COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech volleyball team opens the 2010 season this weekend with three matches at the Clemson Big Orange Bash.
The Golden Eagles take on the Albany Great Danes Friday, at 4 p.m. then square off against the host Clemson Tigers Saturday at 11 a.m., and finish the day against the Jacksonville Dolphins at 3 p.m. The three teams on Tech’s schedule combined for 72 wins last season.
“I don’t see any automatic victories,” head coach John Blair said. “Every win will have to be earned.”
Albany recorded a 22-9 record in 2009 and finished first in the America East Conference with a 10-0 record. Clemson finished last season with a 23-10 record and a fourth place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference, while Jacksonville finished 2009 with a 27-8 mark and a second place finish in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The matches against the Great Danes and the Dolphins will be the first for the Golden Eagles. Saturday’s match against Clemson will be TTU’s third match against the Tigers and first since 1984 when the Golden Eagles swept Clemson 3-0. Tech is 1-1 all-time against the Tigers.
Tech is looking to rebound off a 2009 season that saw them finish with a 10-18 record, including a 9-9 mark and a fifth place finish in the OVC. Tech is just one season removed from its 2008 OCV championship season that saw the Golden Eagles finish with a 19-13 record, with a 14-4 OVC mark.
The task of climbing up the ranks of the OVC will be a challenge as many teams will be in the running for the top spot in the conference. This season’s preseason poll has placed the Golden Eagles fifth in the rankings. Despite the ranking, head coach John Blair is confident the team will compete every match.
“This team will get better every week,” Blair said. “It depends on how well we can sustain it. We’re hoping for some early success to build on.”
With four seniors on this year’s squad, Blair will look to them to provide the leadership for nine underclassmen. That group will be led by outside hitter Leah Meffert who was named to the preseason all-OVC first team.
“We’re excited for all four of our seniors, “ Blair said. “We’re fortunate they’ve played their whole careers here. We were in every match last season and they’ll remember those things and draw from them.”
Meffert led the team in kills with 406 (3.62 kps), which ranked second in the conference. She also led the team in service aces and points with 28 and 463.5, respectively. Meffert recorded 22 double-doubles in kills and digs during the 2009 season, including a 22-dig performance against Tennessee State. She reached at least 10 kills in 25 of 28 matches last season.
Senior setter Melanie Culp, who has been named the team captain for the 2010 season, served as the primary setter for the Golden Eagles in the 2009 season. Culp led the Golden Eagles with 1,107 (9.88 aps) assists, which ranked fourth in the OVC. She recorded four matches where she tallied 50 assists or more, including a career-high 62 against Southeast Missouri. She also finished third on the team in digs with 245. As Tech most experienced setter Culp will be counted on to run the offense.
Tech also welcomes back two more student-athletes for their senior seasons in Marie Peddicord and Laura Pierce. Peddicord finished her 2009 season third on the team in kills with 224, including a career-high 17 against Murray State, and second in total blocks with 67. Pierce added 154 digs to her career totals including a career-high 15 against Southeast Missouri State.
Also back are three sophomores including middle blocker Kelsey Gray. Gray led the Golden Eagle newcomers in kills last season with 198 and finished first on the team in total blocks with 122, which ranked fourth in the OVC. Tech will look to Gray to set the tone on the defensive side of the net. Setter Madison Comperry and middle block Katrina Dvorken also return for their sophomore seasons looking to build upon lessons learned in their freshmen campaigns.
“We’re looking for them to step forward,” Blair said. “We’re looking to develop all four and hope to see some major progression this season.”
Tech brings in five new faces to the program in setter Ashleigh Hancock, defensive specialist Allison May, outside hitter Natalie Penrod, setter Lauren Stiles and middle blocker Elizabeth Robertson.
“The goal this off-season was to add depth at every position and we did that,” Blair said. “It’s an athletic group with broad experience and we’re hoping to have raised the beginning standard.”
With a solid group of returnees and a talented group of underclassmen, the Golden Eagles will look to challenge for another OVC title.