SALISBURY, Md. - Head coach Justin Turco took over the Salisbury University volleyball program in February 2013. Turco, the 13th head coach in program history, will guide the Sea Gulls into a new era and try to reach the historic heights of the 2012 season.
Turco takes over a squad that made the program's deepest run into the NCAA tournament, advancing to the national quarterfinal round last season. Salisbury finished the season at No. 12 in the nation, which is the highest ranking in program history. The Sea Gulls won a program-record 37 matches, went undefeated in Capital Athletic Conference play and claimed their eighth CAC championship.
"I was fortunate to be with the team during the spring season and the transition was smooth," said Turco. "Margie Knight (former head coach) and the previous student-athletes did a stellar job creating a strong team culture and I am excited to be leading this program into the 2013 season. This year's squad is a talented and hard working group. We are very excited to get the season started."
Salisbury will begin the 2013 season ranked No. 22 in the AVCA Division III Coaches Top 25 Poll. Seniors Tam Weems and Jess Tallant look to cap their Sea Gull careers with a third straight NCAA tournament appearance.
"Our seniors bring a high level of passion and enjoyment to the squad," said Turco. "Their passion is contagious and it is clear every player in the program has worked hard in the offseason. There has been a tremendous energy and focus during preseason practice. We are determined to make 2013 a special season."
With the graduation of First Team All-American Carley Todd, Turco has multiple options at the setter position. According to Turco, preseason practice has been highly competitive amongst all positions and this competition will ultimately benefit the squad this season.
"We have a lot of good options at the setter position," said Turco. "At the end of the day, the player who sets the most consistent ball will receive the most playing time. There has been a healthy competition during the preseason in all positions and everyone's striving to compete and prepare the team for the upcoming matches."
Awaiting those sets will be a handful of returners, led by junior outside hitter Julie Poston. Selected to the All-CAC Second Team, Poston ranked eighth in the CAC last season with a .242 attack percentage. She also put down 181 kills and posted three double-digit kill efforts.
Junior outside hitter Mattie Smith enters the 2013 season with 105 career kills and posted a .256 attack percentage last year. Weems has put down 60 kills on 153 attempts over 57 career appearances.
"I am excited to see which attackers take a step forward this season," said Turco. "Whoever can put the ball away most effectively will probably get the most sets. We have multiple options in all positions and I'm looking forward to seeing how it all translates into our matches."
Junior attackers Kirby Buttry and Jess Wittwer will also vie for time on the court. Buttry has put down 24 kills over 40 career appearances while Wittwer has played in 31 matches over her two-year career.
Junior Michelle Meehan, who has compiled 853 career digs, returns as a veteran defensive specialist for the Sea Gulls. Meehan led the squad with 395 digs last season and registered three matches with at least 20 digs.
Meehan was also dangerous at the service line as she collected 77 aces, which ranks as the seventh-best effort in program history. Her 0.57 service aces per set ranked second in the CAC last season.
Tallant also looks to contribute on Salisbury's back row. The Lusby, Md. native has registered 45 appearances over two years and enters the season with 30 career digs.
"Michelle and Jess have been elected as team captains and their presence is important to our success this season," said Turco. "Both players have set the tone for preseason practice with their hard work. They sacrifice a lot to act as captains and their leadership is extremely valuable to this team."
Salisbury has played strong regular season schedules in recent years and has earned NCAA tournament appearances in five of the past six seasons. The 2013 season will be no different as Salisbury will play seven teams (Gallaudet University, Mt. St. Mary College (N.Y.), Johns Hopkins University, SUNY New Paltz, Christopher Newport University and Juniata College) that competed in the NCAA tournament in 2012.
Christopher Newport University advanced to the Final Four last season and is one of three new members of the Capital Athletic Conference. Southern Virginia University and Penn State-Harrisburg are also joining the CAC in 2013. Following the Battlefield Classic (Aug. 30-31), Buttermaker Tournament (Sept. 6-7), Hawks Invitational (Sept. 13-14) and Blue Jay Classic (Sept. 20-21), the Sea Gulls play host to Washington (Md.) College at Maggs Physical Activities Center on Sept. 25 for the 2013 home opener.
After opening CAC play on the road, Salisbury plays host to Bridgewater College (Va.) and Juniata College on Oct. 12 for the Sea Gull Classic. Outside of CAC play, the Sea Gulls will also play host to Goucher College on Oct. 22 and finish the regular season Nov. 2 against Franklin & Marshall College in York, Penn.