RUSTON, La. - With nine days remaining until the 2014 Louisiana Tech Volleyball season begins, this year's team has been hard at work in preparation of the upcoming campaign, which begins on Aug. 29 at the Bronco Classic in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Since reporting for fall camp on Aug. 8, the team has had little down time with days filled with a combination of practices, meetings and scrimmages in anticipation of the season.
"Preseason is going well so far," head coach Adriano de Souza said. "Our main goal has been to provide players opportunities to get used to each other on the court and to equip them with tools to compete at their best. We have a group that is committed to each other and we expect them to bring their best effort every day."
Although this year's squad returns the most players since the 2010 season, the program is still young when it comes to the experience of playing together as a team. The theme of the 2014 season is the blending of six newcomers and the upperclassmen that will most likely determine the success of this Lady Techster team.
With a revamped roster after losing three starters and four total letterwinners from a year ago, de Souza enters his third season ready to lead Louisiana Tech to success with his most experienced squad since inheriting the program in 2012.
In 2013, the Lady Techsters improved as a team in almost every statistical category, but as a first-year member of Conference USA the team struggled down the stretch and ended the season with a 7-22 overall mark.
Looking ahead to 2014, LA Tech returns eight letterwinners (three starters and a libero), while six newcomers are expected to make an immediate impact for de Souza and his coaching staff, which includes the addition of first-year assistant Dustin Sahlmann.
"Our volleyball players have trained really well since last spring and have spent a considerable amount of time together learning what it will take for them to leave a positive mark on the program," de Souza said. "This group of players has a strong will to succeed and understand that team success will be determined by how much time they put into their preparation, how much they help each other and how hard they compete in every match this coming season."
The addition of Morales and Gunnarsdóttir, who both earned all-conference honors last season for Lee College, should help stabilize the Lady Techsters' attack, add experience to the squad and make up for the loss of three LA Tech starters, including the team's leading hitter and blocker from last season.
De Souza is also intent on building the future of the program with freshmen Danielle Bristow (MH), Emilee Dechant (MH), Jacie McClure (DS/L) and Brooke Short (S) expected to see valuable playing time for LA Tech in their first collegiate campaigns.
In 2014, Dalane Guidry and Rebecca Redgen return to the Lady Techsters as the two players with the most match experience. With the addition of junior college transfer Helena Gunnarsdóttir, as well as freshmen Emilee Dechant and Danielle Bristow, the Lady Techsters will be looking for more efficiency in the offensive system.
"Our offensive players will have a lot of work to do for us to achieve a higher hitting percentage and a higher kills per set average this year," de Souza said. "They all know that our main goal is to increase these two statistical aspects of our game. Our non-conference matches will be good tests for them to verify how they have developed."
Rebecca Redgen, a senior from Gladstone, Australia who totaled 291 kills last season (2.75/set), returns as LA Tech's leading attacker after ranking second on the team last season. Two-year letterwinner Dalane Guidry is also back for her junior season with the Lady Techsters, as the 6-foot-3-inch middle hitter was third on the team in 2013 with 143 kills and second with 63 total blocks.
This season will also see the return of Angela Papach, Marta Monne, Hannah Wright and Katy McFadden, each of whom saw some playing time last season as freshmen. Monne will make her long-awaited return to the court this season as a redshirt freshman after suffering an MCL, ACL and Meniscus injury in the fourth match of the 2013 campaign. The Varese, Italy native required season-ending surgery and has been working on a full recovery heading into 2014.
Gunnarsdóttir is expected to bring discipline on offense and defense to the squad after spending two seasons as a standout player for Lee College. Look for the Iceland native to help Tech's offense on both the outside and right side position, along with improving the Lady Techsters' on the service line and in serve receive.
Bristow, who hails from Saskatchewan, Canada, and Dechant, a native of Hutchinson, Kansas, are both vying for playing time on both the offensive and defensive systems for de Souza's squad. The two true freshmen are expected to contribute to the offense, as well as helping with the team's blocking game throughout the campaign.
After spending his first two seasons with just one setter on the roster, de Souza and his staff have developed depth at the position, which, in turn, will encourage competition among the three candidates. Most importantly, though, the depth will give the staff and team more tactical options as far as being able to run a 5-1 or a 6-2 team system throughout the season.
"We are really looking forward to working with our setters this season," de Souza said. "For the first time, we will have more options for training and for putting our team together for competition. Maria (Coelho), Brooke (Short) and Adria (Morales) are all hard workers and understand the need to develop a strong offensive system."
