The University of Arkansas at Monticello volleyball team enters the 2014 season with a total of 11 newcomers, more than half of those coming from the high school ranks.



“We’re going into the 10th season of UAM volleyball, and it’ll be a new beginning with a mostly new team with 11 new players and only four returners,” said third-year head coach Peter Cruz. “This season, every player on the roster is one that I have recruited, which is exciting for me personally… We were picked to finish 10th in the conference, which I hope motivates this incoming group to overachieve throughout the season.”

Cruz had added nine players since announcing the signings of then-high school seniors Aspen Luna and Jordan Filotei this past December following the 2013 season.

In addition to those players from the high school ranks, Alona Word (5-11, middle hitter) comes from Travis High School in Richmond, Texas, Aubrey Harrison (5-10, outside hitter) comes from Conroe High School in Conroe, Texas, Symantha Sandee (5-8, outside hitter) comes from Cornerstone Christian High School in Seguin, Texas, and Kyra Austin (5-10, middle hitter) comes from from Paris High School in Paris, Arkansas.

Commenting on the latest true freshman signings, Cruz said “Aubrey has an aggressive swing and will be a scoring option for us on the outside. Alona and Kyra will both be in the mix for us at the net. Kyra has long arms that will help our blocking and Alona is an aggressive and quick middle hitter. Symantha is athletic and will develop into a solid all-around outside for us. A couple of our freshmen will need to step up for us as well this fall. Between these four signees and the two we signed in the fall, I believe that this is the most talented freshmen class UAM has seen in several years.”

From the junior college ranks, Cruz has signed Sydni Schulz (5-9, outside hitter) from Franklin Pierce University. Originally from Cypress, Texas, Schulz led her team averaging 2.7 kills per set this past season at FPU, while also ranking second in digs with an average of three per set. She helped FPU to a pair of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances.

Kaila Kikugawa (5-6, setter) comes to UAM from Laredo Community College in Texas following a 23-8 season, in which she average 6.9 assists and 2.9 digs per set. She is originally from Mililani, Hawaii, as Lani Kaiwi (5-6, defensive specialist), who joins the Blossoms from Taft College in California, where she helped lead Taft to a 17-9 overall record last year and averaged two digs per set.

Alice Cardona-Otero (5-9, defensive specialist) is set to make her UAM debut in 2014 after averaging two kills and 2.7 digs per set last season at Labette Community College in Kansas. Cardona-Otero is originally from Arecibo, Puerto Rico.

Bianca Brown (5-9, middle hitter) rounds out the transfer list, coming from Pensacola State College, where she ranked 13th in the National Junior College Athletics Association last year with a .373 hitting percentage. The Pensacola, Florida native average two kills and 0.7 blocks per set last year, and helped lead her team to a 21-14 record.

“All five of our junior transfers have been two-year starters and will make an immediate impact since we only have two returning starters this season,” Cruz said. “Kaila led her team to two victories over eventual NJCAA national champion Blinn College last season, and Sydni’s team made the NCAA tournament both seasons she played at Franklin Pierce. Bianca had great numbers at a solid program, and will continue to improve the rest of her career because of her athleticism. Alice and Lani are skilled, all-around volleyball players who will bring much needed improvement to our back row and will compete with each other for the libero position.”

The four players returning from the 2013 squad include seniors Jessica Cuba (outside hitter) and Tasha Evans (middle hitter), who both were in the starting mix last year. Kedra Johnson (outside hitter) and Brittney Beckham (setter) also return after seeing significant playing time as true freshman in 2013.

The Blossoms open the 2014 season at the Angelo State Invitational on September 5-6. UAM’s first home match is the following Tuesday, September 9 against Harding. First serve is at 6 p.m. Admission is free to all home matches.