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They are serving aces on the court and in life

SHARE They are serving aces on the court and in life

With three starters who are members of the Church, the University of Arizona women's volleyball team is among the nation's elite this season.

Seniors Carolyn Penfield and Michelle Fanger, and sophomore Raelene Morton are strong outside hitters for the No. 10-ranked Wildcats. They sustain each other on the court and in the Church, and have received a lot of outside support as well from the institute of religion adjacent to the Arizona campus.The three know where they fit in with a team that was 19-5 this season going into its last weekend of play in the tough Pac-10. "I wouldn't say we three are the reason for the success," Fanger said. "It's a real team effort. Everyone contributes."

Penfield, whose twin sister Janie is an All-WAC volleyball player at Colorado State, has had a stellar tenure at Arizona. This season she is the team leader by far in kills and also in service aces. She was the most valuable player in the season-opening Carolina Classic. Fanger is also among the team leaders in several statistical categories and was the MVP of the Double Tree Guest Suites Classic. Penfield, Fanger and Morton were all members of preseason all-tournament teams.

One extra contribution provided by the LDS women is a block of fans in the stands. Penfield said dozens of their friends from the institute, sometimes more than 100, cheer the Wildcats on during their matches. The institute has given the LDS players wholesome activities and involvement in the Church that enhances their college experience. Penfield is a vice president of her school's chapter of the Church sorority Lambda Delta Sigma.

Fanger, from San Jose, Calif., was the first of the three to enroll at Arizona. She redshirted her first year and then played the next season with freshman Penfield of Thousand Oaks, Calif.

When Arizona coaches recruited Morton out of Gridley, Calif., they told her right away about the other LDS members on the team, Penfield said. Then when Morton visited the campus, Penfield and Fanger eagerly helped recruit her.

Penfield said the three of them seem to have a camaraderie. But she emphasized, "One of the strong points of this team is that we are all such good friends."

While Penfield thought some of the players were "a little rough around the edges" when she first arrived, she quickly added that there is no conflict on the current team. The LDS players feel totally accepted by their teammates.

Penfield said, "We have forums at the institute every other Thursday where we have discussions and where food is provided, and we usually have a bunch of players from our team who come."

Members of the team feel comfortable asking questions about the Church, Fanger said. "We haven't had anyone get baptized, but the subtle influences we've had on them may benefit their lives the same way their positive influences will benefit ours," she noted.

Penfield, Fanger and Morton, along with their teammates, are focused on wrapping up a great season. They are confident they will go to the NCAA tournament, and they like their chances of winning it all.

And what about the possibility of playing in the championship game against BYU, another top-10 team that recruited Penfield? "I'd love it," she said with a laugh.