LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- Coming off a record-breaking season in 2014, the Covenant volleyball team is looking for bigger and better things in the 2015 season which begins on Sept. 1 at Sewanee.
Covenant won a program record 27 matches a season ago, but finished one win short of the ultimate goal: a trip to the NCAA Tournament. In head coach Joanna Ehman's third year at the helm of the program, the Lady Scots are looking for another shot at a USA South title and an NCAA berth.
"We lost some talented players from last year, but I'm excited about the way we played in the spring and the team chemistry that has been built," Ehman said. "This group has put in a lot of hard work and wants to be even more successful this year."
Covenant, picked fourth overall in the USA South preseason poll and second in the South Division, returns four starters and three All-USA South performers from last year's squad.
Leading the charge is senior Chelsea VanDyk. The Manhattan, Mont., native was a first team All-USA South selection for a second consecutive year last season and comes into the year with 1,038 career kills, fourth-most in program history. VanDyk's presence in the middle has been a major reason for the Lady Scots' success during her career in which the program is 73-29 overall.
Also returning are All-USA South second team choices in Ginny Moore and Schuyler Moore. The highly touted twin sisters played key roles in their freshmen campaigns. Ginny, an outside hitter, led the team with 389 kills and was second with 412 digs while Schuyler, a setter, accumulated 606 assists, 286 digs and 256 kills. Schuyler also tallied six triple-doubles on the year.
"I'm really excited about all three," said Ehman about VanDyk and the Moore twins. "Chelsea and Schuyler have worked hard on getting a good connection and both Ginny and Schuyler have also adjusted after getting one year of college volleyball experience."
One of the biggest question marks entering preseason camp was the libero position. Covenant lost All-USA South performer Chloe Carlson, but Ehman believes she has the players, both returning and incoming, to fill that void. Senior Jaclyn Stuart and juniors Caroline McLeod and Mariah Corney mixed in with freshmen Ariana Buchanan and Hannah Stewart should vie for the starting spot.
"I expect all five to compete for the spot," Ehman said. "The returners [Stuart, Corney, McLeod] put in a lot of good work in the spring and Stewart and Buchanan have the talent necessary to win that spot. It should be a great competition throughout practice until the start of the year."
The roster is deep with talent as Ehman also returns sophomore middle hitter Maddie Wieskamp and senior right side Hannah Rogers. Wieskamp showed tremendous promise in her rookie year as she started 29 matches and was second on the team in total blocks. Rogers has been a key member of the program over the last three years and played in 34 matches last season.
"Maddie really excelled during the spring and I'm excited to see her continue to grow," remarked Ehman. "Hannah is a leader both on and off the court for us, she'll serve as a captain this year, and plays a major role for this program."
In order for Covenant to get back to the USA South championship, the Lady Scots will have to get through some familiar and formidable foes. Maryville was again the overwhelming pick to win the conference in the preseason poll. The Scots have not lost a conference match, regular season or tournament, in over two seasons. Averett, Meredith and Piedmont also present tough challenges within conference play.
"Maryville is the big one, but really the top teams in the league are tightly matched," Ehman said. "The league is strong and you have to earn your victories."
Ultimately, Ehman believes her team is up for the challenge ahead.
"The most exciting thing about this year's team is that they refuse to let roster losses from last year determine what they will do this year. This year will be defined by the work we put in during the spring and what this group is wanting to accomplish."
Covenant opens the year at Sewanee on Sept. 1 at 7 PM EDT.
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