Dec. 21, 2017
DENVER-- "Reload, not rebuild".
After finishing 23-9 and winning The Summit League regular season and tournament titles the season before, the Pioneers lost five seniors including two-time Summit League Tournament MVP Ruth Okoye. The motto going into the season was "reload, not rebuild", stemming from the fact that although the Pioneers returned nine letterwinners, they returned just two starters and a libero from last season while adding eight new pieces to the team.
Going into the season, the Pioneers were anchored by returning seniors Cassidy Rooke at libero, Piyusha Boteju at setter, Cassie Baird at outside hitter and Kayla Principato on the right-side, as well as juniors Becca Latham and middle blocker Emma Willis. The biggest unknown to the season was the eight new additions to the team and how they would bolster the Crimson and Gold.
Two of the eight were transfers in Teal Schnurr (Westminster, Colo./ Marquette) and Becca Mau (Longmont, Colo./ Idaho), who returned home to close out their collegiate careers. Schnurr provided an immediate impact, starting in 26 of the team's 29 matches and registering 177 kills, 30 total blocks (four solo), 70 digs, nine service aces and four assists over 90 sets. The middle blocker averaged 2.26 points per set for the Pioneers, which placed her amongst the top five point producers for DU. While Mau only appeared in 26 sets and 15 matches, when the outside hitter was on the floor, she proved clutch, especially in the later part of the season. She had 36 kills on the year, but was tied for fourth on the squad in hitting percentage at .244 (36-14-90), and was credited with three assisted blocks, 13 digs and two assists.
The remaining were freshmen, and several found an instant role for Denver. Tina Boe (middle blocker, Plymouth, Minn.) started the first match and would ultimately start every match of the season. Alongside Willis at the middle blocker position, Boe flourished, ending up second on the team in total blocks with 97 and was nationally ranked in blocks per set at .97 b/s. Amongst Summit League players, she was tied for sixth in total blocks, sixth in blocks per set and third in assisted blocks with 91. She led the Pioneers in total blocks in eight matches, had a team-high in assisted blocks in seven matches and tied for the team-high in solo blocks in five matches. Offensively, Boe had the sixth-most kills on the team with 129 and the sixth-most points scored with 187, while hitting .309 (second on the team). Ellie Anderson (setter, Cedar Rapids, Iowa) quickly proved to be an accompaniment to Boteju at the setter position, earning a spot in the starting lineup the last 12 matches, in which the Pioneers won 11 straight. Anderson racked up six double-doubles on the season, and the Pioneers were 6-0 in matches in which she recorded one. She finished second on the team in assists and service aces with 526 and 24, respectively, and was fourth on the team in digs at 195. Her 526 assists ranked ninth in The Summit League, and her 5.48 assists per set ranked eighth, behind Boteju in both categories who had a team-high 559 assists and also 5.48 a/s.
Macy Carrabine (libero/ defensive specialist, Bargersville, Ind.) played in 65 sets throughout 27 matches and just like Boe and Anderson, contributed in several areas. She was fifth on the team in digs (149) and assists (29), and led the team in service aces in two of the last four matches and in digs against Texas A&M- Corpus Christi with a season-high 16 digs. Lydia Bartalo (outside hitter, Colorado Springs, Colo.) recorded her first double-double of the season against USC Upstate in the second match of the year, and would go on register 39 kills, 92 digs, eight service aces, two assists, and nine total blocks in 42 sets and 22 matches.
Living up to expectations
For the fourth year in a row, Denver was selected as The Summit League preseason favorite, receiving five of the eight first-place votes and 47 points overall, and outside hitter Latham was named to the "Players to Watch" list, which both showed to be accurate.
The Pioneers got off to the best start in school history at 6-0 after cruising through the Hampton Inn and Suites Classic in Charleston, S.C., and the Pioneer Classic to start the season. The win streak came to an end the second week in September as Denver faced two nationally ranked top-five teams in No. 1 Minnesota and No. 5 Texas at the American Campus Classic. Nonetheless, DU got back to its winning ways winning three of the next four matches and entered Summit League play 9-3 and looking to defend its titles.
