PASADENA, Calif. (Sept. 8, 2015) – The 2014 season could not have ended on a higher note than the 3-2 victory over West Coast Baptist on Senior Night, but the 2015 squad is far from satisfied heading into 2015.
"The added experience of another year under the belts of our returners and four new players with high school or club experience should lead to instant improvement, but we have plenty to work on too," Gardner said. "Passing and defense are areas where we are capable of improving significantly and can really excel. Those will keep us alive in rallies and allow our hitters to go to work."
Gardner will look to his quintet of seniors to blaze the trail this season. Middle blocker Amarise Little (Orlando, Fla. / Freedom) could be primed for a breakout after averaging 3.2 kills over the final five matches of the 2014 season, which she capped with the best effort of her career in a five-kill, seven-block performance that helped the Beavers to victory.
"Amarise should be strong out of the middle again – she brings solid blocking and ought to be more confident," Gardner said.
Last year's kills leader, Catherine Jamshidi (Burke, Va. / Lake Braddock Secondary School), also returns with the program's career kills record in sight (554 – Jamshidi has amassed 415). After leading the Beavers in kills, aces, digs and blocks as a junior, Jamshidi is set to be the focal point of the attack once again.
"Cat obviously has a lot of talent, and I think there's even more she can still tap into," Gardner said. "She should lead us to some wins this year."
Joining Jamshidi in the outside hitter corps is team captain Meghana Pagadala (Rock Island, Ill. / Rivermont Collegiate). Pagadala ranked second on last year's squad with 60 kills and fourth with 63 digs as she steadily grew into a role in the front row.
"Meghana is an important part of our team," Gardner said. "Last year was her breakout in the front row, and she will be an offensive contributor for us this year."
Setters Harinee Maiyuran (Irvine, Calif. / Arnold O. Beckman) and Amy Hu (Rockville, Md. / Montgomery Blair) round out the senior class. The pair are remarkably similar in their shared setting and passing skills, with both likely to spend time at setter and defensive specialist throughout the season. They combined to make 268 assists and record 134 digs last season.
"Harinee has overcome another offseason surgery to factor into our plans for a fourth year, and along with Amy will share setting duties, but both are good passers from the back too," Gardner said. "This is a year of transition for the program as we set a competitive tone, and I hope we can make it a great season for our seniors. They will be integral to this year after showing how calm they can be when under fire, never getting rattled in close sets."
Juniors Suzannah Osekowsky (Saratoga, Calif. / Saratoga) and Ker Lee Yap (Seattle Wash. / Eastlake) are back again and will be joined by women's basketball junior Kate Lewis (San Antonio, Texas / Ronald Reagan). The Second Team All-SCIAC selection and conference scoring leader brings additional size and athleticism to the front row, while Osekowsky will be looking to improve her hitting percentage and Yap her receiving.
"Suzy has improved a lot over the offseason, especially with her digging," Gardner said. "She is hitting more consistently and making better choices. Ker Lee brings such great energy to every day of practice and will compete for time as a defensive specialist. We're excited to add Kate's much-needed size up front; she could become a difference-maker in some matches."
Returning sophomores Ciara Ordner (Niceville, Fla. / Niceville), Mayra Melendez (Salinas, Calif. / York) and Anna Winnicki (Hololulu, Hawaii / Punahou) will be joined by Rachel Hin Ying Ng (Millbrae, Calif.) and Preethi Periyakoil (Campbell, Calif. / The Harker School). Melendez saw the most time of that trio last season, splitting libero duties in her rookie year to rack up 55 digs. Periyakoil and Ng will vie for time at middle blocker and opposite-side hitter, respectively.
"Mayra was battling with Juliet [Su] at libero last year and Juliet is studying abroad this fall, so the job is hers to lose," Gardner said. "Ciara is coming off her first-ever water polo season this past spring, which hopefully helped her build up some additional strength to get some more power on her swings. Anna could be very useful as our only lefty – we will go to her when we need some strong defensive play. Preethi adds more needed size while Rachel has some deception to her attacking, always looking for weak spots."
Subhadra Vetrivel (Redmond, Wash. / Overlake School) is the only freshman on the roster, but her potential impact cannot be overestimated. Boasting perhaps the most playing experience of anyone on the team, her well-rounded game should allow her to carve out a significant role before long.
"Sakthi is a good attacker, strong blocker and has good ball control," Gardner said. "She'll have a chance to contribute in several ways early."
Gardner and the Beavers open the season on Tuesday, Sept. 8 at the team they defeated in the 2014 season finale, West Coast Baptist College.