LOOKOUT MOUNTAIN -- A year after one of most historic runs in program history, the Covenant volleyball team is set to take the court to open the 2018 season. The Scots will begin the season on Friday against SUNY New Paltz in the Emory Classic, hosted by Emory, at 4:30 p.m. in Atlanta.
Friday will have a familiar feel about it as Covenant returns to Emory's Woodruff PE Center for the first time since last November when the Scots advanced to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Joanna Ehman has two starters, and the starting libero, returning from that squad that went undefeated in USA South play and tied a program record for best winning percentage.
Having won three straight USA South division regular season titles, Covenant was once again selected as the preseason favorite in the West Division this year.
Nine players come back from last season's team, many of whom played key roles in the success of the program. Senior Hannah Harris and junior Allie Jakes are the two returning starters. Harris had her best season yet as a Scot in 2017 as she was named to the All-USA South West Division second team and averaged 2.42 kills per set. The senior came on strong in the NCAA Tournament, registering career-highs in kills in both rounds. Jakes was a force in the middle as she led the team in total blocks (1.05 per set) while recording 131 kills on the year.
Covenant also has the luxury of having two standout defensive specialists returning. Senior Hannah Stewart spent most of 2017 as the libero and averaged 3.58 digs per set, while junior Emily Moore tallied 3.34 digs per set in her role as both a specialist and libero.
With 2017 All-America selection Schuyler Moore completing her eligibility, the setter position could fall to either sophomore Sophie Puertas or freshman Olivia Sanders, or a combination of the two. At other spots on the court, Ehman could look to sophomores Sara Delk, Alexa Spurling, and juniors Lindsey Stephens and Yolanda Melgarejo to fill in the gaps from departed players.
Ehman brought in a class of five freshman that includes Sanders along with Meriel Chupp, Riley Howe, Josita Marshall, and Savannah Savage. Sophomore Leah Buys also joins the varsity team for the first time. The newcomers add depth to the roster, but could make a strong and immediate impact to the team.
The schedule is loaded with tough competition. Covenant will play five matches against 2017 NCAA Tournament teams while also playing in two prominent early season tournaments. The slate begins this weekend at the Emory Classic against New Paltz on Friday followed by matches against Texas-Tyler and Emory on Saturday.
Covenant will also travel to Colorado Springs to square off against No. 3 Colorado College and then Johnson & Wales (Colo.) and Christopher Newport during the weekend of Sept. 14-15. Covenant will also play Birmingham Southern (Sept. 26) and Berry (Oct. 16) at home this season.
The Scots open the home schedule on Sept. 11 against Mississippi University for Women. Covenant went undefeated at home in 2017 and will look to continue that trend this year.
Covenant will also host each member of the USA South's West Division, including dates against Maryville (Oct. 12), Piedmont (Sept. 22), and LaGrange (Sept. 22).
The USA South Tournament begins on Oct. 30 with the top two teams in each division hosting first round and quarterfinal round matches. The semifinals and championship will be held on Nov. 2-3 at the highest remaining seed.
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