JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – The 2018 volleyball season starts in 18 days as Carson-Newman begins its campaign against Belmont Abbey at noon on Aug. 31 in Harrogate, Tenn. This is the first of a two-part series that will preview the position groups for the Eagles as senior Natalie Harris (Monroe, N.C.) takes a look at the pin hitters and middle blockers.
A roster that returns nearly every starter lost two seniors to graduation from 2017 as the program reached the NCAA Division II Women's Volleyball Tournament for the third time in four seasons. This season's senior class is looking to be the second straight senior group to make the postseason for the third time in four years.
"We obviously want to go further than we did last year," Harris stated. "We didn't expect to go as far as we did last year but it was a pleasant surprise. We have a lot of returners and a lot of great depth at all of the positions so I think we are going to do really well."
Harris is the senior statesman on the roster with 94 matches played and nearly 350 sets played. She has produced 674 kills and a .233 attack percentage with nearly one block per set. As a junior, she led the team with 67 total blocks. The middle helped C-N snap Anderson's 22-match winning streak with 10 kills without a mistake on 23 swings, a .435 hitting percentage, in the SAC semifinals.
"Overall, I am trying to keep improving my game as much as I can," Harris explained. "As a senior it's harder to make big jumps and big improvements so you have to fine tune details. That's something that I am looking forward to focusing on and perfecting my game for the last year."
The second part of the middle equation is junior Alex Biro (Ootlewah, Tenn.) who has seen time in 56 matches through her first two campaigns racking up over 300 kills and just shy of one block per set. She was unstoppable against King to open the 2017 season piling up a .692 (9-0-13) attack percentage. It marked the first time in 35 matches, 651 days, that an Eagles hit at least .600 in a match when Maddie Borch hit .609 (15-1-23) v. Lenoir-Rhyne on Nov. 21, 2015
The final piece is sophomore Katie Parnell (Atlanta, Ga.) who saw action in 22 matches and 67 contests as a rookie in 2017. Her best outing came in a clutch effort in the SAC Quarterfinals against Tusculum with 15 kills while hitting .323.
"It's very high," Harris said of the competition in the middle. "You have to bring your A-game every day. You also have to know that some days you don't have your A-game and someone else will. I think that's the beauty of having such a deep roster – everyone has someone that can do that job. Overall, it just pushes you to be your best every day."
There is a bevy of talent on the outside led by a pair of all-conference honorees. First is junior Marnie Streeter (Goldvein, Va.). The second-team All-South Atlantic Conference selection a year ago ranked third in the SAC in kills per set (3.74) and points per set (4.14) while leading the league and being 17th in the country in attacks per set (11.98) and compiled 408 kills on the year for a 3.74 kills per set average, good for a tie for fourth in school history with Jenna Rust from 2004. She finished her second season with nine double-doubles while recording 28 double-digit kill efforts including each of the final 14.
An All-Freshman pick in 2017, Megan Oldenburger (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) is back looking to build on a strong rookie campaign. Finished second on the team in double-doubles (10) and kills (274). In a five-set win over Augusta on Oct. 14, Oldenburger pounded out a career-high 21 kills on 99 swings. The Cedar Rapids, Iowa native tallied second-most attacks in SAC history and 11th-highest in a five-set match in Division II history. Overall she racked up 10 double-digit kill efforts and 14 contests with at least 10 digs.
The final returnee on the left pin is junior Abbie McFarlane (McKinney, Texas) who has seen action in 40 matches over her first two years including 12 a season ago.
New to the roster is Joy Rhodes (Wake Forest, N.C.), a transfer from Gardner-Webb, and freshman Sutton Mason (Nashville, Tenn.). Rhodes played in 56 sets for the Bulldogs racking up 99 kills, 12 service aces and 10 total blocks. Mason comes from the Music City's Christ Presbyterian Academy.
"Everyone is really strong on the outside," Harris examined. "Joy came in last spring so this is her first fall with us. She's going to bring a lot. Marnie and Megan have a lot more experience playing so they are going to be really great examples for our younger outsides to really strive to perfect what they have over the years."
Committing to the 6-2 this season, the right side brings back three players vying for time as junior Kendall Cooley (Castle Rock, Colo.) and sophomores Lindsay De Vore (Denton, Texas) and Erin Edwards (Midlothian, Va.) take the spotlight.
Cooley has averaged over 0.50 rejections per set through 47 matches. She finished the year with a season-high seven kills on a .227 hitting clip in the NCAA Tournament against Wingate where she also had two solo blocks.
De Vore saw time in 50 sets over 19 matches as a rookie. At Coker on Sept. 16, she racked up a season-high seven kills without a mistake on 16 swings. The left-hander recorded season highs in digs (5) and block assists (3) against Lincoln Memorial on Sept. 19.
Edwards played in 18 of the team's 32 matches totaling 40 sets played producing her best outing as a rookie with six kills on a .455 hitting percentage with three digs and 1.5 total blocks against Francis Marion on Sept. 30.
The position previews conclude on Thursday with senior libero Hannah Robertson (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.) as she glances as the back row with analysis on the liberos and setters.
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