Friday morning will mark the beginning of the 2010 season for the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi volleyball team. The program, under second-year head coach Tony Graystone, will kick the year off against Montana at 10:30 a.m. and end the first day with a 5:00 p.m. match against UALR.
After three weeks of practice, including two weeks of two-a-day workouts, the team will finally see its first live action against an opponent.
The Montana Grizzlies return five starters and the libero from the team that finished 14-14 overall and 10-6 in Big Sky matches to place fourth in the league. They are picked to finish first alongside defending regular- season champion Portland State in the preseason polls. Middle blocker Jaimie Thibeault is the top returning starter after averaging 3.28 kills and 1.31 blocks per set last season. The Grizzlies will also get Amy Roberts back after losing her to injury 10 matches into the year.
"We know Montana is a very talented team led by a really good libero," said Graystone. "They were picked to win their conference so we know they are going to be a really good team."
The UALR Trojans finished last season 16-14 overall and 10-8 in the Sun Belt Conference. They return six letterwinners and are picked to finish third in the West Division this season. Junior Kristi Block, a 5-11 outside hitter, leads the way after averaging 1.60 kills per set last season. Sophomores Paige Gantar and Emily Pepperman also return to the starting lineup for UALR. Gantar averaged 1.38 kills and 0.91 blocks per set as a middle blocker last year. Pepperman led the team in digs per set with 4.18 and had 19 service aces, second-best on the team.
"UALR is a little younger, but a very big team," said Graystone. "They are going to present matchup problems.
"It will be pretty rare for us to see such a big team this year.
For the Islanders, senior outside hitter Emma Ridley will lead the way. As a First-Team All-Southland Conference selection and Newcomer of the Year last season, she will provide the bulk of the scoring for the Islanders as the newcomers get acclimated to the college game. She led the conference with 464 kills last season and is a preseason First-Team All-Southland pick this year.
Ridley cannot wait to begin her final season of college volleyball. She is optimistic that her new teammates will help elevate the program.
"I'm really excited, I'm ready to play the first match," said Ridley. "Even though we have a lot of young people that haven't played a college match, we are all kind of there for each other."
Senior libero Jessica Jennett, junior outside hitter Jessica Korda, sophomore opposite hitter Shannon Hullum and sophomore outside hitter Sheridan Paulus make up the other returnees for the Islanders.
Korda was the second-leading hitter on the team a year ago with 309 kills. She will team up with Ridley in what should be one of the top combos in the Southland Conference this year.
The rest of the team will be made up of new faces - nine college freshmen and one junior college transfer.
Amanda Lowe is a transfer from Navarro College and will battle freshmen Brooke Alverson and Jordan Flemmer for playing time at the middle blocker position for the Islanders.
The setter position will see three new faces as Logen Bourque, Renee Ramirez and Brittani Loux will battle for playing time early in the season. The three players are the only setters on the roster so freshmen will be depended on heavily for the Islanders to be successful.
Micah Nolan and Paige Hoffler will see playing time at the libero position as freshmen while Sarah Sanchez will back up Hullum at the opposite hitter spot. Isabella Arcidiacono will be the only freshman at a deep position, but she should see significant action at the outside hitter spot as the season progresses.
Live stats and web streaming will be available for all matches at the tournament by visiting www.MStateAthletics.com/volleyball.