Three-year letterwinner Coelho is the lone returner at the setter position for LA Tech after totaling almost 1,800 assists in the last two seasons. The Brazilian also poses a threat from the service line as the senior led the team last season with 42 aces (0.39/set), as well as tying a program record with eight aces in a match versus New Orleans early in 2013.
Adria Morales, a transfer from Lee College, is also expected to step in and make an immediate impact in improving offensive efficiency and defense for the Lady Techsters. Morales averaged 8.59 assists per set for the Lady Rebels last season.
Also look for newcomer Brooke Short, who comes to Louisiana Tech from Murrieta, California, to vie for playing time in order to give Tech more options for offensive and defensive tactics and strategies this fall.
Alejandra Aviles returns in 2014 for her sophomore year after leading the Lady Techsters last season with 360 digs (3.71/set). Aviles was also an asset from the service line for the team after totaling 16 aces in 97 sets in her first season at the collegiate level.
"Our three liberos are players who will bring a lot of enthusiasm and hard work into practices and matches," de Souza said. "While we need our offense to be more effective this year, we also need our liberos to make sure we become sharper in minimizing the chance of our opponents to score points."
LA Tech's Jessie Ely, who played in 90 sets in 2013, also returns for her senior season and is set to see time on the court over the course of the campaign. The Illinois native totaled 156 digs and 20 aces a season ago for the Lady Techsters.
Newcomer from Baton Rouge, Jacie McClure will also see playing time on the court for LA Tech in 2014, as the freshman is expected to help both service and reception, as well as on the defensive side of the ball.
Louisiana Tech is set to play a total of 30 matches over the course of the 2014 season, including 16 conference contests in a 13-team league.
LA Tech will face three in-state schools this season with matches scheduled against McNeese State, New Orleans and Grambling State. The Lady Techsters are also set to face several familiar faces this upcoming fall as the team is scheduled to play a combined 18 non-conference and league opponents from last season's schedule in 2014.
"Our team is looking forward to competing this upcoming season," de Souza said. "Our pre-season schedule will give us an idea of what aspects of the game we need to improve after every weekend of competition. Every match in pre-season will be very important in preparation for Conference USA play."
The fall schedule begins with four consecutive weekend tournaments, beginning with the Lady Techsters traveling to Kalamazoo, Michigan, on Aug. 29 to battle top-notch competition in the Bronco Classic hosted by Western Michigan. LA Tech faced off against the Broncos last season as Western Michigan traveled to Ruston to appear in the LA Tech Invitational. The team will open the season with two matches scheduled against Oakland and Saint Francis on Friday, Aug. 29, before taking on Western Michigan on Saturday, Aug. 30 in University Arena.
LA Tech will then make a trip to the southern part of the state to compete in McNeese State's home tournament, the Big Daddy's Invitational, against the Cowgirls, Jackson State and former Western Athletic Conference foe UT Arlington on Sept. 5-6 in Lake Charles.
The Lady Techsters open the 2014 home slate on Sept. 12 as the team will host the Louisiana Tech Volleyball Invitational in the Thomas Assembly Center for the second straight year. The four-team, two-day tournament has LA Tech pitted against New Orleans, UTPA and Stephen F. Austin in three matches. A total of six matches will be played on Friday and Saturday between the four teams competing in the invitational.
LA Tech will play its first midweek match of the season on Sept. 16 as the team is set to travel to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to battle UAPB before traveling to Oxford, Mississippi, to wrap up the fourth and final tournament of the season. The Lady Techsters will compete in the Rebel Classic, hosted by Southeastern Conference foe Ole Miss, on Sept. 18-19 at Gillom Sports Center in Oxford. During the two-day tournament, Tech will face off against Lamar and Jackson State, as well as the host Lady Rebels.
On Monday, Sept. 22, Louisiana Tech will officially begin its second season in Conference USA with Southern Miss set to travel to Ruston to kick off the 2014 league campaign. The Lady Techsters will follow up with a home match against new league member and the 2013 Sun Belt regular season champions, Western Kentucky, on Sept. 26 in the TAC before embarking on a three-match road trip.
"Conference USA will bring strong competition in every match we play," de Souza, now in his third season as head coach, said. "Our players understand how important it will be to intensively prepare for every single match and to perform at their best during the conference schedule."
LA Tech is scheduled to play a total of 12 home matches this season, beginning with the team hosting the Louisiana Tech Volleyball Invitational on Sept. 12-13 in the Thomas Assembly Center.
The 2014 season begins on Aug. 29 as the Lady Techsters travel to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to compete against three other teams in the Bronco Classic, hosted by Western Michigan.
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