Feb. 21, 2013
Three representatives from the University of New Mexico volleyball team will be among the projected record 243 athletes who will participate in open tryouts for the U.S. Women's National Team, U.S. Women's National A2 Program and the U.S. Women's Junior National Team this weekend in Sports Center II at the U.S. Olympic Training Center (USOTC) in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Chantale Riddle, Hannah Johnson and Skye Gullatt will represent the Lobos and vie for a spot on the National Team or the National A2 Team. The A2 Team is a feeder team for the U.S. Women's National Team.
This is the third tryout for Riddle, who made the A2 Team last summer, and the second tryout for Johnson. Gullatt will be auditioning for the first time.
According to U.S.A Volleyball, 90 different colleges are represented among this weekend's tryout participants. Fifty-nine are outside hitters, 57 are middle blockers, 54 liberos, 48 setters and 25 opposites.
Although seating is very limited in Sports Center II, the tryouts are open and free to the public. Each tryout participant will have four sessions each - one on Friday, two on Saturday and one on Sunday.
Since his arrival in 2007, Jeff Nelson has sent a number of Lobo volleyball players to the tryout each spring.
"It should be a weekend of great volleyball," Nelson said. "It's a chance for the three of them to compete with some of the best collegiate players in the country and it's a really good opportunity for them to grow as players."
Soon-to-be junior Chantale Riddle had a record-breaking sophomore season en route to being named AVCA All-America honorable mention, the youngest Lobo in program history to earn national honors. Other accolades for the Roswell, N.M., native included being named to: COBRA Magazine's All-National second team, AVCA First Team All-West Region and Mountain West Volleyball All-Conference.
The 6-foot, right-side hitter was the Lobos' go-to player and led the team on offense in nearly every match this season. Riddle played all six rotations and set Lobo Volleyball program records for single-season stats with 599.0 points and 1,351 total attempts at the net. Her 114 block assists and her 131 total blocks rank her No. 4 and 5, respectively, in UNM single-season history. The standout finished with 299 digs, 32 set assists, 17 solo blocks and 10 ace serves and was flawless on serve receive in her 27 attempts.
Riddle says having two tryouts already under her belt helps her feel more confident in that she knows what to expect of the weekend.
"It's pretty relaxed," Riddle said of the tryout. "It's a lot of technical work at first and then we play a lot. That's what we'll do the most, but every now and then we'll do hitting lines, or pass-to-attack, just so they can get an idea of what you can do."
As a member of last year's National A2 Team, Riddle says there is some pressure to make the cut again this season.
"It'd be just as great as it was the first time to make it again this year, but I feel like there's a lot more pressure," she said. "I know a lot of the girls that made it last year are trying out again this year. If I just do what I did last year and work hard, then things will turn out okay."
Hannah Johnson will enter her sophomore season of eligibility in fall 2013. The 5-11 setter from Longview, Wash., played in all 127 sets last fall, splitting setting duties with Jordan Russell. Johnson led the team with 646 set assists, a set average of 5.09. She also recorded 53 kills in 167 total attempts (.204 avg), 85 digs and added 85 total blocks. Her 12 block solos tied for second-highest on the team with Gullatt.
Johnson says she feels fortunate to have to opportunity to go to tryouts.
"I feel honored to be representing the University of New Mexico," she said. "I'm grateful my coaches though I was capable of competing with the top volleyball players in the country. I'm expecting to play my game of volleyball. That's what my coaches told em to do and that's what I'm going to do. I have nothing to lose and am excited to be able to set from the best passers in the country, set the best hitters in the country and learn from the top setters and coaches that will be there."
Skye Gullatt will also be a sophomore in fall 2013. The 5-11 middle blocker from Denver, Colo., saw action in 86 sets as a freshman. She recorded 85 kills in 232 swings (.203), while adding 95 total blocks, including 12 block solos which ties her with Johnson for second-highest on the team. Gullatt finished the season ranked No. 7 in the MW for blocks with a set average of 1.10.
Gullatt didn't start playing volleyball competitively until she was in high school, likely much later than the others who will be at this weekend's tryout, but she feels having one season at the Division I level has helped prepare her for something like this.
"Club volleyball is the closest thing to college ball and the girls in college are even bigger than the girls you face in club," Gullatt said. "They're the best of the best and playing against them last fall helped prepare me for something like this. Weights in the offseason and working in the gym in the offseason have also helped by increasing my physicality and improving my technique."
According to U.S.A Volleyball - The U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team Program is available to athletes who have concluded their college eligibility and who wish to be invited to be a member of the U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team on a full-time basis. This program could begin as early as the spring of 2013, or when an athlete's scholastic or professional club season has concluded. Also considered for training with this group will be athletes who have remaining collegiate eligibility and their participation beginning in mid-May or when their scholastic calendar ends for 2013.
The U.S. Women's National Volleyball Senior A2 program is available to athletes with collegiate eligibility remaining for the 2013 season. This program is scheduled to take place in Dallas from June 25 to July 4. A projected 48 athletes will be invited to participate in the program, which will include training and competing at the USA Volleyball Girls' Junior National Championships (GJNC) from July 1-4. These athletes may also be invited to participate with the U.S. Women's National Volleyball Team.
Read U.S.A Volleyball's full release.