DU split its first two league matches, winning a thrilling five-set match against Fort Wayne at home before falling to North Dakota State on the road in four. The following weekend, Denver closed out its four match road trip with a 2-1 record, defeating South Dakota State in straight sets and Omaha in four, before being swept by Oral Roberts. However, that would be the last time that the Pioneers would lose in The Summit League, rattling off nine consecutive wins and outscoring opponents 27-5 in that stretch with five 3-0 victories, to claim the outright Summit League regular season title with a record of 12-2. DU was 14-1 overall at Hamilton Gymnasium this season, while a perfect 7-0 in league contests, en route to its fourth straight Summit League title. In the four years in which Denver has won The Summit League, DU has gone 51-11 overall and 31-0 at home.
For the fourth time in as many years, Denver entered The Summit League Tournament as the No. 1 seed, and for the third year in a row the Pioneers played host to the six teams contending for the tournament title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Denver opened up the tournament with a matchup against North Dakota State in the semifinals, and made quick work of the Bison (25-11, 25-20, 25-22) behind a career-high 20 kills from Latham, and Anderson, who recorded her third straight double-double with 26 assists and 15 digs. Facing Oral Roberts in the final, a team Denver had split the season series with, with both home teams winning in straight-sets, the Pioneers came out on top with the 25-14, 23-25, 25-19, 25-16 result, earning their fourth straight Summit League Tournament title and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Willis was a dominating presence in the final, recording a career-high 15 kills and hit .636, and Boteju produced her 11th double-double of the season with 21 assists and a team-high 11 digs. Principato was named The Summit League Tournament MVP, while Willis and Latham earned places on the all-tournament team.
With an NCAA berth secured, the Pioneers waited to learn where they would be playing their next match. The answer would be Los Angeles, Calif., UCLA to be exact, and the historic Pauley Pavilion. For the first time in program history, Denver was awarded a No. 3 seed in the sub-regional bracket, and their opponent would be Cal Poly, who ranked No. 22 nationally. Taking an 11 match win streak into the first round match, the Pioneers were unable to generate enough offense or stop Cal Poly, and fell in straight-sets (20-25, 18-25, 18-25) to the Mustangs, who entered the match with a 21 match win streak of their own.
The honors roll in
Principato took home the first Summit League Offensive Player of the Week award after hitting .447 (42-4-85) and leading the team in kills and kills per set with 42 and 3.82, respectively, the opening weekend at the Hampton Inn and Suites Classic. She recorded a team-high and season-high 20 kills in the victory against the College of Charleston, which was one shy of tying her career-best. Against the Cougars, she hit .500 with 20 kills, zero errors and 40 total attempts.
Latham won Offensive Player of the Week twice in three weeks, the first honors in her career. The Austin, Texas, native earned her first career Player of the Week honor on Oct. 16, after registering 25 kills (4.17 kills per set), and hitting .457 (25-4-46). She led the Pioneers in kills in the matches against Western Illinois and South Dakota, with 11 and 14, respectively. Against South Dakota, Latham hit .636 overall (14-0-22), and scored 16 points for Denver, while against Western Illinois she hit .292 (11-4-24) and recorded 13 points. Her 29 points on the weekend also paced the Pioneers, averaging 4.83 points per set.
She earned her second honor on Oct. 30 after hitting .522 on the week, with a team-high 28 kills (4.67 k/s). She started both matches against South Dakota State and North Dakota State and played in all six sets. Latham hit an impressive .737 (15-1-19) against South Dakota State, surpassing her previous season-high of .636 that she hit against South Dakota on Oct. 15. She also led the team in total points with 32 (5.33 points per set), with team-highs of 16 points in both matches. Latham was a force to be reckoned with at the net, not just in kills but also in blocks, leading the team with six total blocks on the week. She had a team-high four total blocks, two solo blocks and two assisted blocks, in the match against North Dakota State and two assisted blocks against South Dakota State.
Denver had a league-high eight on the Summit League All-League team with Boe and Anderson making the all-freshman team, Baird and Rooke all-league honorable mention, Willis, Latham and Principato on the all-league and Coach Hogan awarded coach of the year.
Latham received more accolades, placing on the AVCA Midwest Region honorable mention list. On the year, Latham was named to the American Campus Classic all-tournament team, the Denver Invitational all-tournament team and was the Pioneer Classic MVP, as well as the before mentioned Summit League all-league and all-tournament teams.
Baird and Rooke were recognized for their academics, making Summit League Academic All-League for the first time in their careers.
