Miners Look To Rebound in 2007

Aug. 20, 2007

EL PASO, Texas - The 2006 UTEP Miners, under the direction of first-year head coach Ken Murphy, were a young team. Three freshmen and four first-time starters were in the rotation at times. But with a year of experience and a tough spring workout under their belts, the Miners are ready to bounce back into action with experience, energy and enthusiasm to rebound in 2007.

"We are more experienced this year," said Murphy. "We are more skilled and have a smarter understanding of the game. Each individual understands how our structure fits into the team concept and dynamic."

UTEP was more competitive last season than its 7-25 record may attest. The Miners went the five-game distance seven times last season and two-thirds of UTEP's matches went over the three-game mark, each decided by an average of just 2.6 points per game.

"Looking at our matches last year, the hard part was that we weren't getting blasted but just couldn't figure out how to win," Murphy said. "I hope we have learned from that and have the confidence to know that we can win tight matches."

The Miners realized just how powerful they could be late in the season, upsetting East Carolina 3-1 in the first round of the Conference USA tournament.

"We played our best during the conference tournament," said Murphy. "Our goal this season is to win the conference tournament. Looking back, we got better every week. [in 2006]. Initially we didn't understand our power and how to apply it to be successful in every match. This year, we have a better understanding of the game."

The Miners lost setter Katie Smith to graduation and had to battle injuries towards the end of the 2006 campaign. UTEP will look to progress in 2007 behind a string of underclassmen, as only two seniors return this fall.

"Overall our team flow is better and we are more together on how we play the game," Murphy said.

Patty Jarmoc, a redshirt freshman, will quarterback the young UTEP team at the setter position.

"Patty isn't going to play like a freshman," said Murphy. "She is aggressive and competitive and wants to win. She understands the system as well as anyone at her stage of development and has a good understanding of how to make players successful."

A two-year starter, Keisha Hyman-Gifth returns at middle blocker. A starter in all 32 matches last season, Hyman-Gifth was first on the team in kills, pounding 345 while averaging 2.8 per game. She led UTEP in hitting percentage with .302 and blocks with 101 (seven solo, 94 assisted).

"Keisha has the best understanding of how to generate kills," Murphy said. "I expect her to be our biggest impact player in the conference."

Also vying for a middle spot is Aidan Mooney and junior transfer Daidre Mendenhall.

Mooney started in 14 matches. She led the Miners in solo blocks with 10 and was second in total blocks with 61 before falling to a knee injury. Mendenhall comes to UTEP after a two-year stint at North Idaho College, where she led the Cardinals to a fourth-place finish at the 2006 NJCAA national tournament and a final national ranking of eighth.

"Aidan struggled with her injury last season but added power to her game in the spring," said Murphy. "Daidre will bring fire and competitiveness to the court."

Irma Blanco will also provide depth at the middle position but could see a move to the outside or right side. She made 11 starts in 2006 and contributed 37 kills, three aces and 20 total blocks.

"Irma did some things that could see her play right side or outside," said Murphy. "She has the athleticism to contribute at several places on the court."

The Miners have depth at the outside hitter position, returning Christie Murphy, Catherine Chavez, Amy Sanders, Casey McAnelly and Irma Blanco. Freshman Marie-Therese (MT) Joyce has been added to the roster.

A three-year starter, Murphy was second on the team in kills (265) last season while posting 19 aces, 18 assists and 246 digs. She recorded 13 double-digit kill performances, including three over the 20 mark, while registering seven double-double matches.

"Christie is our most solid all-around player," said Murphy. "As our most experienced senior, she can provide the leadership we are looking for to stabilize the team."

Chavez and Sanders both earned starting roles as freshmen a year ago. Together they combined to post 537 kills, 526 digs, 40 aces and 78 total blocks, accounting for 621 of UTEP's total points.

"Catherine has the ability to pass and has added hitting range to her offense," Murphy said. "Amy is a solid player. During the second half of last season she generated kills with confidence. She has tremendous power and improved range."

McAnelly averaged 3.03 kills per game, ranking first on the squad. She was second in kills with 309 while posting 13 matches in double figures. She slammed 20 or more kills in three matches before suffering a knee injury in UTEP's conference tournament match against East Carolina.

"Casey was our best outside hitter, producing a lot of kills and hitting at a high efficiency," said Murphy. "She has worked hard to come back from her injury, and at some point I'm optimistic that she'll be able to impact the team's success."

New to the team is Joyce, a freshman from Tacoma, Wash. She was a 2006 All-State selection and All-Narrows selection, leading Bellarmine Prep to back-to-back Narrows league titles and a sixth-place showing at state in 2005.

"MT is the prototypical outside hitter we'd like to continue to recruit," said Murphy. "She's explosive, fast, tall and moves well on the court."

The Miners return libero Elsa Reyes to the defense, as well as senior Megan Maynard. Adding depth at the position are redshirt freshman Jenna Kubitz and freshman Jenny Nolasco.

Reyes became UTEP's all-time single season digs leader last year, recording 632. She is just 368 digs shy of the 1,000 mark and needs just 592 to become UTEP's career leader.

"Elsa has not only learned the importance of control on the first contact but how many times she can have the first contact," said Murphy. "If she does well, the team will do well."

Maynard played in all 99 games for the Miners and recorded seven double-double performances. Kubitz and Nolasco are promising newcomers.

"Megan is a good player with experience and leadership characteristics," Murphy said. "If she can come back from surgery, she has the ability to provide confidence and maturity to the team. Jenna and Jenny will be able to provide defense where we are lacking."

The Miners will open their 2007 campaign with three preseason tournaments, including the season-christening Sun Bowl Association Invitational in El Paso. They will then head to Houston for the Texas Southern Tournament and Portland, Ore. for the Nike Portland Invitational.

"Our schedule is appropriate for our team," said Murphy. "Our preseason schedule will give us the opportunity to get some wins, but I think there will be enough of a challenge that it will prepare us for conference play."

UTEP will conclude its pre-conference schedule at I-10 rival New Mexico State on Sept. 11.

"The Nike Portland Invitational is the toughest tournament leading into NMSU and conference," Murphy said. "Pacific is a west coast powerhouse, Portland is a great team from a powerful conference and Portland State is a potential NCAA Tournament team. NMSU is just as good as they were last year, which is always a good challenge for us."

The netters will open their conference slate at home against Tulane and Memphis on Sept. 12 and 21, respectively. The Miners will take to the road against UAB on Sept. 23 before returning home to face long-time league foes SMU and Tulsa. They hit the road for four matches before returning to El Paso to meet Southern Miss and UCF.

The Miners will take a break from conference action for the rematch versus NMSU at home on Oct. 30, before closing out the regular season against Houston, Rice and Tulane. This season's Conference USA Championship will be held in Huntington, W. Va. Nov. 15-18.

"Our conference had and still has very few seniors," said Murphy. "It should be a two or three bid kind of conference. Every team is going to be better this year. Our young team needs to get the confidence it needs to win some tight matches in order to win conference."



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