TU looks for playoff berth
Last season came to a disappointing end with a 3-2 loss against Virginia Commonwealth in the first round of the Colonial Athletic Association playoffs.
This season, Head Coach Bruce Atkinson is hoping for a different result, starting with the health of his players.
“Hopefully we’ll be healthy when we go into the playoffs this year,” he said. “We had two starters that weren’t last year, and that definitely affected things. I think we have a little more depth this year than last year and hopefully that’ll pay dividends at the end of the season.”
The team only lost alumna Susan Gansor and Bibiany Fonseca, who did not return this season.
“Losing Susan is a deficit,” junior middle blocker Alysha McCreary said. “We don’t have as big of a block as we usually do, but the nice thing is we have basically a whole returning team. It is easier for us to pick up.”
Though the full team is returning, there is more pressure on the rest of the team to carry on the success of last season, junior outside hitter Katy Buck said.
“We came in knowing each others’ tendencies and how we play,” Buck said. “Especially for the offense it’s been easier because it was new last year. It was really nice to come into preseason and not have to spend a lot of time re-learning sets and stuff and be able to move forward from that.”
In past seasons, the team has only had one to three seniors at a time, but this time the team holds six seniors and three juniors. Atkinson said he’s hoping that the large senior class will help set an example for the younger players.
However, with all the seniors, there aren’t as many roles for the younger players. Atkinson said that last year, when starting libero Paige Sekerak was a freshman, the pressure helped her succeed.
Last season Buck was named the CAA Player of the Year and was voted the Preseason MVP. Atkinson said that while other teams would be more likely to target her now, she was “the kind of person that she doesn’t usually crumble with pressure.”
Buck said that having the focus on her won’t disrupt her play and that she knows that she’s probably now the focus of the team’s opponents.
“All that really means to me this year is that they’re going to spend more time looking at me in film and they’re going to block me,” she said. “And they’ll probably serve me. [Loyola] came out in the first set and served me every ball, and I think I’m going to expect that every match.”
For now, Atkinson said he wants to work on cleaning up the play during the next couple of tournaments and getting the team ready for conference play later in the season.
“There are lots of things we want to improve on and we have a long way to go before we have the consistency that we’re hoping to have once we startup our first conference matches,” he said. “Our goal is just to become a little cleaner match by match throughout the preseason.”
As for team goals, Atkinson said that just focusing on the little things will help make the bigger goals possible.
“I think, like always, we just want to focus match by match, and if we can stay focused, and keep the small goals in mind, that the bigger goals will take care of themselves,” he said.
McCreary said that the team’s biggest goal is to “Make the CAAs, first in conference.”