JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – Jockeying for position in the South Atlantic Conference standings, Carson-Newman opens a home sequence where it will play eight of 11 at Holt Fieldhouse with Lenoir-Rhyne on Friday at 7 p.m. and Mars Hill on Saturday at 5 p.m. against two teams above them on the table.
"Two really high quality opponents," Carson-Newman coach Dave Franklin said. "They play the game extremely well. They understand what wins the game of volleyball and have been performing at a high level. We have been building to that. We are looking for that peak. We have been talking about it in our gym calling it the 'tipping point'. For us to get there we have to grow mentally. We are doing a lot of physical things right but we make some mental mistakes that cost us. These two teams are going to test us."
Outside of 44 wins against Newberry, this weekend will feature programs that the Eagles have had the most success against in their history. In terms of overall wins, the next two schools on the list are Catawba (29) and Tusculum (28) but Carson-Newman (8-6, 4-3) has losing records in the all-time series with those two schools.
"We want to put ourselves in a position to get in that top four to get to host the first round of the tournament and give ourselves a chance when the first regional rankings come out to be in them," Franklin said. "These matches will pay big dividends if we are able to win them. There is no doubt that that's the goal. We are capable. The good news for us is that we have yet to play our best ball and we know that."
Friday will be the 62nd all-time meeting with Lenoir-Rhyne (12-4, 6-3) as the Eagles have won 34 of the first 61 affairs and hold a 15-13 edge at home. Dating back to 2012, the Bears have won five of the last six matches in Jefferson City with the lone exception coming on Sept. 11, 2015, a sweep for the Eagles.
SAC Freshman of the Year Taylor Prall leads Lenoir-Rhyne into the 2018 season after a 6-14 conference record last year. Coach Dave Markland saw the graduation of Brooke Redmond, who finished her career second on the school's kills list.
The Bears opened the season with seven straight wins and had won five in-a-row before falling in four sets on the road at Anderson on Tuesday. With a 10-1 mark in home and neutral contests, the team is 2-3 in true road games this year.
L-R puts up one of the toughest blocks in the nation with 2.23 per set on the year, second in the SAC and 26th in the country. On two occasions, the team has produced 17 rejections with Madison Asher leading the way with 1.09 per set, good for fourth in the league.
Carson-Newman owns the all-time series lead against Mars Hill (12-4, 6-2) 38-23 but the Lions have won three of the last five with two of those outings coming at Holt Fieldhouse. In the 2017 affair at Mossy Creek, C-N saw its six-match winning streak come to an end in straight sets as Mars Hill won for just the seventh time in the last 39 games in the series.
Mars Hill finished sixth in 2017 just one game out of a tie for fourth in the standings a season ago. Coach Tony Fontanelle placed three players on the conference's honorable mention group but only middle Sally Anne Johnson is back.
The Lions enter the weekend having won five consecutive matches, the second-longest winning streak in the conference behind Wingate's 14. With six straight regular-season road wins, the team has not lost in a road outing since Oct. 28, 2017 at Wingate in four frames.
Middle of the pack offensive numbers are overshadowed by excellent defensive numbers. Mars Hill is fourth in the nation in digs per set as a team with 20.92 while limiting opponents to a .125 hitting margin, 23rd in Division II. Ully Martins leads the unit with 5.70 digs per set for third in the league, but nearly two behind Morgan Ballard's total of 7.36.
Johnson leads the team's statistical numbers with 3.33 points per set on a .342 attack percentage, third in the SAC, and one block per game.
Both matches will be streamed for free on cneagles.com/live with the Eagle Sports Network providing commentary and production for the broadcasts.
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