BANNER ELK, NC - After winning their unprecedented tenth straight Conference Carolinas Tournament Championship a season ago with contributions from the entire roster, expectations for the Lees-McRae Lady Bobcats volleyball team remain the same as they have over the past decade - win Conference Carolinas and play in the NCAA Tournament.
A youthful team made up of six freshman, three sophomores, a junior and a trio of seniors a year ago, the Lady Bobcats also claimed their tenth Conference Carolinas Regular Season Championship in eleven years, (second in 2005, rebounding to win their eighth straight Conference Tournament on their way to a berth in NCAA Sweet Sixteen), going 17-3 in conference play and 26-12 overall before being knocked out of the NCAA Tournament Atlantic Regional with a 3-1 loss to second seeded Clarion University.
While the Lady Bobcats continue to be a heavy favorite in Conference Carolinas, they will have their work cut out for them if they hope to push the program to its eleventh consecutive tournament championship. Of the Lady Bobcats 31 game schedule, just ten will be played in the friendly confines of Williams Gymnasium, with their first home contest coming twelve games into the season, September 19 against Conference Carolinas foe Converse College. Conference Carolinas members Mount Olive and Limestone are also poised to capitalize on the Lady Bobcats tough schedule and knock the Lady Bobcats off of the pedestal, as their rivals look to crown a new Conference Carolinas Champion for the first time since the early nineties.
"What excites me most about our team this year is our work
ethic," stated fourth year Head Coach Jamie Petrik. "Our returners
had a great spring, gaining much experience and performing well
against some stiff Division I competition, tweaking a few little
things here and there in preparations for this fall. If we can
build off of our spring competition and take that into the
preseason and fall we should match up well with our
Senior Natalie Burns (Orlando, FL), the team's leading blocker with 110 total blocks a year ago, and redshirt junior Trisha Reese (Hanover, PA) will serve as captains of the 2009 edition of Lady Bobcat volleyball. A member of the last three Conference Carolinas Champions, including the 2005 Sweet Sixteen team, Burns missed the spring season while studying abroad in Australia and New Zealand. Her work ethic and positive attitude on and off the court will certainly go a long way in continuing the winning tradition at Lees-McRae and help to motivate and acclimatize the new players to collegiate volleyball. Reese comes off a redshirt campaign in 2008 after tearing an ACL early last season; however she has rebounded nicely over the past year with an extensive rehabilitation program and is ready to go.
Juniors Lauren Dickover (Las Vegas, NV) and Katie-Marie Legg (Alta Loma, CA) have formed a lethal combination in the middle with Dickover setting middle blocker Legg over the past two seasons. "Dickover and Legg are heading into their third season with one another and have become very comfortable on the court," stated Petrik. "They have steadily improved from year to year, becoming more and more deceptive." Dickover finished 2008 with 1156 assists after missing the first nine games with a nagging ankle injury. The setter concluded her sophomore year ranking second in assists per game in Conference Carolinas averaging 10.32 per game on her way to being named Honorable Mention All Conference Carolinas, while Legg finished second on the team with 104 blocks and fourth with 183 kills.
Sophomores Whitney Kiser (Connelly Springs, NC) and Kell Bogdan (Leawood, KS) round out the Lady Bobcats returning starting rotation. Kiser comes off an impressive freshman campaign after playing in all 38 matches and finishing second on the team with 316 kills. "The sky is literally the limit on what she will do this fall," stated Petrik. "She has all of the tools and has the potential to breakout this year as a dominant player in our conference." As a freshman Bogdan was a workhorse, playing all over the court. After Reese' injury nine games into the season, Bogdan was forced into the setter's role while Dickover rehabbed her ankle before permanently assuming the libero position. Bogdan finished her freshman season with a team high 536 digs, earning 30 plus digs in four matches and was named Second Team All Conference Carolinas.
Tracey Copley (Virginia Beach, VA), Taylor Stice (Franklin, TN) and Lindsey Brant (Orlando, FL) also return to the mix after stellar freshman campaigns that saw each contribute to the Lady Bobcats tenth straight championship. The trio will all push for starting positions in preseason as the Lady Bobcats pursue their eleventh consecutive Conference Carolinas Championship and a return trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Lauren Hall and Megan Epperson will also be in the hunt respectively for starting positions in their first collegiate volleyball seasons. Hall, an outside hitter from Enka, NC, provides solid ball control and a powerful swing while Epperson, a native of St. John, IN, brings a solid skill set to the front of the net; both will make things difficult for the coaching staff to name their starting six. Justine Congdon, (Mason, OH), rounds out the Lady Bobcats incoming freshman class and will start the season rehabbing a shoulder injury although Petrik and the training staff feel she should be ready to go by October. "I feel confident putting our freshman on the court right now, they may be a little tense at first adjusting to the speed of collegiate volleyball, however after a few plays I see them feeding off of it and rising to the challenge," stated Petrik.
"The pressure is certainly evident; everyone is looking to knock us off. However our girls are up to the challenge and ready for anything. We're anxious to get going, excited to play, and look forward to the challenges that lie ahead."
The Lady Bobcats will open the season at the Carson-Newman Labor Day Tournament August 29 when they square off with Lincoln Memorial University.
PICTURED ABOVE: Senior Captain Natalie Burns
PICTURED BELOW LEFT: Redshirt Junior Captain Trisha Reese
PICTURED BELOW: 2007 Conference Carolinas Champion Lees-McRae Lady Bobcats