NORTHWESTERN WILDCATS

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    Sept. 1, 1997

    Northwestern Volleyball Off to Hot Start

    The 1997 Northwestern volleyball season opened in superb fashion last weekend as the Wildcats swept Akron, Georgetown and North Carolina State to win the Labor Day Wolfpack Challenge in Raleigh, N.C. It is the first road tournament championship (outside the Chicagoland area) for the Wildcats since the 1994 Rice Invitational. The sweep also marks the first time since YEAR that the NU volleyball team has opened a season 3-0.

    The Wolfpack Challenge also marked the premiere of head coach Kevin Renshler on the Northwestern bench. Renshler has made an immediate impact not only in the win column, but also the Wildcats' attitude and a fast-paced style of play.

    "We have a very talented group of players here at Northwestern," said Renshler. "The most impressive feature about this team is their desire to win and willingness to work harder than anyone to achieve that goal."

    Northwestern fans will get the opportunity to catch the new "run-and-gun" Wildcats in person this weekend during the Evanston Holiday Inn/Wildcat Classic, Sept. 5-6 in Welsh-Ryan Arena. The 'Cats open the tournament Friday night against Kansas at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, NU faces Virginia Tech at noon followed by a matchup against No. 4 Florida at 7:30.

    The Florida matchup not only showcases NU against one of the top teams in the country, but also marks a reunion for Renshler and assistant coach Keylor Chan. Renshler was an assistant with the Gators in 1992 while Chan was an undergraduate student assistant for the Gators from 1992-95. Following the match, the Wildcats will be available in the stands for autographs and photos as part of "Meet the Team" night.

    NU opened the 1997 campaign with a 15-7, 10-15, 15-12, 15-1 win over Akron last Friday (Aug. 29). It marked the sixth time during the 1990s that the Wildcats opened a volleyball season with a victory. Freshman outside hitter Carmen Burbach opened her Wildcat career in style, compiling a 23-kill, 29-dig match. She also had three assists, an ace and a block assist in the victory over the Zips, and would eventually be name to the all-tournament team. Junior Jessica Holloway, after a slow start, finally caught fire, with a 15-kill, eight-dig performance against Akron. Junior Sarah Strauss also had an excellent season opener with 11 kills and 11 digs.

    "It was nice to finally start playing matches," said first-year head coach Kevin Renshler after the win. "I know the players are happy preseason's over. The team learned a lot against Akron and continues the process of developing toward our goal of winning the Big Ten Championship this season."

    The tournament truly was a team victory. Against Akron, Burbach and Holloway stole the show both offensively and defensively. In the Georgetown victory, Burbach again led NU in kills, but junior Melissa Doan and senior co-captain Sharon Fisk finally began to get on track, tallying 11 and 10 kills, respectively. Equally as important was the play at the net. Doan and Fisk each had one block solo and three block assists apiece.

    Fast forward to Saturday night's tournament finale against the Wolfpack. Holloway, who would eventually be named tournament MVP, had 20 kills, but managed just one dig - that one coming late in the fourth game. Instead, leading the team in digs against NC State was 5'1" sophomore Karen Christman with eight. Christman came up with big digs and key aces during the weekend, and appeared to play within herself well. Doan also continued to play big offensively for NU against NC State, hitting .538 (7K-0E-13TA).

    For the entire weekend, junior setter Liz Renius tallied 140 assists, improving her career total to 2,194, tying her with Heather Fredin (1988-91) for fourth place on the all-time NU assist chart. Jackie Nunez (1983-85) is in third place with 2,335 career assists.

    Also, check out these stats over the course of the tournament: Total kills: NU 172, Opponents 140; Hitting Errors: Opponents 73, NU 59; Hitting Percentage: NU .262, Opponents .152.

    While the Wildcats certainly feel good about bring home the championship trophy, Renshler is the first to admit the team has much to learn before Big Ten Conference play opens Sept. 26-27 at Iowa and Minnesota. NU will play five of its first six Big Ten contests away from Evanston.

    "This win was a total team effort," said Renshler. "Jessica Holloway and Carmen Burbach both played extremely well offensively, and certainly deserved to be named to the all-tournament team. We have some things to work on defensively in practice, but this team continues to improve daily and give 100 percent on the floor."