LANCASTER, Pa. – Last year was another successful season for Franklin & Marshall volleyball as the team eclipsed the 20-win mark for the second year in a row, captured its fifth Centennial Conference (CC) title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the seventh time in program history.
With 17 returning players, including four starters and the libero, ninth-year coach Mary Kate Boland has even greater expectations in 2011.
"Our goals are simple. We want to win the conference and make it past the first round of the NCAA tournament," said Boland. "Winning the conference last season was a huge step for our program. This season we want to continue on that path towards being one of the top programs in the region and the country."
Expectations of being in the thick of the hunt for the CC title stretch far beyond the walls of the Mayser Center, as the Diplomats were selected as the preseason favorite to secure the conference crown in a poll of the conference coaches. While the standard for excellence at F&M is now set at its highest level in years, the Diplomats have plenty of reason to believe that even greater success is on the horizon.
In order to achieve that success the Diplomats must fill the void left by three-time All-CC and 2009 All-American selection Nicole Morano, along with two-time All-CC pick Pam Horner. That will be no small task, but the pieces are in place for another banner year this fall.
Headlining the returners at middle hitter is junior Sydney Seydel. Seydel established herself as one of the top players in the conference last year as she earned First Team All-CC honors, led the conference in hitting percentage (.352) and paced the team in kills (235) and blocks (65).
Freshman Julie Harvey will also be in the mix for significant playing time at middle hitter, but will also give the Diplomats flexibility with her ability to play multiple positions. Harvey will be used at both the middle and right side spots and is a player that Boland thinks can be a force right away.
At right side, junior Candice Tussing is back after earning CC honorable mention accolades last fall. Tussing recorded one of the most well-rounded stat lines for the Diplomats last season as she ranked in the top-five on the team in six different categories. She totaled 231 kills, 190 digs, 41 blocks, 39 assists, 30 aces and posted a .258 hitting percentage on the year.
At the libero position, senior Katy May will once again serve a vital role for the Diplomats. May led the team in service aces (50) last year and also ranked second on the team in digs (265).
"While Katy hasn't received a lot of individual recognition, she's the heart of our defense," Boland said. "Her effort and the development of her passing will be key elements to our team."
The most challenging transition this year for the Diplomats will be at the setter position. Horner is gone, meaning the trio of junior Caitlin Krutsick, sophomore Meghan Hubert and freshman Caroline Hubbard will battle for playing time. Boland has been pleased with each of their progress thus far in the preseason and expects all three to contribute.
Other veteran leaders on the Diplomat defense include senior defensive specialists Stephanie Armstrong and Lis Power. Both Armstrong and Power give F&M a high-level of experience at the position as each have seen meaningful court time since day one of their freshman season.
F&M will once again face stiff competition in its non-conference schedule, in addition to a continually improving Centennial Conference. The path to a second straight title will be arduous, but Boland and the Diplomats welcome the tough tests that await them.
"I know that we have a tough road ahead of us, but I think our players have the right mindset to deal with the challenges that lie ahead," stated Boland. "They want to be tested, and I can't ask for more than that from my players."
F&M opens it season at the St. Mary's (Md.) Tournament against the host Seagulls on Friday, September 2nd at 7:00 pm. The matchup against St. Mary's will be the first of 10 non-conference contests prior to the start of CC play.
The Diplomats' CC opener is scheduled for Wednesday, September 21 against McDaniel.