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Golden Eagles head to first tournament of the season at Appalachian State

By Jocelyn VerVelde, TTU Sports Information Coordinator

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee Tech volleyball team has to wait no longer -- its first opportunities to officially take the court takes place this weekend at the Appalachian State Invitational when the Golden Eagles face host Appalachian State, Cleveland State and in-state foe Tennessee.

Tech will open the season versus Tennessee at 3 p.m. CDT on Friday.

"I don't really expect any atmosphere," head coach David Zelenock said on the experience of playing an in-state foe on a neutral site. "We will have some fans, they will have some fans, but mostly it will be an empty arena with the teams filling it with noise. I don't think there is really a rivalry either; we split with them in spring, with both teams playing decently. We added some good kids, they added some good kids, and both teams will look different. I think with neither team being able to scout the other, it will be important for us to come out aggressive and not just test the waters and see what they are going to do."

Tech will then have two matches on Saturday with an 11:30 a.m. meeting against host Appalachian State and a 3 p.m. match versus Cleveland State.

Know your Golden Eagles (0-0) – The Golden Eagles return a strong core of the squad entering the 2014 season. Leading the way are four seniors in Ellen Conti, Madison Keyes, Courtney Smith and Allison May.  "Everyone on this squad has some leadership qualities," Zelenock said. "We've done a lot of exploring them and finding roles for everyone. Emotionally Ellen is our biggest leader, she is the one who can pick up the team when we're down. Aside from her everyone has something they give and we need all of it to be our best."

The 2014 squad represents two different countries (USA and Turkey), and eight states in Tennessee, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina, Illinois, Wisconsin, Texas, and Idaho.

Scouting the Lady Vols (0-0) – The Lady Vols are looking to bounce back from a 9-23 record in 2013. While the Vols are young, dressing six sophomores and six freshmen, they return four of the top five offensive players from last season. Head coach Rob Patrick is in his 17th season with the Lady Vols, and following his arrival at Rocky Top, Patrick has become one of the nation's top coaches and helped the Lady Vols attain levels of success never before reached in Knoxville, as evidenced by NCAA Tournament berths in seven of the last eight years, including a run to the Final Four in 2005. The Rating Percentage Index, commonly known as the RPI, is a quantity used to rank sports teams based upon a team's wins and losses and its strength of schedule. The Lady Vols finished last season with an RPI rating of 184 of 332.

Scouting the Mountaineers (0-0) – In 2013, Appalachian State finished fifth in the Southern Conference (SoCon) with an overall record of 19-13. They also return all six starters, which would have led them to be one of the stronger teams returning in the SoCon. The Mountaineers, however, have joined the Sun Belt conference in 2014, and have been picked to finish seventh in their first season. The Mountaineers finished with a 153 RPI in 2013.

Scouting the Vikings (0-0) – Cleveland State returns five starters plus its libero and 10 letterwinners from a squad that went 16-13 last season and advanced to the Horizon League semifinals for the 10th straight year. CSU has had an impressive early tournament history as over the past five seasons they have compiled a record of 41-14 in early-season tournaments, including a perfect 9-0 mark in 2010. During that span CSU has claimed eight tournament titles and has earned 32 all-tournament team accolades. The Vikings finished 2013 with an RPI of 173.

"We're all excited to finally play someone who isn't us," Zelenock said. "We just got our hitters back (from injuries) so we are developing our offense now and it will be a work in progress for the next few weeks. I like that we get to open up with three really good opponents and get tested right away so we know what we are truly good and bad at. I think we are good now, but week one to week five, we will be a different team."