SALISBURY, Md. – The Salisbury University volleyball team is coming off of its fifth-straight season of advancing to the Capital Athletic Conference championship game, and the Sea Gulls enter 2015 looking for their first conference title under third-year Head Coach Justin Turco.
"I am confident in everybody," Turco said. "Everyone on the roster can contribute in their own way. They are all athletic, came back in shape, and the entire team is working hard towards the same goal."
Losing only three seniors from 2014, Salisbury returns a strong group of upperclassmen, which is primed to lead the team this season towards the program's ninth overall CAC title and 10th NCAA Division III tournament berth.
Junior Katie Stouffer is coming off of a career year and will again look to pace the Sea Gull attack, after tallying 431 kills and a .275 hitting percentage to lead the squad last year. The total gave her the fifth most kills in a season in program history, while also setting the second and third-most kills in a match against Clark (Mass.) University and Swarthmore College on August 30 with 32 and 31, respectively.
"Physically, she has gotten strong, and ball control-wise, she has gotten a lot more competitive in the back row," Turco said. "She is a leader on this team, she works hard, she does just about everything right, and she is ultra competitive."
Also finishing third on the team with 151 digs and 45 total blocks, Stouffer was named a first-team All-CAC member and an American Volleyball Coaches' Association All-North Region team member and honorable mention All-American.
Russell finished the year third on the team with 179. She proved to be a versatile player for the Gulls, also ranking second on the year with 52 service aces and 289 digs.
Chubb provides the Sea Gulls a presence in the middle, after a solid freshman campaign, in which she finished fifth on the team with 110 kills and led the team with 97 total blocks, including 20 solo.
Lawson ranked sixth on the team with 93 kills in 2014 and looks to build on that to give the team another strong arm on the attack.
Juniors Colleen White and Kirby Given will be back in maroon and gold this season, as well, and will look to provide depth and experience for the Sea Gulls. Given saw time in 16 matches in 2014, tallying 12 kills and 11 total blocks, while White appeared in 13 matches with 13 kills.
"It is our first time having returning setters in the last three years, so how we train and our hitter timing is very strong," Turco said. "We will have a good versatility to match up offensively and defensively according to what a team is going to show us."
The duo split the setting duties in 2014, as Pierson led the team with 560 assists in 28 matches, with Howatt right behind with 545 assists in 27 matches.
They both proved valuable on the defensive end, as well, as Pierson ranked fifth on the squad with 131 digs, and Howatt finished sixth with 122 digs.
"They have improved a ton," Turco said. "Their time to make an adjustment has gone from two to three days to only two to three reps. They are a little more athletic, stronger, and more skilled, and they are really utilizing that."
Senior Kacey Franz transitioned back to playing on the defense in 2014, after spending 2013 as the team's primary setter. She made a seamless transition, finishing fourth on the team with 140 digs on the year.
Fischetti saw time in 27 matches, last season, posting 116 digs on the year, while Pecenka appeared in 15 matches, tallying 16 digs.
The Sea Gulls open the season at home on Tuesday, September 1, with a 7 p.m. match against Washington (Md.) College.
Conference play begins on September 30, as Salisbury travels to St. Mary's College of Maryland, before returning home on October 10 for its first CAC contest at Maggs Physical Activities Center, playing host to University of Mary Washington.
During conference play, the Sea Gulls will travel to the No. 6 team in the country in the AVCA Division III Coaches' Top 25 Preseason Poll, squaring off against Christopher Newport University on October 7.
Two other Sea Gull opponents received votes in the top-25 poll in Stevenson University and Haverford College.