DEARBORN, Mich. – The University of Michigan-Dearborn volleyball team is set to open its 2018 campaign as it hosts the annual Early Bird Challenge Friday and Saturday at the UM-Dearborn Fieldhouse.
The Wolverines will open the event with the 1,500th game in program history as they take on Columbia International University at 3 pm on Friday.
"We are looking for continued improvement," head coach Eric Stark said, as he begins his fifth season with the Wolverines. "Every year since I've been here we've grown in terms of winning- percentage and we want that to continue."
Stark calls this team "the closest group" he's had and believes that working on "broadening our vision and being confident," among other things, will result in more victories and a push toward a winning record.
What You Need to Know
- UM-Dearborn's first game will be the 1,500th in the program's history, which began in 1983. The game will also be the first ever NAIA completion for Columbia International.
- The Wolverines 13-player roster includes six new faces and seven returners.
- Mackenzie Zook, Mackenzie Fuleky, Courtney Turner and Ryleigh Turner round out the incoming freshmen class, while Mackenzie Bryant transferred to UM-Dearborn as a junior. Junior Bronte Michura, redshirted for the Wolverines in 2017 after transferring from Concordia University.
- The Wolverines won nine games last year, matching a career high for Stark.
- The 2018 roster includes two sets of twins (Sabrina and Gina Giacomini, Ryleigh and Courtney Turner), as well as three new faces with the same first name (Mackenzie Bryant, Mackenzie Fuleky and Mackenzie Zook).
- Caitlyn Carlson and Jayci Forster: Entering her second season with the Wolverines, Carlson is competing for the Libero spot with fellow senior Jayci Forster. Stark credits Carlson for growing her game in the spring, expecting her and Forster to both step up in their final season.
- Sabrina Giacomini and Daniella Barile: Stark says both will have impact seasons at the setter position. Giacomini recorded 432 assists during her freshman season in 2017, which led the Wolverines. Barile was second with 338, good for 4.63 assists per set.
- Gina Giacomini: The sophomore also had a strong showing in her first year with the Wolverines in 2017. She looks to build off a season where she appeared in 88 sets, recording 223 kills and 232 points. With many new faces around to challenge her for positioning, Stark says Giacomini will provide an even bigger impact in year two.
- Katherine Nealy: Entering her fourth season, Nealy will continue to be the top option defensively at the middle blocker position. In 284 career sets, Nealy has recorded 201 total blocks, along with 343 kills.
- Erin Parrinello: Returning for her second season, the senior appeared in 88 sets a season ago and recorded 186 kills, third most on the team.
- Mackenzie Fuleky: One of two true middles on the squad, Fuleky is expected to step into a starting role for the Wolverines.
- Mackenzie Zook: An incoming freshman, Zook can play "almost any position on the court" according to Stark, and will provide an immediate impact in her first season.
- Bronte Michura: The junior redshirt will make her debut this season and is credited by Stark with having, "one of the biggest arms on the team."
Schedule at a Glance
Following the Early Bird Challenge, the Wolverines head south for five games in three day at the 2018 Running Eagle Classic, starting Aug. 30 in Marietta, GA. The Wolverines open Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference play on the road against Lawrence Tech on Sept. 5. The first WHAC home game will take place against Siena Heights University on Sept. 12. UM-Dearborn closes out its season with four crucial WHAC games all on the road beginning Oct. 24. The Wolverines will host 14 games at the UM-Dearborn Fieldhouse this season.