This season, if the Bucs personnel lives up to its billing, that number should climb.
"In terms of blocking, we have increased our ability to stuff more balls and take more options away from our opponents attack just through increasing the overall height of our team," Hendricks said.
"Fortunately, we are not only taller, but have increased our jumping ability and net experience. Jayla brings in a year of Division I play, and Laine and Rosie have tremendous international experience. Their additions, coupled with the four seniors’ experience from last year ... I am looking forward to it transferring significantly to every player and improving our numbers in the season’s statistics."
Guerrero is back for her final collegiate season. Last year, she had 134 digs, 50 kills, 17 blocks and 11 aces, wearing different hats for the Bucs. This year, with upgrades to other positions, she may be more specialized to more aptly suit her talents and the team’s needs.
Lisboa could return to her libero roots, while alternating in a hitter’s capacity at times.
Junior transfer Jeni Hiapo comes in with two years of junior college experience, playing at Chandler-Gilbert Community College in the formidable Arizona Community College Athletic Association league. She possesses hitting and defensive skills. Hiapo had 396 kills in two seasons at the juco level. She also racked up 319 digs.
Serna’s ability to defend also gives Barry options for her as a libero and on the defensive end.
Carrero could be used in similar roles.
"I believe you play at the level you pass the volleyball and it is this area that I may be the most excited about with this team," Hendricks said. "We spent a good amount of time increasing the returners passing and defensive abilities this past spring, and many of the newcomers already have a great feel for the ball.
"Mari is a libero at heart, and she will be extremely complemented by Jasmine, Jeni and Ashley. Tania, Rosie, Jayla and Alicia are six-rotation players, while Laine, Tash and Mariana can handle the ball well, too.
"It is going to be a lot of fun and a priority this fall, working to perfect our passing and keep the ball off the floor on defense."
Barry will hold a pair of scrimmages Tuesday beginning at 4 p.m. in the Health & Sports Center.