2003 Season In Review
The University of Cincinnati volleyball team ended the 2003 season continuing the strong tradition that has been built in recent years by head coach Reed Sunahara. The 2003 edition of the Bearcats finished the year with a 27-6 record and a 12-1 Conference USA mark, earning a share of the regular season title with Louisville.
UC was rewarded with its fifth consecutive bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they dropped a hard fought five-game contest to Central Florida. The Bearcats were nationally-ranked for the first time ever in 2003, rising to as high as No. 20 in the weekly rankings.
Individually, a number of Bearcats put together sensational years, including junior Julie DuPont. The outside hitter from Muskego, Wis. became the Bearcats' first ever All-American, while earning C-USA Player of the Year honors after leading the conference in both kills and points per game.
Bearcats in the Postseason
The postseason wasn't very kind to the Bearcats, who fell in their first matches at both the Conference USA and NCAA Tournaments. Entering the C-USA event as the top seed, the Bearcats were upset by an upstart Houston team in the quarterfinals. Despite the early exit, the Bearcats secured their fifth straight NCAA Tournament appearance, traveling to Gainesville, Fla. for a first round match-up with Central Florida. UC dropped a hard fought five-game contest after jumping to a 2-0 lead on the Golden Knights.
For the first time in program history, a Bearcat volleyball player earned All-America honors as junior Julie DuPont was chosen to the third team by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA). Senior Laura Lauder was also recognized, drawing honorable mention honors. DuPont's citing also marked just the second time in Conference USA history that a league player was honored. She joined USF's Michelle Collier, who picked up third team accolades in 2002.
DuPont's All-American Season
Following two solid seasons to open her collegiate career, junior Julie DuPont put together a breakout year in 2003, concluding the campaign with one of the top individual single season performances in school history. DuPont became UC's first-ever volleyball All-American, earning third team honors from the AVCA. She was also a dominant force in Conference USA, as she was tabbed the league's player of the year, the first such honor for a Bearcat netter. For the season, DuPont had the highest kills per game in school history (5.43), while ranking second on the squad in digs per game (3.43) and tied for third in blocks (0.90). She also excelled in the classroom, becoming an Academic All-American for the second time.
Lauder Concludes Stellar Career
Setter Laura Lauder put the finishing touches on a phenomenal career in 2003 with a senior season to remember. Lauder was named Conference USA's Setter of the Year, while also earning a spot on the all-league first team. She also grabbed honorable mention All-American honors from the AVCA. Lauder rewrote the Cincinnati record books for assists beginning with a 2002 matchup at Southern Miss, where she became UC's all-time leader in career assists and finished her career with 5,946 to her credit. A closer look at the UC numbers show that Lauder gathered the record in far fewer matches than previous holder Paige Pees. Lauder moved to the top of the list in 85 matches, compared to 132 for Pees. In UC's win over DePaul during 2003, Lauder moved into second on the Conference USA career chart, trailing only DePaul's Kara Jakusz, who tops the chart at 6,445. With her eighth assist vs. Southern Miss last fall, Lauder became the first UC player ever to rack up 1,000 assists all four years of her career.
UC Earns First National Ranking
The Bearcats made history during the 2003 season as they moved into the USA Today/AVCA poll for the first time in program history. After knocking off then-No. 17 Louisville, the Bearcats earned their first-ever national ranking of 25th on Oct. 13. UC was ranked for five weeks, including reaching a high of No. 20 in the Nov. 10 edition of the poll.
With the graduation losses of two of UC's top offensive threats in Trish Ladusaw and Bonita Wise, the Bearcats entered 2003 looking for someone to compliment the offensive prowess of outside hitter Julie DuPont. The Bearcats found the second half to a dynamic duo in Ohio State transfer Maria Pongonis. Pongonis was outstanding, ranking second on the team with 3.44 kills per game and third with 2.80 digs per game. Pongonis proved to be a good compliment to DuPont, registering double figure kills in 21 of the 28 matches she played in. She saved some of her best performances for Conference USA play, where she averaged 3.72 kills and 3.26 digs per game. Pongonis' importance to UC's success showed late in the season, as with her out of the line-up for five matches, the Bearcats' offensive numbers dipped to 14.78 kills per game and .206 hitting and the squad won just two of the five contests.
