ANDERSON, S.C. – On the heels of arguably the most successful season in school history, the Anderson University volleyball team will play eight matches versus four teams that earned NCAA Tournament appearances a season ago, as the Trojans announced their 2014 schedule on Thursday.
As an encore to a 2013 campaign that saw AU earn its’ first-ever NCAA Tournament victory in just the program’s second NCAA Tournament appearance, the Trojans will square off against eight geographically diverse nonconference foes in addition to the grueling 22-match South Atlantic Conference slate.
“I think it is a great schedule,” said Anderson head coach Craig Mosqueda. “It is a tough schedule, but we are looking to win. There’s not an easy match on there. Our whole conference is loaded.”
In addition to its familiar league opponents, Anderson will face squads from the Great Lakes Valley Conference, the Great Midwest Athletic Conference and the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference in addition to a pair of teams from the Conference Carolinas and three from the Peach Belt Conference.
The 30-match schedule is nearly evenly split, with 13 true road contests, five matchups at neutral sites and 12 matches in the friendly confines of the Abney Athletic Center.
Anderson begins the campaign by venturing to a pair of tournaments, starting with a trip to the Bluegrass State to participate in the Bellarmine Invitational, Sept 5-6. The Trojans open the tourney by facing the host Knights, who are led by second-year head coach Jenni Grzebin. Bellarmine, led by GLVC Libero of the Year in Louisville native Jaclyn Ohlmann, posted a 15-14 record a year ago and advanced to the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament.
The Trojans remain in the Commonwealth for a pair of contests, squaring off against Salem International (WV) and Mercyhurst (Pa.) a day later. This fall marks Salem International’s first season of NCAA Division II action as members of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference (G-MAC). Mercyhurst notched an 18-14 overall record last season, including a 12-10 mark in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference.
“I wanted to remain competitive as we start the season,” noted Mosqueda, who is entering his sixth year at the helm of the Trojan program. “Bellarmine is good and they play in a tough conference. All three teams there should be good competition for us.”
AU returns to the Palmetto State a week later, as the Trojans travel south for the USC Aiken Invitational, Sept. 12-13. The Trojans open the two-day event by facing Francis Marion (21-9, 12-6 PBC), which posted its’ first 20-win season since 2008 a year ago, but were upset in the PBC tourney, dropping a five-set decision to sixth- seeded USC Aiken. The Trojans and host Pacers close out the opening day of the tourney immediately following the AU-FMU contest. USCA is coming off a 19-13 campaign that saw the Pacers reach the Peach Belt Conference championship match after entering as the sixth seed, with returning outside hitter Taylor Stratton earning a spot on the PBC All-Tournament Team.
A pair of Conference Carolinas opponents is next on AU’s slate at the tourney, as the Trojans face Limestone for the first time in more than two years and Lees-McRae for the first time since the 2009 season, when both were members of Conference Carolinas. Last season, the Saints fell to conference co-champion King University in Limestone’s first appearance in the tournament semifinals since that 2009 season, en route to a 13-16 overall record. Lees-McRae is expected to return four letterwinners from last season’s 2-29 squad.
“Right off the bat, we start with two teams that have the potential to reach the NCAA Tournament and are returning most of their rosters,” added Mosqueda. “I feel really good about having (nearly) everyone back and our newcomers will really help.”
Following the two tourneys, the Trojans play five of their next seven matches in the friendly confines of the Abney Athletic Center, opening action in the perennially challenging South Atlantic Conference with a brief one-match road trip to Brevard (7-21, 3-19 SAC) on Sept. 16. The SAC boasted five schools in the eight-team NCAA Southeast Region field a year ago and the Trojans open their home schedule three days later by playing host to Tusculum. AU ended the Pioneers’ season with a 21-11 mark by rallying for a hard-fought 3-1 win in the opening round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Last year marked the Pioneers’ eighth consecutive winning campaign.
Mars Hill, which was 16-12 a year ago, invades the Abney Center a day later to close the brief two-match homestand. AU follows up by traveling to Hickory, N.C., on Sept. 23 for a clash with Lenoir-Rhyne, which posted a 17-10 overall record last season, as the Bears were eliminated in the opening round of the conference tournament by the Trojans. Rising senior Hayley Rhyne, a second-team All-Southeast Region selection as an outside hitter, is expected to lead the Bears this season.
Anderson opens a three-match homestand on Sept. 26, welcoming eight-time defending conference-champion Wingate to the Electric City. The Trojans will be looking for their first win over the Bulldogs since 1999, with WU holding a 13-1 advantage in the overall series. Wingate ended last season ranked 12th nationally after going 32-3 in 2013, including 22-0 in league action and reaching the NCAA’s Elite Eight for the third time in four years. The Bulldogs will enter the 2014 season with a 37-match SAC winning streak.
Less than 24 hours later, Anderson will host a tri-match, with Coker and Peach Belt Conference-opponent GRU Augusta invading the Abney Athletic Center. The opening match will feature a matchup between the Trojans and Coker, which went 3-28 overall and winless in its inaugural season in the SAC. The Cobras and GRU Augusta square off in the afternoon’s middle match, then AU wraps up the non-conference portion of its schedule by facing GRU Augusta in a 4 p.m. contest. Last season, the Jaguars posted an 8-25 record, while missing the PBC tourney for the first time in five seasons.
The Trojans open the month of October with visits to Catawba (Oct. 3) and second-year SAC member Queens (Oct. 4) looking to maintain the momentum from claiming victories in three of the four head-to-head matchups a year ago. Catawba will be looking to bounce back from a sub-par 4-20 mark last season, while Queens made its first NCAA postseason appearance in school history by earning the sixth seed in the Southeast Regional before falling in three sets to No. 3 seed Flagler.
Anderson returns to the Electric City for a season-high four-match homestand in mid-October, with the Trojans opening the stretch with their second straight NCAA participant. Newberry, which went 18-13 last season, qualified for NCAA postseason play for the third consecutive season a year ago, falling 3-1 to second-seeded Armstrong. First-year Carson-Newman head coach Dan Ahiers and his Eagles’ squad visits AU on Oct. 10, while the Trojans play host to Lincoln Memorial on Oct. 11. The Lady ‘Splitters posted an 18-13 mark last season and will be looking for a return to the NCAA Southeast Regional in 2014 after missing out on postseason play for the first time in six years a season ago.
The Trojans continue their quest for a return to postseason play three days later by beginning the second half of the double-round robin conference schedule versus Lenoir-Rhyne.
The top eight teams in the final league standings earn a berth in the SAC Championship, which will be hosted by Lenoir-Rhyne in Hickory, N.C., Nov. 14-16. The NCAA Southeast Regional is slated for either Nov. 20-22 or Nov. 21-23 at a site to be determined.
“We feel good about our chances this year,” Mosqueda concluded. “We will have played a tough schedule that should prepare us for (the tournament). Hopefully, with our success in the conference (season) and the conference tournament, we should be able to get into the NCAA Tournament again.”