Season Preview: Returning leadership set to build off recent success, push Sea Gulls to CAC title

Season Preview: Returning leadership set to build off recent success, push Sea Gulls to CAC title

SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University volleyball program is entering the second year of the Justin Turco era, and after a successful 29-6 season under the head coach last year, the Sea Gulls enter 2014 looking to continue to grow and build off of that success.

Having only lost two seniors from 2013, the Sea Gulls return the majority of the team from a year ago, which has spent its offseason working hard and improving to take the next step towards its goals in 2014.

"Everybody had a pretty good year, last year, and we had a great spring," Turco said. "We have had a great preseason. Everyone is looking good, and we are definitely a little more versatile than we were last year. Everyone is just looking to get better and continue off the success we had last year."

Coming off of a Capital Athletic Conference tournament championship match appearance and their third-straight NCAA tournament appearance, the Sea Gulls look to compete for the program's ninth CAC championship and 10th overall tournament berth, this season.

HITTERS

Salisbury returns two of the top hitters in the conference in sophomore outside hitter Katie Stouffer and senior right-side hitter Julie Poston to lead the team, this season. Both players were named to the 2013 All-CAC teams, with Stouffer earning a spot on the first team in her first season and Poston being named to the second team.

"They bring a lot of good experience for our younger players," Turco said of the duo. "They know what it takes; they bring a good drive and leadership to the team, and they are working hard and looking to get better."

Stouffer and Poston look to build off of their strong 2013 season, as they finished fifth and 10th in the CAC with 334 and 276 kills, which were also good for second and third on the team, respectively. Poston also finished third in the conference with a .296 hitting percentage.

Salisbury also returns senior hitters, Nikki Binetti and Kirby Buttry, who ranked fifth and sixth on the team with 166 and 129 kills, last season, along with junior Colleen White; White came on strong at the end of the season, playing in 16 of her 22 total sets in the final nine matches.

Freshman middle hitter Samantha Chubb joins the program this season and should push for playing time early in the year.

SETTERS

The setter position will combine the talents of returning junior Kacey Franz and incoming freshmen, Alexis Howatt and Rachel Pierson.

"We have three talented and versatile setters," he added. "I am confident in any of them helping to lead our team to victory."

Franz comes back to the Sea Gulls, after leading the squad with 815 assists, last season, moving her into No. 8 among the program's all-time assists leaders with 919 career assists. She also finished second on the team with 275 digs on the year, while adding 30 service aces.

"Kacey has been great. She is a talented player all around," Turco said. "She's done a really good job of leading our two freshman setters, and she's just out there working hard every day."

DEFENSIVE SPECIALISTS

The Sea Gulls will be led on defense by 2013 first-team All-CAC member senior Michelle Meehan, a four-year starter, who returns after leading the team and the conference with 578 digs last season, moving her into the No. 7 spot all-time in the program's career digs list with 1,431. She also led the team with 49 service aces, also moving her into No. 7 all-time in the category with 186.

"She brings a lot of experience and a lot of good leadership and drive to the team," Turco said. "Her work ethic, her motivation, and all of her focus is toward team success and putting ourselves in the position to win conference championships."

Sophomores Gina Fischetti and Krista Pecenka both return to Salisbury to join Meehan on the back line. Fischetti enjoyed a strong freshman campaign, finishing fifth on the team with 136 digs in 30 matches, while Pecenka saw time in 16 matches, tallying 21 digs; both players look to push for more time on the court this season.

SCHEDULE

Salisbury opens the season this weekend, hosting the Salisbury University Opener tournament from August 29-30. The Gulls with play their first match of 2014 on Friday at 4 p.m., against Stevens Institute of Technology.

After hosting the Sea Gull Classic tournament the following weekend from September 5-6, SU will travel to three more non-conference tournaments to open the year.

"I am excited," said Turco. "All of the players are excited. We have a lot of strong teams coming in during our first two weekends at home and then go on to face some of the other top teams. We are definitely going to get tested and are going to get better from it."

Salisbury then begins conference play on September 30, hosting No. 25 Christopher Newport University at 7 p.m.

"From last year to this year, the conference is definitely going to be stronger," Turco added. "I look forward to the competition."

The Sea Gulls will look to add their ninth CAC championship this season, with the conference tournament beginning on November 4 with first-round action.

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