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High hopes rest on play of returning veterans

Lady Lions scrimmage Dallas Baptist on Aug. 24

WAXAHACHIE, Texas  --  Riding a string of eight consecutive winning regular seasons, the volleyball team at Southwestern Assemblies of God University is about to embark on what could be a big year.

While the Lady Lions begin playing in a new league, the Sooner Athletic Conference, they will do so with an experienced hand.

Head Coach Hansford “Hank” Moore expects 18 players when the team convenes on Monday, August 12. Competition for a starting position or a place in the regular rotation should be fierce, as well as for roster spot on a team that figures to carry 14 to 16 players.

Depending on performance and health, redshirting for the season always remains a possibility, especially for freshmen.

According to Coach Moore, there will be “many decisions that need to be made over the next few weeks. We have a few players who are coming back from serious injuries and they will be evaluated as well.”

One conclusion that Moore has announced regards considerations for a Junior Varsity team this season. He said there will not be a JV program or schedule as the numbers needed to warrant such a decision are not present at this time.

As a tune-up for the start of the regular season, he revealed that SAGU will host an informal scrimmage against Dallas Baptist University. It will take place on Saturday morning, August 24, at 10:00am in the Sheaffer Full Life Center.

Head Coach Cathy Kokel’s Lady Patriots had a 19-9 mark in 2012, which was good enough to finish second in the Heartland Conference.

“They are a very good D-2 (NCAA Division II) program,” assessed Moore. “They are playing at a very high level, so it will be a good measuring stick for us.”

“It will help us as we prepare for our season opener at Wiley College (22-8 in 2012).”

According to Coach Moore, “We should have our roster set going into that scrimmage. We will be looking at about three different lineups that day.”

The plan for the scrimmage is “strictly an evaluation day,” he said. “We are going to look at three positions in hopes that someone will step up and win a starting job.”

Entering his 13th campaign at SAGU, Moore didn’t elaborate about which position, but it reveals the squad’s depth is sure to benefit from the scrimmage.

Heading into camp, he said the team has signed some “very special players who could come in and make our team better.”

The Lady Lions were 17-14 during the regular season in 2012. They finished at 18-17 after post-season tournament play.

SAGU returns 13 of 14 players from last year’s club, meaning an experienced cast will take to the court this fall.

“I’m very excited about this group. We have some incredible leadership on this team,” Moore added.

He has plenty of reasons to justify his optimism.

It all starts with senior setter Taylor Calverley (Mansfield, Tx / Grace Prep), the Setter of the Year in the Red River Athletic Conference. She was one of three First Team All-Conference performers for SAGU.

Her 10.2 assists per set average ranked second in the RRAC and 23rd nationally. As the quarterback on the frontline, she distributes the ball to a host of attackers.

Most notably, a pair of All-Conference hitters in senior Kassy Cox (Lufkin, Tx / Lufkin HS) and junior Jessica Sodich (Arlington, Tx / Ovilla Christian).

Cox hit .257 and racked up 387 kills, which was third on the team. Sodich led the RRAC with 4.2 kills per set, hit .206 and led the team with 530 spikes for points.

Sodich also led the team on defense, making 3.7 digs per set. That ranked her seventh in the league.

Earning Honorable Mention honors in her freshman year was Emmalee Smith (Red Oak, Tx / Red Oak HS). She kept plays alive from the Libero position, and averaged 3.3 digs per set, finishing 12th in the RRAC.

The local product (Red Oak is just twelve miles north of Waxahachie) also fired 35 aces from the back row.

SAGU also has two Defensive Specialists returning; senior Brittany Briggs (Maypearl, Tx / Maypearl HS) and Alissa Kirk (Pataskala, Oh / Gahanna Christian), a junior. The duo figured prominently in the rotation in 2012.

Briggs tied for the team lead in aces with 37 and was third in digs with a 2.7 average.

Sophomores Caitlin Paschall (Waxahachie, Tx / Midlothian HS) and JJ Abbott (Kenmore, Wash / Cedar Park Christian) were starters last year. Paschall played at Rightside Hitter while Abbott was at Middle Blocker.

Adding New Players into the Mix

The returning veterans will be meshed with five incoming recruits: McKenzie Criddle (Lake Livingston, Tx / Livingston HS), Faith Hardin (Midlothian, Tx / Midlothian HS), Brianna Hunt (Carlsbad, NM / Carlsbad HS), Courtney Tobolka (Midlothian, Tx / Midlothian HS) and Katie Ryan (Girard, Ill / Evangel University). Ryan, a transfer, will be a junior. She is a 5'7 Outside Hitter and Defensive Specialist.

This year's team will be one of the tallest in recent history.

“We’ve got a very good group of players returning,” concluded Moore. “This is going to be a very exciting season!”

About SAGU Lady Lions Volleyball

SAGU has 30 matches this fall, eleven in the friendly confines of the Sheaffer Center. Seven home dates will be aired in HD by SAGU Sports Live.

All home matches and the majority of those on the road will be available via LiveStats webcasts, which is a digital play-by-play on-line.

The team’s preseason includes team meetings and two-a-day practices, often around 9:00am and 3:00pm, though the starting times vary.

Media Day is on Friday, Aug. 16, when the team and individual photos will be taken in the Sheaffer Center at 9:30am. Steve Patterson, of Moving Pictures (Red Oak, Tx), serves as the photographer.

SAGU’s first match is on Monday in East Texas with a best-of-five against Wiley College (Marshall, Tx). The action begins at 7:00pm in the Alumni Gym.

A complete Game Day Preview, with media access, will be posted on-line the previous weekend.

Following a pair of tournaments – each consisting of four matches, the Lady Lions return for their home debut. They will entertain Mid-America Christian University (Ok) on Sept. 17 at 7:00pm.

The Lady Evangels were 18-16 last fall. SAGU won the series between the two friendly rivals, 2-1. The home opener will be broadcast by SAGU Sports Live.

Social Media News

Fans are urged to check out the new SAGU Sports Network fan page on Facebook. ‘Like’ it and help meet the goal of 700 likes by next month.

Currently on the SSN fan page is a video segment that shows big record setting plays from last year, including a pair of kills by the Lady Lions.

The new page page will replace the SAGU Sports Live and SAGU Athletics pages on Facebook. They will close down on September 1.

Video highlights, photos, special promotion and graphics will make it the destination for all SAGU sports fans.

The SSN has also launched a Twitter account. Its primary function is to supply score updates on SAGU games as well as news flashes.

The handle to follow is: @SAGUSportsNet

Contact: Mark “Link” Warde, SAGU Sports Information Director, at or at 469-658-2847.