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Women's Volleyball Preview: UCI aiming at relevance

Anteaters hoping newcomers and Weishoff's undivided attention can erase three years of struggle.

August 29, 2013|By Barry Faulkner
(Courtesy of UCI…)

Paula Weishoff is taking on double duty again this season, not only coaching the UC Irvine women's volleyball team, but also serving as the program's tour guide back to relevance.

After a 22-8 campaign in her first season at the Anteaters' helm in 2009, Weishoff's UCI teams are a combined 29-63, including 12-38 in the Big West Conference the last three years. Three straight eighth-place finishes in conference have decreased expectations to the point where being picked to finish fifth in the conference coaches' preseason poll was actually uplifting.

"I was very pleased with that and the girls were excited about it," Weishoff said of the poll, which tabs defending champion Hawaii to once again lead the way.

"Hey, one step at a time," Weishoff said of the apparent middle-of-the-road euphoria. "I still think everyone in our conference has a shot to win conference. [The poll] doesn't mean we are out of the mix. Let's start there and see what happens."

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What happens is often determined by the events of the off-season and preseason. In this regard, Weishoff believes the Anteaters are bound for a turnaround from last season, when they went 11-22, 5-13 in conference.

"I'm living the dream right now," said Weishoff, who acknowledged that her split duties as assistant coach the last two years for the U.S. women's national team that won a silver medal at the 2012 Olympics, took away from UCI's renewal efforts. "I just like the atmosphere in the gym every day; the chemistry, the effort, the competitiveness and the coaching. It's all coming together and its nice to see. It has been the best preseason that we've had since I've been here."

In addition to Weishoff's undivided attention, change is apparent in all elements of the 'Eaters game. Not the least of the novelty are five freshmen who have already moved the competitive needle.

"They didn't blink," Weishoff said of the freshmen, led by 6-foot-1 outside hitter Cassidy Pickrell, who helped her Texas-based club team win the open 18s crown at the Junior Olympics this summer. "They came in and started competing and it has raised the level. It's really cool. It's fantastic."

Weishoff said the presence of the strong recruiting class helped motivate the returning players.

"[The returners] all worked incredibly hard in the off-season, because they knew the freshmen were going to push them," Weishoff said.

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