RENO - After four straight trips to the big dance, aka the NCAA Tournament, it's safe to say that Devin Scruggs, Nevada volleyball coach, has the Pack program headed toward elite status.
With eight lettermen returning from a 21-10 team, seven of which saw significant action a year ago, the Pack appear to be in great position for a fifth straight trip to the NCAAs and a strong showing in the Western Athletic Conference.
Scruggs will find out more about her team tonight at 7 when the Wolf Pack host powerful BYU into tonight's opener (7 p.m.) against BYU at Old Virginia Street Gym.
BYU was 19-11 last year. The Cougars are led by 6-4 middle blocker Lindsy Hartsock, who was ranked second in the nation last year with 1.86 blocks per game. She will be a powerful force for the Pack to contend with tonight.
A year ago, Nevada finished third in its division and second to Hawai'i in the Western Athletic Conference post-season tournament. Nevada gave Hawai'i, the nine-time champion, fits during the regular season. Nevada led both matches 2-0 and 2-1 respectively, but lost each time. Nevada lost 3-1 in the tournament finals.
According to Scruggs, the Rainbow Wahine, aren't even on the radar. That might be coach speak, however.
"Hawai'i is the least important match on our schedule," Scruggs said. "We are similar team to what we were last year. We lost one starter, but replacing one starter is not always that easy. We have some good, young kids and some veterans that are experienced.
"The whole conference is stronger with the three new schools (Idaho, New Mexico State and Utah State) ranked third, fourth and fifth which I thought was pretty interesting."
Leading the way for the fourth straight year is 5-foot-11 Salaia Salave'a, who led the team with 546 kills (4.88 per game). She also averaged 1.42 blocks per game. She has been an all-WAC performer the past two years and was named to this year's preseason all-conference squad.
She is, without a doubt, the Pack's emotional leader.
"I'm excited for her to have a good year," Scruggs said. "Without a doubt (she's the leader). Sometimes she has too much power on how things are controlled on the floor."
Fallon's Carly Sorenson (2.96 kills per game), Karly Sipherd (2.06), Tahoe City's Teal Ericson (2.65) and Reno's Brianne Davis (0.50 in limited action) are all front-line returnees. Davis tore her meniscus last season.
Ericson was double-figures in kills 13 times and Sipherd had 112 block assists. Both were on the WAC's all-freshman squad.
Scruggs said this is the first time that Sorenson has been healthy entering the season. In fact, Scruggs said the team is at full strength after going through early practice with assorted sprains, bumps and bruises.
Tristin Johnson, formerly Tristin Adams, returns at setter. Johnson averaged 12.37 assists a year ago, and she had 1,373 assists last year. Lindsay Holda (2.29 digs) and Christine Harms (3.16 digs and 1.37 kills per game) round out the list of returning players. Harms and Holda share the libero position, and Harms also plays some left side.
Scruggs has blended in six newcomers - 5-6 freshman defensive specialist Carina Aguilar, 5-6 freshman defensive specialist Dana Henry, 5-10 outside hitter/libero Allison Hernandez, 6-foot middle blocker Ashley Hess, junior setter Ashley Miller, Erika Ryan, a 6-foot middle blocker-right-side hitter and 5-2 sophomore defensive specialist Randi Salis - with her already veteran nucleus. Salis is a transfer from University of Arkansas-Little Rock and Miller transferred from Golden West Junior College.
Hernandez and Miller figure to play the most out of the newcomers.
"Ashley is really what I was looking for," Scruggs said. "She's completely opposite to Tristin, who is really serious and Ashley isn't. Allison is a very good ball-handler. She'll probably be the first on the court (in terms of new players)."
Notes: One change this year is that Nevada will host the conference tournament again, but that it will be held at Lawlor Events Center instead of Old Virginia Street Gym. Apparently WAC teams thought Nevada had too big of a homecourt advantage. Scruggs said she won't schedule a match at Lawlor ... After BYU, Nevada will host the Sands Regency/SBC Tournament Sept 2-3.
Darrell Moody can be reached at email@example.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281