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DePaul Meets Local Rival UIC in Midweek Showdown
Sophomore Setter Colleen Smith ranks fifth in the BIG EAST in assists per set (10.41).


Sophomore Setter Colleen Smith ranks fifth in the BIG EAST in assists per set (10.41).

Sept. 24, 2013

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CHICAGO - Off to the best start in program history, DePaul volleyball looks to keep things rolling against a familiar opponent on Wednesday, September 25, when it meets local rival UIC at 7 p.m. inside the Flames Athletic Center.

Sitting at 12-0, the DePaul volleyball team has won 14-straight matches going back to 2012 and is currently riding the second-longest winning streak in program history.

Coming off another 3-0 weekend at the SIUE Cougar Invitational, right side Abbie Fleener was selected as the BIG EAST Player of the Week on Monday. The honor marked the second time a Blue Demon volleyball player has been recognized by the league with the weekly award this season -- the first time came when Vesela Zapryanova was selected on Sept. 9.

Winners of tournaments at DePaul, Drake, The Citadel and SIUE, the Blue Demons will be facing their last non-conference opponent before teeing up four straight BIG EAST matches.

Conference play gets underway Saturday, Sept. 28 in McGrath-Phillips Arena when Marquette comes to town for a 7:00 p.m. match.

Series History
The Blue Demons trail 22-15 in the all-time series against UIC, including a 3-0 loss last season. In that meeting, the Flames outhit DePaul .324-.190 in a match that saw the Blue Demons commit 21 errors against UIC’s eight.

DePaul has dropped eight straight in the series and last beat UIC on Sept. 16, 2003.

Scouting The Opposition
UIC has begun the year 5-9 and is coming off a 1-2 weekend at the Golden Flashes Classic in Kent, Ohio where the team dropped matches to host Kent State and Eastern Illinois.

The Flames boast a trio of players with more than 140 kills. Junior MH Sara Sternard leads the team with a .293 hitting percentage (141-46-324), while freshman OH Kara Johnson has a team-high 166 kills (3.19 per set).  Sternard was a key player in UIC’s match against the Blue Demons a year ago (9/8/13), hitting .533 (10-2-15) in a 3-0 win.

Senior MaryKate Imrie runs the offense (10.56 assists per set). The defense is paced by senior DS Justine Garcia (3.15 digs per set).   

Select Company
As of Tuesday, Sept. 24, DePaul is one of just seven unbeaten teams left standing in NCAA Division I Women's Volleyball. The Blue Demons are part of a small group of undefeated teams, including Missouri, Washington, Washington St., UNC, Colorado St. and Ohio St.

Getting Off On The Good Foot
Already off to a 12-0 start, DePaul has established a new record for most wins to start a season. They have surpassed the 2001 team for the best season-opening run in DePaul history. That team began its year 9-0 from Aug. 31-Sept. 22.

Overall, with 14 straight wins going back to last season, the Blue Demons have achieved the second-longest winning streak in program history. The all-time record, set by the Hall of Fame 1978 team, is 16 straight wins.

Witt’s Historic Triple-Double
Senior setter Laura Witt accomplished a rare feat on Saturday, Sept. 14 in the Blue Demons’ 3-0 win over The Citadel, registering a career-high 10 kills to go along with 15 digs and 27 assists. Those numbers marked the first career triple-double for Witt – and the first for the DePaul program since 2004.

Janet Goreham put together the Blue Demons’ last triple-double on Nov. 6, 2004 in a 3-2 win versus Tulane, recording 17 kills, 13 digs and 10 block assists. Since 2000, only one other DePaul student-athlete has matched the feat – Kara Jakusz on Sept. 22, 2000 in a 3-0 sweep of UAB (10 kills, 15 digs, 39 assists).

Super ‘Nova
Senior outside hitter Vesela Zapryanova continued to make DePaul volleyball history on Monday, Sept. 9 when she was named the program’s first-ever BIG EAST Player of the Week.

Charla Drabant, a Freshman of the Week selection in 2007, was the only previous DePaul student-athlete to be awarded a BIG EAST weekly honor.

Adding to her trophy case prior to the year, Zapryanova also laid claim to the honor of being the first preseason All-BIG EAST selection in program history.

After her first weekend of action, the Sofia, Bulgaria-native was honored with her third career BIG EAST Honor Roll nomination on Monday, Sept. 2.

In the championship match of the Drake Invitational, she recorded a career-best .652 hitting percentage with a season-high 17 kills. In the weekend’s opening contest against Drake, Zapryanova’s defensive prowess was on display as she posted a career-high 26 digs.

She is currently fifth in the conference in kills (3.57 per set) and points (4.32 per set), as well as third in aces (0.45 per set).

Smith’s Impressive Opening Weekend
Colleen Smith made quite the first impression during her Blue Demon debut Aug. 30-31, garnering DePaul Invitational MVP honors at the setter position.

With Smith running the offense, DePaul hit .350 overall in three matches as the sophomore racked up 11.12 assists per set. Against McNeese State, the Blue Demons put up their best hitting percentage since Oct. 25, 2011 with a .380 mark.

The production has continued, as DePaul currently sports a .292 hitting percentage through 12 matches – a number that ranks first in the BIG EAST Conference and 14th nationally.

DePaul has hit at least .311 in seven-of-12 matches after cracking .300 just four times last season.

Enter The Rizzone
A week ago, senior Natalie Rizzo made it a third straight weekend with a BIG EAST weekly award for the program. The middle blocker was named to the BIG EAST Honor Roll after never hitting below .300 in three matches at The Citadel's weekend tournament. She finished with an attack percentage of .367 with just six errors in 10 sets. 

Against Radford, she had her best performance of the season thus far, exploding for a career-best 17 kills on a .382 attack percentage (17-4-34).

Currently ranked third in the BIG EAST – and 72nd nationally – in hitting percentage (.371), the Lombard, Ill. native also checks in at eighth in the conference in blocks (1.00 per set).

Bringing Home The Hardware
Tyler Graham recorded 49 digs and was named MVP of the SIUE Cougar Invitational this past weekend, while Abbie Fleener and Colleen Smith also made appearances on the all-tournament team.    

Both Abbie Fleener and Natalie Rizzo were named all-tournament during the Blue Demons’ recent trip to The Citadel. After the weekend, Rizzo picked up her first-ever BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll nod after hitting .367 and landing a career-high 17 kills in the Radford win.

In a three-win weekend at Drake from Sept. 6-7, DePaul saw senior OH Vesela Zapryanova named tournament MVP while middle blockers Natalie Rizzo and Randi Leath were both named to the all-tournament team.

At the season-opening DePaul Invitational tourney, MVP honors went to sophomore setter Colleen Smith, who was named tournament MVP. Senior middle blocker Natalie Rizzo also picked up all-tournament team honors after hitting .450 with just three errors in three matches.