ANDERSON, S.C. – Looking to capitalize on the momentum from arguably the most successful season in school history a season ago, the Anderson University volleyball team is looking to take yet another leap forward as the Trojans are set to open the 2014 campaign.
With a balanced roster boasting 10 returning letterwinners, including five starters, and bolstered by eight newcomers, sixth-year head coach Craig Mosqueda may well be leading his deepest squad yet into the season.
“We want to be a little more diverse offensively and continue to build on our defense,” said Mosqueda. “I feel like we have some new weapons this year offensively with our incoming players and I feel like we will be able to do some special things on offense.”
Mosqueda has surrounded a nucleus of talented veterans with a gifted group of freshmen and will be looking for his five seniors to lead the squad to greater heights. The 2014 senior class is looking to seize the opportunity to become one of the winningest classes in school history, after earning 40 victories over the previous three seasons.
“I am excited about building on the success from last year” added Mosqueda. “I thought at the end of the year we were coming on strong. And we had a great spring season, so I am just looking forward to the girls getting back on the court and competing.”
Mosqueda will need to replace former standout setter Meghan Cautero, but “I feel like we are really solid,” he noted. “We have everyone back except for Meghan, so with the incoming players, I feel like we will be stronger. We are about three deep at every position, so our strengths will be depth and ball-handling. We had four good hitters last year and I believe we will have six this year. I feel really excited about our offense. Our defense was solid last year, but I think we can get better on defense as well. We have a strong incoming class with good size and good ball-handling. This was really an important class to us because we have five talented seniors that will be graduating and we really feel like we need these incoming freshmen to gain some experience before we send our seniors off.”
Cautero ranks fourth all-time in the school record books, with nearly 3,000 career assists, but Mosqueda says “Priscilla Irizarry set for us a lot in the spring and the experience she gained will help us grow as a team. She has been working hard at the position over the summer.” He will also look for a pair of newcomers to fill the void, stating “Both Kayla Thomas and Tatianna Grodecky are “both very good setters. Grodecky comes from a very strong club program in Orlando and Kayla played for a very strong team here in the Upstate. Both (players) can do exactly what we need. They can run a fast offense, have great hands and location. We are looking for the competition at setter and once that’s established we’ll wrap our offense around what they are doing. We are looking for one or both of them to make their way into the lineup.”
First-Team All-South Atlantic Conference performer Hailey Pittman and fellow senior Sarah Eckert both return for their final campaigns and will be joined by sophomore Jessica Harris and freshman Serena Jackson.
“Hailey and Jessica worked really hard in the spring,” Mosqueda noted. “Hailey arrived in great shape and has prepared herself for the season. Jessica is a great blocker and Serena is a great offensive player, so it will be a good competition between the two of them. Sarah has been solid for us the last two years and is always encouraging her teammates and works extremely hard. She is a great example of a teammate.”
Mosqueda has several offensive weapons to choose from this season, including All-Southeast Region selection Shannon Gillespie. The outside hitter led the league and ranked 21st in the nation with 4.05 kills per set and paced the SAC with a school record 526 kills on the season.
“Shannon and Hailey both have a great potential to be All-Americans,” added Mosqueda. “Shannon is a very hard worker. Both she and Hailey have improved their blocking and will give other teams problems offensively.
A senior, a pair of sophomores and a trio of freshmen add substantial talent as they vie for playing time at the outside and rightside spots, with Kelley Lacey the lone senior of the group. The Farmland, Ind., native has seen action in 92 matches during her three-year career. Tinsley Hallman returns for her second season with the Black and Gold after playing in every match a season ago and leading the squad with 44 service aces. Fellow sophomore Allison Gaminde, along with newcomers Kendall Vallancourt, Marissa Mitter and Mallory McFerron will add depth while challenging for playing time.
“I expect Tinsley, Marissa and Kendall to all be competing for that second outside hitter position,” Mosqueda added. “Kendall can play outside or rightside. She had really good club season this year and I had a lot of fun watching her compete. Marissa played on a very good open team and she can also play outside or rightside. Tinsley did a great job for us in the fall and made big improvements in the spring. She will be a contender on the outside, as well. Allison is one of our best athletes as far as jumping ability and she puts up a big block. Kelley is one of our top ball-handlers who was solid for us all spring and had a great outing in Costa Rica. We look forward to her making an impact on the team. Marissa is a dynamic outside/rightside and is super athletic and had really good AAU national competition. I saw Mallory a couple of times, we kept our eye on her and she came to our camp. With her height and experience, she has a high ceiling talent-wise and will make big strides.”
Preseason all-conference selection Alix Hooker will lead the defense and Mosqueda says “Alix worked extremely hard in the spring and in the weight room.” Hooker led the team and ranked second in the conference with a school record 670 digs (5.15/set) a year ago. Taylor Underwood “made big strides last spring while working with Coach [Hannah] Budd. We are looking for her to continue to improve and make an impact,” added Mosqueda. A pair of newcomers, Makaela McCartha, who joined the team in the spring, along with freshman Kristen Johnson add depth at the spot.
“Kristen is a local product who has great ball-handling skills and has the potential to work her way into the lineup,” noted Mosqueda. “Makaela came in and worked hard and is already competing.”
Following three late-August and early-September scrimmages, Anderson opens the regular season 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, then wrap up the event by
squaring off against Salem International (WV) and Mercyhurst (Pa.) a day later.
AU returns to the Palmetto State a week later, as the Trojans travel south for the USC Aiken Invitational. AU opens the two-day event by facing Francis Marion and the host Pacers, with a pair of Conference Carolinas opponents 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.
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. AU opens its home schedule three days later by playing host to Tusculum, with Mars Hill invading 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, then opens a three-match homestand on Sept. 26, welcoming eight-time defending conference-champion Wingate to the Electric City.
Less than 24 hours later, Anderson will host a tri-match, with Coker and Peach Belt Conference-opponent GRU Augusta visiting the Abney Center. The opening match will feature a matchup between the Trojans and Coker, while the Cobras and GRU Augusta square off in the afternoon’s middle match. AU wraps up the non-conference portion of its schedule by facing GRU Augusta in a 4 p.m. contest.
The Trojans open the month of October with visits to Catawba (Oct. 3) and second-year SAC member Queens (Oct. 4), while returning to the Upstate for a season-high four-match homestand in mid-October, with the Trojans opening the stretch with Newberry. Carson-Newman visits AU on Oct. 10, while the Trojans play host to Lincoln Memorial on Oct. 11. 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.