Volleyball: 2010 Team Preview
Toole, Briggs, Brown lead the Reloaded 'Cats
WAXAHACHIE, Texas -- With eight winning seasons in the past nine years, the Southwestern Assemblies volleyball program doesn't rebuild. They reload.
Replacing two of the school's all-time best players in Kelani Daniels and Rachel Brown will be a chore. Veteran Head Coach Hansford "Hank" Moore has been preparing for this day by recruiting new players who appear anxious for the opportunity.
Fresh off their 28-12 season that ended a bit sooner than hoped for, the "Lady Lions" saw their career leader in kills and aces (Daniels) and assists (Brown) graduate as record-setting seniors. The team did, however, finish third in the Red River Athletic Conference and advanced to nationals in the National Christian College Athletic Association where they were the #3 seed. The void at Outside Hitter and at Setter, though, is as obvious as a circus parade.
She has the tools of an All-American
The powerful blasts supplied by Daniels could be filled by senior Brittani Toole (Whitehouse, Tx / Whitehouse HS), who led the RRAC in both hitting percentage (.353) and in kills per set (4.0), which earned her the Front Row Performer of the Year award. She played at Middle Blocker last year, and led the team with 132 blocked shots, which ranked fifth in the league. In 40 matches, she was as steady as the stare of a glass eye.
Her yeoman-like play earned her the "Toole Time" moniker as she reached double figures in kills against 36 of forty opponents. Her attacks featured mighty spikes, artful teardrops over front walls and adept dinks. She places the ball in gaps like baseball's famed Wee Willie Keeler, a remarkable hitter in the early 1900's, whose advice to young batters was legendary: "Keep your eye clear, and hit 'em where they ain't."
Setting the table with strategic passes
Brown's skillful ability to set-up teammates with high percentage assists, may fall in the hands of the team's only other senior, Jordan Briggs (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS). She was second on the club in helpers last fall, though her versatility at other positions could open the door for incoming freshman Taylor Calverley (Mansfield, Tx / Grace Prep), a 5-foot-10 setter. Bringing size and agility with her dexterous mitts, Taylor could be just what the doctor ordered.
That would enable two returning veterans in Briggs and junior Tina Brown (Seguin, Tx / Lifegate Christian), both proficient at multiple positions, to step in at Libero, Defensive Specialist or Outside Hitter. Both are very effective servers (Briggs was second in aces with 49, Brown fourth with 39) and passers. When it comes to making digs, Brown was 6th in the RRAC with 437 (3.2 per set) and Briggs was 10th with 391 (2.8). Intensity and focus describes the competitive nature of both Briggs and Brown.
Junior Laura Espinoza (Duncanville, Tx / Duncanville HS), a capable Back Row veteran, will push for more court time as a Defensive Specialist. She more than held her own with her ability to receive opponent's blistering serves, which is akin to catching a meteor and gently defusing the heat with a deftly placed pass to the Setter. Asbestos gloves can come in handy.
Fearless frontline performers
At Middle Blocker and Outside Hitter, the likely starters are junior Krystal Cisneros (El Paso, Tx / Del Valle HS) and sophomore Caitlyn Hudson (Mansfield, Tx / Legacy HS). Cisneros made 96 blocks last season, good for 11th in the RRAC. If she returns to the form of her freshman showing when she led the entire league in rejections with 142, the team's defense would receive a solid boost! It would also help ease the loss of Amanda Laney (who did not return) and Daniels, who blocked 52 and 50 respectively.
Hudson had an impressive rookie campaign. She was in the Top Ten in hitting percentage, was #18 with 263 kills, #16 in serving aces with 44, racked up 58 blocks, and was #13 in digs with 370 (2.6). Hudson, however, is recovering from a foot injury this summer. With a full recovery expected, along with Cisneros, she will seek to step up her game and add consistency as a frontline performer.
The mix for Team Lioness' main player rotation this season is far from clarity, unlike last season. Pre-season camp and three early tournaments will provide the occasion for an impressive freshman class of six to state their case for playing time.
