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Anteaters faced with some big questions

UCI, coming off 22-8 season, hopes to fill void at setter as it faces more difficult schedule.

August 24, 2010|By Barry Faulkner, barry.faulkner@latimes.com
  • UC Irvine senior Juliane Piggott, a Corona del Mar High product, earned honorable mention in All-American voting last season.
UC Irvine senior Juliane Piggott, a Corona del Mar High… (Courtesy of UCI,…)

Four days before her team was set to open the 2010 season, UC Irvine women's volleyball coach Paula Weishoff struggled with an answer to the question of how the Anteaters would fill the biggest void in a lineup that had the best winning percentage in the program's history last fall.

But while the inquiry about which one or two, or four players will step into the setter role handled the past four seasons by now-departed Taryn Robertson is indeed pressing, it still may not be the foremost question on Weishoff's mind.

The three-time Olympian, whose first season at the UCI helm produced a 22-8 record, an unprecedented three tournament titles, a share of second place in the Big West Conference and a top ranking of No. 18 in the nation, is perhaps most preoccupied by a bigger question facing the Anteaters this season.

Actually, it has been the question Weishoff was most anxious to answer ever since she took the job: How good can the Anteaters get?

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"I went hard," Weishoff said of a schedule that includes eight teams that played in the NCAA Tournament last season. "I scheduled hard. This will tell us what we need to do if we really want to build this program. It's going to tell us where we are and where we stand. We need to play these teams if, one, we're going to get better, and, two, if we want to attract the top kids … Maybe we're playing teams that are too good for us, though, right now, I can't say that; nobody can say that. But we're going to schedule people who are better than us, so we can get better.

"We're getting better and I think we could be really good."

Perhaps no team in the Big West has a better duo of outside hitters than seniors Kari Pestolesi and Juliane Piggott, both of whom earned first-team all-conference laurels and received honorable mention in All-American voting last season.

Starting middle blockers Alex Hauser and Riley Cropper, as well as starting libero Kristin Winkler, who made the conference's All-Freshman team, also return, though improved depth will have all three working to protect their playing time.

Still, whether the Anteaters are to hang with their more established rivals, some of whom will be among the eight visitors to play in the Bren Events Center this season, might just depend on how things shake out at setter.

"The biggest thing is losing Taryn," Weishoff said. "We have four setters in the mix, battling it out."

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