JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – While most teams have played a match in 2018, Carson-Newman gets set to ignite its 30th year of volleyball in Harrogate, Tenn. this weekend in the South Atlantic Conference/Conference Carolinas Crossover.
The Eagles will play a doubleheader on Friday starting at noon against Belmont Abbey before facing King following match one. Wrapping up the weekend, Emmanuel is the final foe with a first serve slated for 2 p.m. on Saturday.
"We had a longer preseason," Carson-Newman coach Dave Franklin said. "We got to train and truly get through all of the skills and get things in place and not have to rush it. That's a huge advantage."
Carson-Newman is 15-11 in season openers all-time. Dating back to 2006, the Eagles have won 10 of their last 12 lidlifters with the lone blemishes coming in a five-set loss to Francis Marion to begin the 2012 season and the 2016 season opener versus second-ranked and defending national champion Wheeling Jesuit, a four-set loss in Pensacola, Fla.
This year marks the second straight season in which the unit starts the year inside of Lincoln Memorial's Mary Mars Gym. A year ago, the Eagles came away with a 2-1 record. The slate for 2018 features three teams with several options on the front row.
"They are going to have one or two big hitters that we have to make sure we slow down," Franklin stated about this weekend's opponents. "If we are able to do that we are going to be in good position. Keep controlling our side of the net. If we win serve and pass we are going to win 80 percent of the time. This is a team offensively that has to improve from last year. We did a lot of little things right and gave ourselves chances. To get to the next level we have to be better offensively."
Belmont Abbey and C-N clash for just the third time as the Eagles picked up sweeps in 2011 and 2014. The 2011 meeting was also a season-opener for the two programs.
The Crusaders were tabbed to finish third in the Conference Carolinas preseason poll after finishing 2017 in second. Cassidy Bonito, Mackenzie Chrapliwy and Sarah Kenney, a trio of all-conference selections, are back for 2018.
Opening the year on Tuesday, the Abbey beat Winston-Salem State in four sets before being toppled in four frames by Wingate where the squad committed 35 attack errors and had 34 kills. Mackenzie Chrapliwy paced the Crusaders on the day with 21 total kills.
Franklin's group will see King in the opening weekend for the second straight season as C-N won in four sets to start the 2017 campaign to win its third match in its last four tries over the Tornado. Overall, the Eagles trail the all-time series 23-14. Nine blocks for C-N helped hold King under a .100 attack percentage as Alex Biro, Megan Oldenburger and Emily Harnischfeger each had nine kills. Becca Huddleston tallied 18 kills and 16 digs and Cathy Scaniffe racked up 18 kills and 16 digs paced the King offense.
After finishing third in the Conference Carolinas North Division in 2017, King was picked to finish sixth overall in the league entering the year. Led by Scaniffe, a third-team all-league pick, the unit returns the majority of its offense.
The club won its first nine sets of the year before falling in five frames to North Greenville to close out its opening weekend of play. Overall, the Tornado limited their opponents to a minus-.035 attack percentage. Virginia State combined to hit minus-.171 for the match as one player had 10 of the team's 13 kills in the match.
Rookie Julie Ward led the attack with 42 kills and a .302 hitting clip while senior setter Abby Anderson handed out nearly nine assists per game.
Having never met in a match, C-N takes on an Emmanuel group that went 3-1 to start the year including a sweep of Catawba in Harstville. Offensively, the team put together overall 14 kills per set while clubbing .257.
Middle blocker Julie de Blanck was named the Conference Carolinas Player of the Week for her efforts. The senior stuffed the stat sheet hitting .414 with 48 kills, 3.69 kills per set, while notching 14 blocks, 11 digs and eight aces.
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