Incoming class of talented freshmen
After Calverley's chance at Setter, comes the bid for a place on the front, attacking line by Devan Guynes (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS), Beka Dollar (Weatherford, Tx / Brock HS) and Brittany Briggs (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS). Adding Kassy (pronounced KASS-ee) Cox (Lufkin, Tx / Lufkin HS) and Stephanie Pena (San Antonio, Tx / Tom C. Clark HS), both formidable barriers as Middle Blockers, provides Moore with improved depth among his blockade bunch. Guynes (GWINE-z), Dollar and Briggs are 5-foot-9, Calverley 5'10, Pena (PAIN-ya) 5'11 and Cox, at 6-feet even, give the Lions more height than most can recall.
Scrimmage at Dallas Baptist on August 24
The team will hold a scrimmage on Tuesday, August 24, at Dallas Baptist University, also a member of the NCCAA. The Lady Patriots were 20-17 a year ago, including a fourth place finish (10-4 mark) in the Heartland Conference. They defeated Incarnate Word and St. Edward's in the NCAA Division II national tournament before losing in the regionals to Central Missouri. They are led by junior Outside Hitter Kaylyn Frink (#7).
SAGU Lady Lions 2010 Schedule
The schedule resembles a minefield. The tournaments include some major players on the national scene, so matching last year's 18-2 start is unexpected with a young squad who should peak down the stretch.
In the season opening Hughes Classic at Texas Wesleyan (Ft. Worth), August 27-28, SAGU will meet Loyola University (New Orleans), Mid America Christian (OKC, Ok) and Brenau University (Gainesville, Georgia). Loyola went 20-15 last year, while the Brenau (BREE-now) posted a 24-11 mark.
They also face McMurry University (18-12), Hardin-Simmons (22-7), Austin College (28-12), the University of St. Thomas/Houston (23-11), Southern Nazarene (23-13), and Arkansas' John Brown University (23-11).
When St. Thomas visits Waxahachie, they will be led by senior Outside Hitter Lauren Poe, who was a 2009 Tachikara NAIA All-American. SAGU swept them in the Sheaffer FLC last season, and then dropped a 3-2 decision in Houston.
The Red River Athletic Conference, in which Southwestern is a member, is comprised of a number of formidable teams. UT-Brownsville advanced deep into the NAIA national tournament before finishing with a #9 ranking and a 34-3 record. UTB is currently rated #8 nationally in the Preseason Coaches Poll. They went 16-0 against the RRAC, including a sterling 54-0 in games won, meaning they swept everyone 3-0. The closest anyone came to topping them was SAGU, who fell in one set, 26-24.
The "Scorpions" won 94 of 102 sets the entire season, and return much of their 2009 team, including a pair of NAIA All-Americans in junior Outside Hitter Arlene Ferreira and sophomore Middle Blocker Valquiria Coboclo. Both are Brazilians.
Wiley College, who won the RRAC two years ago with a 23-8 mark, were second to UTB last fall, in spite of a 21-5 overall ledger and went 14-2 versus the league. The "Wildcats" edged SAGU in the FLC, 3-1, then slipped past the Lady Lions in Marshall, Texas, 3-2. They were 63-26 in their sets.
SAGU took third in the RRAC with a 10-6 mark, winning 80 and losing just 32 games. Our Lady of the Lake University and rival Texas Wesleyan also had 10-6 league records, splitting with Southwestern. OLLU finished the year at 16-13 while the TWU "Lady Rams" were 16-17. Their effort in games saw the "Saints" go marching in at 59-52 with the 'Wesleyan Women' racking up a 56-63 mark.
Each of the top five teams from 2009 return key veterans, enough to keep this year's race tight throughout the season. OLLU and TWU had very productive off-seasons recruiting, so the Lady Lions will have their hands full as they fight for a third straight finish in the Top Three.
Other competition in the Red River includes Huston-Tillotson (6-33, 5-11, 25-94), Bacone College (6-22, 4-12, 27-70) and Texas College (3-21, 0-16, 11-66). Jarvis Christian College will not enter a team this season. (Numbers in parenthesis represents overall record, conference record and number of individual sets won and lost)
Home debut versus Southern Naz
The Lady Lions will open their home schedule with a big match against Southern Nazarene University. The "Crimson Storm," from Bethany, Oklahoma, split with SAGU last fall. The perennial power in the Sooner Athletic Conference gave Southwestern their first loss in 2009 after the Purple Pride had gotten off to an 8-0 start. The best-of-five battle with SNU is slated for Tuesday night, August 31, at 7:00pm in the Sheaffer Full Life Center.