GEORGETOWN, Texas - Head Coach Hannah Long and the Southwestern volleyball team are in search of their ninth consecutive trip to the NCAA Championships as they kick off the season next Friday.
Similar to last year, the strength of the team will come in the form of the Pirates' defense. Team captains junior Chandler Lentz and senior Jessica Shipp set the tone for the team from the back row. "Chandler has started every match since she arrived on campus and has the experience to lead on the court while Jessica is one of the unsung heroes on our team," states Coach Long. Southwestern is one of the nation's best defensively as evidenced by their national-ranking in digs, ending the season ranked fourth in the nation averaging 21.1 digs per set, just 1.2 digs behind the national leader.
"We are going to have to rely on our back court defense," said Coach Long. "We are tenacious and just keep the ball off the ground and I really like that attitude about us. The other thing we are really emphasizing is we are trying to be faster in all positions and just holistically in everything we do. We aren't the tallest team out there so we are going to make up for what we lack in height with our speed."
The Pirates lost their main point of attack to graduation last season but Coach Long sees this as an opportunity to showcase a large, talented group of hitters that will keep teams guessing. Seasoned veterans, seniors Lorin Froetschel, Meredith Rollins, and Allison Stubbs, will provide a steady offensive presence on the court while sophomores Kaitlyn Foster, Olivia Drummond and Macey Pool in addition to two newcomers will give the Pirates depth and numerous options as the season progresses. "Our offense is going to be young, but we do have seniors that provide us with much needed consistency," said Coach Long. "We are getting the ball to a lot more players and have a lot more people that can get the job done."
And yet with all those positives the biggest asset at Coach Long's disposal is most likely her depth. "It became clear in the scrimmage that we are going to be able to use our bench more then we have been in the past," said Coach Long. "There isn't a huge difference in talent between starters and backups and that allows for some flexibility. If someone isn't having their best game there is someone that can step in and produce."
The Pirates will need that depth as they once again play one of the toughest schedules in the nation. SU opens the season in Belton, Texas, facing four of the top American Southwest Conference schools including the conference champion, Hardin-Simmons.
Southwestern then travels to Austin College where they will face new opponents for the Pirates. "We will go in playing cold, not having a scout on teams and that will force us to do what we do best and make adjustments." Then SU hits the road for their biggest trip, competing in the Emory Invitational, where they face nationally- and regionally-ranked opponents. Three of the four opponents they face in Georgia are in the top 10 in the AVCA Division III Coaches Top 25 Preseason Poll, Christopher Newport (5-tied), Emory (8) and California Lutheran (10).
The three opening tournaments will be great competition before the Pirates open SCAC conference action on September 20th. This year the SCAC expanded to eight teams, welcoming Schreiner and Texas Lutheran, which only strengthened the already highly-competitive conference. "We have some really strong teams and of the eight members we have now, six have been to the national tournament at some point in the last eight years," shared Coach Long. "That is really impressive and makes for tough weekends. There are no games off but it does help with our strength of schedule and prepares us for the post season."
Southwestern opens the season on August 30th in Belton against East Texas Baptist University and come home for the first time on September 28th and 29th for the first SCAC Cross Divisional.