NEW YORK – The Columbia volleyball team begins its 2017 campaign on Friday at the two-day Service Academy Challenge. The Lions are coming off a 14-10 season that included a 9-5 mark in the Ivy League, tying for the most Ivy wins in program history and finishing third in the final 2016 standings.
2017 SEASON PREVIEW
The Lions are led by fourth-year head coach Brie Katz, who has improved the program’s Ivy League win total through each of her first three seasons. The team returns 2016 First Team All-Ivy League selection and Co-Rookie of the Year Chichi Ikwuazom, who ranked No. 4 nationally in hitting percentage at .427 as a first-year. She also led the Ivy League in blocks per set (1.37) and block solos (25), while ranking among the top-five in several other statistical categories. Senior Anja Malesevic returns as a Second Team All-Ivy honoree from a year ago, leading the team in kills (208), attack attempts (693) and total points (251.5).
“We have a great group of motivated student-athletes who are all moving forward in the same direction,” said Katz in a preseason interview. “We all want to do something Columbia has never done before and we want to do it together. There is a great team-first feeling – every person in is willing to put the team before their own interests.”
Juniors Luciana Del Valle, Natasha Kosowicz and Lauren Wilkins were selected as tri-captains for the 2017 season. The roster of 16 includes just one senior, five juniors, six sophomores and four freshmen.
“Our goal is to win the Ivy League championship because I think this team has it all,” Kosowicz stated. “We’ve been a growing program and last year we did really well. We’ve lost a few players from that team but we have a four freshmen who are doing really things.”
The Lions lost four players from the 2016 team to graduation. It included First Team All-Ivy League libero Cassie Wes, who was named Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year twice. She led the Ancient Eight with 468 total digs and ranked No. 6 nationally with 5.51 digs per set her senior season. Kesi Neblett ender her Columbia career third all-time in blocks (302), Zoe Jacobs totaled 691 kills and Sarah Gurbach accumulated more than 400 digs.
Outside hitter Madelyn Ward (Waxahachie, Texas), middle blocker Kaitlin Schultz (Santa Clarita, Calif.), setter Audrey Cheng (Superior, Colo.) and outside hitter Jamie Dailey (Newport Beach, Calif.) are the newcomers to the program. All four head to their first collegiate tournament off very successful high school careers and also competed for some of the top volleyball clubs in the country.
Columbia is set to take on Air Force in Friday’s season opener at 3 p.m. The Lions follow up with two matches on Saturday, beginning with a 10:30 a.m. battle with Georgetown and concluding the weekend festivities at 3:30 p.m. against The Citadel.
Air Force (2-2) opened the season last weekend in Bozeman, Montana, at the Bobcat Classic. The Falcons posted a 2-1 record, defeating Montana State and Gonzaga, each in four sets. Illinois handed Air Force its first loss the following day in three sets, before fellow service academy member Navy trumped the Falcons in four sets on Wednesday in Annapolis. Elizabeth Pennington leads the team with 35 kills and 3.18 kills per set, while Piper Heineck has totaled 11 blocks to average exactly 1.00 per set. Both were named to the Bobcat Classic All-Tournament Team.
Georgetown (2-1) took part in the D.C. Volleyball Challenge last weekend and began the season with a four-set victory over Howard. The Hoyas split day two of the tournament, going five sets in a loss to Santa Clara and five more sets in a victory over perennial Patriot League powerhouse American. They split the D.C. Challenge title with both Howard and American. Symone Speech leads the attack through the early going with 60 kills and 4.29 kills per set. Libero Kenzie Higareda has totaled an impressive 58 digs through three matches and averages a team-best 4.14 digs per set.
The Citadel (1-2) earned a season-opening victory in four sets over North Carolina Central last Friday at The Hampton Inn-Holly Springs Invitational in Buies Creek, N.C. The Bulldogs were defeated later that day by the host Campbell Camels in four and closed out the weekend on Saturday with a narrow five-set loss to Tennessee Tech, dropping the final set by a score of 15-13. Last season, Moriah Smith headed the attack with 469 kills to average 3.84 per set. She returns this season as a senior and had an impressive 14 digs and 10 kills on Saturday against the Golden Eagles.
Results, scoring and daily recaps for this weekend’s tournament will be available after each match on GoColumbiaLions.com.