I didn't mean to start with two soccer posts; it just kind of happened. Unfortunately for volleyball and cross country fans, there are a lot more names in play for soccer than the other teams. (We won't be doing tennis even though both teams have some competition in the fall, and rowing... sorry, rowing).
Today, though, we turn our attention to the indoors and the volleyball team, which the school sometimes calls the Women's Volleyball team even though it has no such Men's Volleyball program.
Volleyball has seen plenty of surprises in the last year and a half or so, and unfortunately, few of them have been pleasant. We'll never know what happened with Todd Kress other than that it brings out the conspiracy theorists, and Reed Sunahara's sudden departure roughly a year later caught everyone in the volleyball world flat-footed.
On the court, UB had one of those rare seasons that was groundbreaking but still felt like it fell short of the team's expectation and potential. One pleasant surprise among the six-woman freshman class was middle blocker Cassie Shado. While Niki Bozinoski, Tessa Ooyama, and Megan Lin all played from the beginning, Shado had to work her way into the rotations from behind a pair of strong middle blockers in Akeila Lain and Amber Hatchett.
By the end of the season, though, Cassie appeared in 25 matches, including each of the last twelve, over which she averaged upwards of seven kills a match. The points came with some efficiency, as well: Of seven Bulls who amassed over 300 attacks on the season, Shado converted opportunities into points better than anyone else, leading the group in hitting percentage. Add in the other side of the net - her 84 blocks were third on the team but her 1.15 blocks/set led the squad - and Shado was an underrated contributor across the board, receiving MAC All-Freshman honors to show for it.
This season Hatchett and Lain, both seniors, should be leaders from the front line. Look for Shado to join them - hopefully improving over her strong 2014 - to give UB a strong front right at the point of attack. No other Buffalo unit returns so much production and experience in 2015.
HOWEVER. If Shado could play a little of some other positions, as Sable Staller did last season, that could help the team out in a big way as Coach Lipsitz works to get her best players on the floor.
None of the three played more than brief moments on the back last year, so we'll likely see a similar distribution this season. We'll talk positions as we get to more of the team, but though the middle will be a strong point for the Bulls, the roster boasts just a handful of outside hitters and seemingly more setters and defensive specialists than will be able to play.
Even so, it's good to know that in Shado UB has a young talent that can both contribute in a rotation with the seniors in front of her and seems ready further down the line to step into their shoes after this season.