Women begin season Sept. 1 at U. of Dallas
The Lady Comets volleyball team will set out for another division title Sept. 1 when they take on the University of Dallas Crusaders.
UTD has won four consecutive outright division titles under head coach Marci Sanders, after sharing one in 2006. In that span, the Lady Comets have won at least 21 games each season and have taken home two American Southwest Conference championships.
In 2010, UTD finished 24-6 overall and won 16 of 17 conference games. The lone loss came to Hardin-Simmons, the same school to knock the Lady Comets out of the conference semi-finals.
ASC coaches and sports information directors have tabbed UTD the preseason favorites to win the division, garnering 11 of 14 first-place votes, according to the conference’s website. Sanders, however, said five in a row is not the main goal for this year’s squad.
“Hopefully (we’ll be No.) 1, so that we get to host our tournament, but we just got to get these kids to come together early because they’re so young,” she said, referring to her roster.
The Lady Comets graduated three four-year starters last season, including Amber Wetz, Jessica Nassau and All-American setter Niki Calverley.
To fill the void, Sanders has added 10 new players to the team, making this year’s roster her biggest ever.
“In order for us to be as good as we need to be at the end, we’re going to have to get more kids playing early,” she said. More than half the lineup will be made up of new players.
This year’s batch of freshmen is made up almost exclusively of high school graduates with All-District and All-State talent, and two JUCO transfers, one of which won a National Championship at Brookhaven College.
Calverley’s national success in 2010 makes her shoes the biggest to fill. The setter averaged the second-most assists per set in all of D-III last season and was also the leader of the team on and off the court. Sanders said Calverley would stay on as a student assistant this year, which will be beneficial to freshmen Hayden Higgins and Chelsea McHenry, both recruited to fill the void left by one of the country’s premier setters.
Of all the freshmen in the class, Sanders’ highest hopes rest with Higgins. The Boerne native collected All-Area and All-State honors in high school and was named district MVP once. Sanders praised Higgins’ work ethic and said the freshman is eager to learn from Calverley.
“If I had to go out on a limb right now, I’d say she’s probably going to be the best setter in the conference,” Sanders said.
In addition to the roster’s youth, Sanders said this year’s Lady Comets team will be the tallest she’s had at UTD, which she hopes will turn blocking into a strength rather than a weakness. Last season, UTD finished third in the conference in blocks, its lowest in any major statistical category.
Sanders said aside from the internal changes to the program including team youth and height, the ASC East will be vastly different this season.
UT Tyler, Mary Hardin-Baylor and LeTourneau all hired new head coaches in the offseason. The two latter schools were picked to finish sixth and seventh in the division respectively, but UT Tyler was chosen by coaches to place third in the East.
New coaches bring new systems to the program, which Sanders said could make adjustments tough for opponents. She also said each of the three new coaches have been aggressive on the recruiting trail, which will make the conference deeper and more challenging.
In addition to the new head coaches, Centenary College of Louisiana will also be joining the division. Centenary won just three matches last season and dropped a match to LeTourneau, but Sanders said the school still has D-I talent. The “Ladies” were chosen fourth in the division for 2011.
The Lady Comets begin their 2011 campaign Sept. 1 in an exhibition match against the University of Dallas, before heading to St. Louis for four matches, including one against host Washington University in St. Louis, a program which has won two national championships in the past four seasons. Following those matches, UTD will begin its conference schedule Sept. 13 at Mary Hardin-Baylor. Its first home match is Sept. 16 against LeTourneau.