Sunday, Sept. 18, 2016 | 2 a.m.
There was never much concern that Bree Hammel wouldn’t be ready for her final year of UNLV volleyball despite tearing an ACL late last season. In fact, coach Cindy Fredrick found herself trying to do more to play it safe and slow Hammel down rather than speed her up.
“The entire time I just wanted to hop into the drills, but I knew I couldn’t,” Hammel said.
In July, Hammel was cleared to fully participate and now, as a redshirt senior, the Bonanza High grad has helped lead the Rebels to the best start in program history.
UNLV was 9-0 entering a tough weekend in Utah that included a clash with No. 9 BYU. The Rebels are receiving votes in the Top 25 poll and are almost through a nonconference slate put together to challenge the senior-laden squad.
“We thought we were biting off quite a bit but it was worth a jump forward, and then to see us come away with all the wins was pretty gratifying,” Fredrick said.
Three players — sophomore Elsa Descamps, junior Alexis Patterson and Hammel — already have received either Offensive or Defensive Player of the Week awards from the Mountain West Conference, while senior libero Carly Riehl ranks second in the league in digs per set.
“Our team is very diverse, and we can run any type of offense,” Hammel said. “We’re unstoppable once we get our passing going.”
It’s a deep squad, but it’s Hammel who usually comes in for the kill. Over four seasons, she has moved from left side to middle and now to right, which helps protect her right knee.
It’s unique to excel at all three positions, Fredrick said. But that’s what Hammel has done, cementing herself as the top player in Fredrick’s six seasons at UNLV and entering the weekend ranked fourth in the league with 4.06 kills per set.
“It’s fun to see the growth in this young woman,” Fredrick said. “Because as a freshman she was pretty out there. She was my wild child. To see the focus that she’s gotten, I credit her parents.”
Staying home was important to Hammel, who spends some time coaching local club teams and enjoys signing autographs for young fans. She wants to lead UNLV to its first conference crown since 2007 while perhaps inspiring the next young Hammel to do the same.
“I want little girls to look up to me and say, ‘I want to be just like her,’ ” Hammel said. “So far, I think I’m doing a good job.”
Danny Musovski, men’s soccer
The Rebels hope Musovski can return from a hamstring injury soon, because on a young squad, the Liberty High grad is one of the key leaders.
The former Nevada Gatorade Player of the Year was the Western Athletic Conference Offensive Player of the Year last season and entered his junior year on the watch list for the MAC Hermann Trophy, given to the top player in collegiate soccer. Musovski earned WAC Player of the Week honors after notching two goals and an assist over UNLV’s first two games before getting hurt early in the third game.
UNLV coaches think Musovski could return at least by conference play at the end of September, and the sooner the better.
Spencer Moore, women’s cross country
UNLV’s top distance runner, Moore took 19th overall at the Rebels’ season-opening meet in Arizona. She crossed the finish line of the 2.6-mile race in 16 minutes, 58.6 seconds.
As a sophomore, Moore led the team in three of the six races she ran. That included the NCAA West Regional, where Moore finished the 6K in 22:40.9.
A month earlier, she posted a personal-best 6K time of 20:55.5 in Boise, and her best times in the 4K and 5K are 16:11.8 and 18:15.1, respectively.
Susie Bernal, women’s soccer
It appears Bernal has saved her best for last, and that’s part of what led UNLV women’s soccer to its best start in program history.
A redshirt senior, Bernal went into this weekend’s home games tied with senior Lily Sender for the team lead at 10 points. That includes three goals and four assists as the Rebels (5-2) started the season with four consecuctive victories.
Bernal, a Clark High grad, already has tied her goal count from last year, and she’ll be counted on even more as the Rebels roll through a schedule that includes home games on Sept. 18, 23 and 25. Bernal’s older brother, Salvador, is a former Rebel who’s currently on the minor league roster for Major League Soccer’s Toronto FC.
John Oda, men’s golf
Oda’s junior season started in a familiar place: on top of a leaderboard.
A two-time honorable mention All-American, Oda led UNLV to a team title by winning the individual crown at last weekend’s season-opening event in Colorado. Oda had seven birdies in his final round, finishing three shots ahead of second place with a 10-under 206 at the 54-hole tournament.
It was the third career individual victory for Oda, who has led UNLV in scoring average the past two seasons. Currently ranked the 34th-best amateur in the world, the 5-foot-7 native of Honolulu proved he’s ready to lead the Rebels once again.