Blinn College volleyball coach Erin Mellinger already had a strong core of sophomores entering the offseason. Then she bolstered the roster by recruiting 11 highly athletic freshmen determined to help the Buccaneers win yet another championship.
Mellinger found talent from nearby high schools such as La Grange and as far away as Oakland, Calif. and Adelaide, Australia in rounding out her 2013 lineup. Mellinger and the Buccaneers are coming off a 25-7 finish in 2012, a season in which the team reached the Region XIV Conference Tournament quarterfinals. Five players from that team were named all-conference, including 2013 returners Bruna Evangelista and Crystal Young.
The Buccaneers enter the season ranked No. 13 by the NJCAA.
“It’s all about getting all 17 of our girls on the same page and making sure that everything we do is team-oriented,” Mellinger said. “We'll have all the physical attributes we need to be successful.”
Evangelista, a 6-1 middle blocker from Brazil, is coming off a season in which she earned National Junior College Athletic Association and American Volleyball Coaches Association All-America honors. As a freshman, she led the Buccaneers with 222 kills and 80 blocks on the season, good for 2.96 kills and 1.07 blocks per set. She hit .353 on the season.
Evangelista was hampered by a knee injury late last season, but Mellinger said the Bucs’ go-to offensive player spent much of the offseason in the weight room strengthening the joint, making her more explosive and less susceptible to injury.
“Her goal right now is to be a two-time All-American and I would be really surprised if that doesn't happen,” Mellinger said. “Bruna was good last year, but the last few times we've been in the gym, she’s shown that she’s better than she was last year.”
Young, a 5-11 setter from Clearbrook High School, is coming off a freshman season in which she dished out a team-high 711 assists (8.17 per set). She added 61 kills on the year (0.7 per set) and 37 blocks. With a full year as a starting collegiate setter under her belt, the Buccaneers will look to Young for leadership during her sophomore campaign.
“She knows the system and understands the game,” Mellinger said. “She has everything we need physically, but now she has also developed some maturity and leadership that she probably didn't have last year.”
Sophomore Dylan Dean, a 5-10 right-side hitter from Mountain Home, Idaho, totaled 83 kills (1.24 per set), 53 digs and 19 blocks as a freshman. She focused much of her offseason training on improving her vertical jump.
“She’s not one of our biggest kids or one of our heaviest arms, but she been running this system for five or six years in club ball and she runs her position very, very well,” Mellinger said.
Evely Macedo, a 5-11 outside hitter from Fortaleza, Brazil, tore her ACL and MCL ligaments late last season and has worked hard during the offseason to return to full health.
“People are drawn to her and she is a good decision-maker,” Mellinger said. “She will lead us emotionally and academically.”
In addition to their four returning sophomores, the Buccaneers picked up a couple of transfers during the Spring. Kariana Castanon-Hill, a 6-2 middle blocker / outside hitter from Oakland, Calif., comes to Blinn from Paris Junior College. Katey Kyle, a 6-1 right-side hitter from Pearland Dawson High School, transferred to Blinn from the University of Houston in January.
“She brings great size to the right side,” Mellinger said.
Mellinger rounded out the roster with 11 freshmen. Hannah Jackson, a 5-1 libero, comes to Blinn from Tarkington High School after earning Texas Girls Coaches Association and Texas Sports Writers Association all-state recognition. Jackson helped lead Tarkington to the state semifinals her junior and senior seasons.
“She knows how to win,” Mellinger said. “She is very, very competitive, and they really don’t lose at Tarkington. She earned a lot of awards last year and she just got back from the TGCA all-star game this summer.”
Rylie Granger, a 5-8 setter from Orangefield High School, did not play much high school volleyball but brings a lot of raw talent to the floor. She was named her district’s MVP as a senior.
“Rylie is extremely, extremely athletic,” Mellinger said. “We’ve already seen massive improvement with that girl.”
Jaeda Allen, a 6-1 outside hitter from Las Vegas, was one of the Buccaneers’ final signings after originally committing to the University of Arizona.
“She has only played one or two years of club, so she’s under-trained as well, but she’s going to be a beast,” Mellinger said.
Natalie Colon-Melendez, a 5-10 outside hitter from Orocovis, Puerto Rico, “has a heavy, heavy arm,” Mellinger said. “She has a lot of ball-control skills and she’s very talented.”
Trinity Alualu, a 5-10 outside hitter from Honolulu, Hawaii, was the team’s final signing.
“Getting Trinity was just a complete and total surprise,” Mellinger said. “She is by far a Division I athlete. She was just under-recruited and didn’t get seen by many coaches.”
Rachel Sharp, a 6-1 outside hitter from Tarkington, is the returning TGCA Class 1A/2A/3A player of the year. She was named her district’s MVP as a junior and a senior.
“She’s earned award upon award upon award,” Mellinger said. “She’s very, very talented and has a lot of whip to her arm. She’s a big kid who can play six rotations.”
Rebecca Proske, a 5-3 libero from La Grange, played against Sharp and Jackson at last season’s state tournament. Proske, an all-state and all-state tournament selection, helped guide the Leopards to the state championship.
Crystal Hembree, a 6-2 middle blocker from Bryan, was being recruited by Texas A&M and Baylor in high school. Now 22, she’s excited to get the chance to play college volleyball with the Buccaneers.
“In a short amount of time she’s already made massive improvement,” Mellinger said.
Alyssa LaMont, a 5-2 libero from Cy-Falls High School, will be an anchor for the Buccaneer defense this season.
“She is everything we want on serve receive, is a beast she on defense and is really, really reliable,” Mellinger said. “She has played for big-time clubs and at junior nationals and has a little bit more experience than our other liberos.”
Rebecca Reeve, a 6-0 right-side hitter from Adelaide, Australia, is a three-time member of the Australian junior national team.
Annalicia Green, a 6-0 middle blocker from Huntington High School, is a raw but exceptionally athletic talent.
In all, the Buccaneer roster includes eight players who are six feet or taller.
“I would be very disappointed if we didn't win a regional championship this year,” Mellinger said. “I think we're more than capable and have all the tools we need.”
The Buccaneers open their season Friday with a noon match against Panola and a 4 p.m. tilt against Missouri State University – West Plains at the Dana Hatch Invitational at Tyler. The Bucs continue tournament play Saturday with a noon match against Western Texas and a 2 p.m. match vs. Tyler.
The Buccaneers’ home opener will be Aug. 30 at the Applebee’s Classic.
For more information on Blinn volleyball, visit www.buccaneersports.com.