JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – With 15 days prior to the first serve of the 2018 season, the final part of the Carson-Newman volleyball position previews turns the focus to the back row and the liberos and setters with senior Hannah Robertson (Soddy Daisy, Tenn.).
Robertson is one of two players remaining on the roster to hoist the 2015 NCAA Southeast Region Championship trophy as she looks to help the team reach the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive time.
"The last couple years we have had a lot of highs and a lot of lows," Robertson stated. "We are all really close. We are all sisters. We are all best friends so this last year I want us to meet our little goals and eventually work up to our higher goals. Doing what we can control and I think the outcome will be in our favor."
Having played in 55 matches and just shy of 200 matches, the libero has 393 digs and 30 service aces. Over the last two seasons, she has 17 contests with at least 10 scoops and registered a career-high 21 digs at Lander on Oct. 13, 2017.
"I definitely seen myself grow upon the leadership aspect and helping the younger girls come in is something I think I have done well the last couple years," Robertson assessed. "I want to see myself continue to do that this year with the younger girls at my position and even the other ones. I just want to be an example on and off the court."
Leading the charge as one of the top liberos in the country in 2017 is junior Morgan Ballard (Weaverville, N.C.). She became the first Carson-Newman libero to be named first-team All-South Atlantic Conference since 2005 while being named to two all-region teams. In 118 sets, Ballard posted the best digs per set in program history with 6.94 besting Blaire Young's 6.79 mark in 2004 as one of three players in the history of the school to finish with at least six scoops per set. The sophomore racked up 819 total digs to finish behind Young's 856 from 2004 for second-most in the 29 years of volleyball at Carson-Newman.
The junior tallied a conference record 58 digs in a four-set victory over Mars Hill on Sept. 9, 2017 and the 10th-most in the history of NCAA volleyball. The previous league mark was set by Catawba's Jenny Young of 55 versus Tusculum on Sept. 17, 2011 in a five-set outing. Caitlyn Dean held the mark for a SAC athlete in a four-set affair when she racked up 47 for the Pioneers against Anderson (S.C.) on Oct. 27, 2012.
Making the move to a full-time libero after seeing time on the front is Emily Harnischfeger (Macedon, N.Y.) as she recorded five double-digit dig efforts a year ago including a career-high 21 against Tusculum on Sept. 26, 2017.
Rounding out the crew is a newcomer from Virginia, Kealie Lachniet (Goochland, Va.), who was a second-team Virginia High School League's Class 2 All-State selection her senior season.
"It's kind of crazy because there are four of us," Robertson explained. "There is so much competition and so much talent. We are all just encouraging each other and helping each other. What we have realized is that we are all in this together. Whoever is doing the best and whoever is going to give our team the best chance, we are happy for that person. The competition level is high right now and it's good."
The biggest shoes to fill are from the setting position as Anna Patton graduated after playing in 110 matches including starting the team's 2015 region title. Patton put a bow on her career with 3,061 assists to finish in third on the school's ledger behind Kari Gibson's mark of 5,171 and Kristen Pickett's number of 3,886. The Franklin, Tenn. native tallied 123 total service aces in her four seasons to finish with the seventh-most in a career. She also had 45 double-doubles.
With a 6-2 system in place, the focus turns to two sophomores, Elena Vasquez (Riverside, Calif.) and Madi Rademacher (Broomfield, Colo.) and a freshman, Taylor Rohr (Windsor, Colo.).
Vasquez played in 20 matches and 49 total sets finishing third on the roster with 157 assists while contributing three double-doubles after redshirting her first season on campus. She handed out a season-high 25 assists on Oct. 14 in a five-set win over Augusta.
Rademacher was second on the team in assists with 203 playing in 25 matches. With 26 assists and 11 digs, the rookie set season highs while posting her lone double-double of the season against Augusta on Oct. 14.
"Anna Patton is definitely huge shoes to fill so a little nervous about it," Robertson said. "They have come and completely blown me away. Madi, Elena and Taylor have taken the leadership role better than anyone I have seen. They take critique and run with it. I am really excited to see what it's going to be like especially how young they are. It's going to be amazing."
The year opens with a doubleheader for the Eagles on Aug. 31 in Harrogate, Tenn. as the Eagles play a pair of games at Lincoln Memorial. The first match of the season starts at noon against Belmont Abbey with a 2 p.m. contest versus King.
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