Success across the board
As a team, the Pioneers hit .253, the fifth-best hitting percentage by a team in a season, had 13.06 assists per set, seventh all-time and 16.28 digs per set, eighth all-time. They recorded 1419 kills (13.91 k/s), 1332 assists, 155 service aces, 1661 digs and 236 total blocks (32 solo, 408 assisted). Nationally, DU ranked in the top-50 in numerous categories. Denver was 35th in aces per set (1.52), 36th in hitting percentage, 37th in kills per set, 38th in assists per set and 39th in opponent's hitting percentage (.171).
Individually, the players hit several milestones and were among the best in The Summit League.
Baird was among the top-five in several team statistical categories, and was an all-around contributor after playing in 92 sets and starting every match. The Indianapolis, Ind., native led the team with 33 service aces, was third with 215 kills (2.34 k/s) and 248 digs and was fifth in assists and total blocks with 28 and 49, respectively, on the season. She had five double-doubles on the year, led the team in service aces in six matches, had the team-high in kills in two matches, and in solo blocks in two matches. Baird recorded her 500th career dig on Oct. 3 in the win against Omaha.
Boteju, from Euless, Texas, played in all 102 sets for the Pioneers and started 17 matches. Her 559 assists paced the team, and her 251 digs were the second-most on the team. She also had 21 service aces, which placed her third among Pioneer players. Boteju had a team-high 11 double-doubles on the season, in which the Pioneers were 11-0 when she recorded a double-double. The setter set three career-highs this season and tied a career-high, and led the Pioneers in assists in 17 matches and in digs in four matches.
Latham had a breakout year for the Pioneers, hitting .350 on the year, which is the seventh-best attack percentage recorded in a single season, led the Summit League and was nationally ranked in the category. Latham led the team in kills (323), kills per set (3.20), and points (359.5), was third in total blocks (68) and played in all but one set for the Crimson and Gold. She started in 15 matches, in which the Pioneers went 14-1 and outscored opponents 42 sets to 11. The outside hitter led the Pioneers in kills in 14 matches and tied the team-high in one match, and DU was 17-1 when she recorded double-digit kills. She registered her 500th kill of her career on Sept. 29. Through three years in the program, Latham has hit .273 in her career, which currently ranks eighth all-time in school history.
Principato played in all 102 sets for the Pioneers, starting in 17 matches. She was second on the team in kills (279) and points (314), and fourth on the team in total blocks (67) and hitting percentage (.244). The Rockville Centre, N.Y., native led the Pioneers in kills in eight matches and tied for the team-high in three matches. Principato registered her 1000th point against Omaha on Oct. 3, and she leaves Denver with a .263 career hitting percentage that is tied for 10th all-time.
Rooke appeared in 95 sets and started all 29 matches this season, recording 382 digs to lead the Pioneers. Her 106 assists placed her third on the team and her 17 service aces ranked fourth. From Rancho Santa Fe, Calif., Rooke led the Pioneers in digs in 19 matches, including nine of the last 10 matches. She leaves DU third in school history in digs (1612) and digs per set (3.75) and seventh in total sets played (459). The libero tallied her 1500th dig against North Dakota State on Sept. 29 and her 100th service ace almost a month later against South Dakota State on Oct. 27.
Willis led the Summit League in total blocks (117), assisted blocks (108) and blocks per set (1.15), and was ranked nationally in blocks per set and total blocks throughout the season. Through three years, the La Jolla, Calif., native has 1.01 career blocks per set, which puts her ninth in the record book. She had a team-high in total blocks in 14 matches, six times in just solo blocks and 12 times in assisted blocks. Offensively, Willis was third on the team in hitting percentage (.283), fourth in kills (187) and points (260) and fifth in service aces (10). She started all 29 matches and played in all 102 sets.
Baird (aces per set), Boe (blocks per set), Latham (hitting percentage), Rooke (total digs) and Willis (blocks per set and total blocks) all finished the season nationally ranked.
While closing the chapter on the 2017 volleyball season, and the careers of seven student-athletes (Baird, Boteju, Taylor Loyd, Mau, Principato, Rooke, Schnurr) who achieved unparalleled success at Denver, the Pioneers must rely on the experiences gained from this season, from the incoming senior class of Willis, Olivia Novotny and Latham, to the freshmen that will now be sophomores. Last month, DU signed two to its 2018 signing class and will look to add more pieces to the class with the spring signing class.
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