Making Her Own Name
With the daunting task of replacing the player with the second most digs in NCAA history upon them, the Bearcats turned to Lindsey Garrison in 2003 and the sophomore libero responded in a big way. Garrison was a significant contributor in the wake of Trish Ladusaw's graduation, ranking third in Conference USA with 4.10 digs per game. UC's libero reached double figure digs in 25 matches last season, including five 25-plus dig efforts. The high point for Garrison came on Oct. 26 vs. Tulane when she set a new career-high for the fourth time, picking up 30 digs against the Green Wave, becoming the first Bearcat to reach that plateau since Ladusaw racked up 35 against Louisiana-Lafayette on Sept. 16, 2000. On the strength of the breakout season, Garrison has cracked UC's top 10 list for career digs per game, ranking fourth with 3.09.
The Best Ever?
With a 27-6 record, the 2003 Bearcats rank as one of the best in program annals. Statistically, the Bearcats finished as the best offensive team in school history, concluding the campaign with higher kills (17.10) and assists (15.57) per game than any UC team ever and the second highest hitting percentage (.273). The .273 mark trails only that of the 1983 squad who hit .337 for the season. The Bearcats came up short of gathering the school record for wins in a season of 34 established in both 1976 and 1979. A closer look at the mark though, reveals that the 1976 squad took 44 matches to achieve the mark, while the 1979 team needed 51 contests.
UC dominated the Conference USA awards, winning three of the five major awards. Junior outside hitter Julie DuPont earned Cincinnati's first-ever player of the year award in C-USA, while senior Laura Lauder was named UC's first setter of the year since 1999. Middle blocker Myanna Hellsten was tabbed the C-USA Freshman of the Year, the Bearcats' fifth in the nine year history of C-USA. DuPont and Lauder were both chosen to the all-conference first team, while junior middle blocker Rachel Torblaa and sophomore libero Lindsey Garrison earned third team honors.
A Coaching Milestone
Cincinnati head coach Reed Sunahara reached a pair of coaching milestones during 2003, beginning with his 100th career win in UC's Sept. 19 victory over Brown. He reached his second banner achievement on Oct. 18 at East Carolina, when Sunahara passed Darrell Morken for the second most wins at UC with 91. He now trails only Mike Lingenfelter who racked up 101 wins in his five-year career. Sunahara, now in his fourth year as the Bearcats' mentor, is 116-73 (.614) in his coaching career, with a 97-33 (.746) mark at UC.
Offense From Everywhere
On three occasions during the 2003 season, the Bearcats put five players in double figure kills, with the last coming in a victory over Houston on Nov. 7. While Julie DuPont led UC in kills in all but five matches during the year, the quartet of Maria Pongonis, Leslie Newell, Rachel Torblaa and Myanna Hellsten brought great balance to the Bearcat attack. In addition to the Houston match, the five reached double digit kills against George Mason on Aug. 30 and Tulane on Oct. 26.
Home Sweet Home
Since the opening of Fifth Third Arena at Shoemaker Center, the Bearcats have been nothing short of dominant on their home floor. In the 14 years the building has been in existence, the Bearcats have posted a 113-50 (.697) record at home, with exactly half of those losses coming in a three-year span from 1991-93. UC has lost only one match at home in four of the last five years, with just one coming outside of Conference USA play. With a win in the home finale on Nov. 8 vs. TCU, the Bearcats stretched their home winning streak to 14, while capping off the first ever perfect home slate in Fifth Third Arena history at 13-0.
Bearcats in C-USA
In the eight years of C-USA play, the Bearcats have gone 106-26 for a .803 winning percentage, ranking second in both, trailing only Louisville. The Bearcats have now won 70 of their last 83 matches against C-USA opponents. Five of the 13 losses have been to Louisville, while four have come against USF. The marks exclude C-USA tournament play.