SALISBURY, Md. – With nearly the entire roster from a 24-8 campaign a year ago returning, the Salisbury University volleyball team heads into 2016 with more cohesion, more experience and high hopes for a long year.
"I'm really excited about this team this year," Head Coach Justin Turco said. "We have excellent talent, but also excellent people on the roster. The team has bonded so well this season and everyone has everyone else's back. I'm confident we can put any lineup out there and do just as well."
With all team sports, knowledge of your teammates and their tendencies is key. But in volleyball – with long rallies and sometimes broken plays – it may be most important to know what the player next to you will do in any circumstance.
With another year under their belts and 12 of the 16 players on the roster returning from last year, the team is becoming even closer than it has been in years past.
"There's been a lot of really good flow within how we're moving on the court this year," Turco said. "People trust each other well. We don't have to go through any growing pains of playing next to certain people. Our rookies and our one transfer, they're not rookies and transfers, they are part of the team and they've picked everything up really fast."
When looking at the Sea Gulls heading into 2016, it begins with the three-time first-team All-CAC selection Katie Stouffer. The Frederick, Maryland native ranked third in the nation in kills per set and sixth in total kills.
Along the front line, Stouffer is joined by sophomore Nicole Venturelli, juniors Jordan Lawson and Sydney Davis and a host of others. Venturelli impressed in her first season, ranking eight in the CAC in kills per set, while Davis was ninth in the league in hitting percentage last year.
A trio of setters will work to make good passes and get the ball to the net for the hitters, with returning juniors Alexis Howatt and Rachel Pierson leading the way.
"We're in a unique situation with two junior setters, who are very talented," Turco said. "They've set to a good winning percentage in their first two years, and we've brought in a rookie setter, who is picking up the pace really fast and can contribute as well. That's the theme of what we're trying to do is put the team first. It's also putting your position first, so when one setter does well, all the setters do well, whether they played or not. We know that working hard in practice contributes to how we play, whether you get in the match or not."
The lone senior the team lost from 2015 due to graduation was defensive specialist Kacey Franz who played in all but one set last year.
"It's always tough losing players, especially players like Kacey who were so important just in her versatility – she set for two years and played defense for two years. She was a selfless player, did what we needed and did it at a high level. Everybody is going to step up in their roles this year. Whoever is in is going to be the team of the moment and the team we're going to play with and I'm confident that we're going to do well."
The Salisbury schedule begins on Friday at the Battlefield Classic at Gettysburg College, taking on Greensboro College and Gettysburg. It marks the first of four-straight tournament weekends with talented competition.
"We definitely play some ranked teams from last year, we'll find out where everyone is in about a week or two," Turco said. "We tried to make sure that we're playing a high, competitive level every weekend because ultimately we do want to win our conference."
Salisbury will welcome teams to Maggs Physical Activities Center on the second weekend of the season, September 9 and 10, for the Sea Gull Classic.
"Being so far away from everybody, it's really nice to have a home weekend," Turco said. "The biggest impact is for our rookies, as that allows them to stay home for a weekend and get acclimated a little more to the school here and give everybody a break."
Salisbury opens Capital Athletic Conference play on September 30, traveling to York College of Pennsylvania, while hosting Marymount (Va.) University on October 14 in the first CAC home contest of the year.
The Sea Gulls' regular season concludes on October 29, hosting Frostburg State University before heading into conference tournament play.