FLORENCE, S.C. – The Francis Marion University women’s volleyball team will begin its 38th season this weekend as the Patriots host their annual FMU Invitational Tournament.
The six-team event will run from 9 a.m. through approximately 9 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday (Sept. 3-4) in the Smith University Center. Admission is free.
On Friday, FMU will play Barton College at 1 p.m. and Erskine College at 5 p.m., while on Saturday the Patriots will meet Carson-Newman College at 11 a.m. and Brenau University at 7 p.m.
The remainder of Friday’s tournament schedule consists of: Carson Newman vs. Barton at 9 a.m., Brenau vs. Erskine at 11 a.m., UNC Pembroke vs. Carson-Newman at 3 p.m., and UNC Pembroke vs. Brenau at 7 p.m.
In addition to FMU’s matches on Saturday: Erskine plays Barton at 9 a.m., Erskine meets UNCP at 1 p.m., Carson-Newman plays Brenau at 3 p.m., and Barton faces UNCP at 5 p.m.
Fifth-year FMU head coach Paul MacDonald welcomes back six returnees, including two starters and the libero, from last year’s 11-20 squad. However, the other three returnees also started double-figure matches last year.
Leading the returnees are 6-1 senior middle blocker Mallory Eggert and senior libero Kelsie Deaton. Eggert was recently named to the 2010 Pre-Season All-Peach Belt Conference squad after finishing the 2009 season second in the PBC in blocks per game (1.03) and 11th in hitting percentage (.224).
Deaton ranked third in the PBC in digs per game (4.33) and has recorded 17 career matches of 20+ digs to push her career total to 1,316. “After nearly three years of starting at the libero spot, Kelsie is among the best in the Peach Belt,” said MacDonald.
Also returning are junior outside hitters Amanda Mitchell (13th in the PBC with a .214 hitting percentage) and Ashlee Crook (15th in digs per game at 2.77), junior defensive specialist Hallie Legg, and sophomore outside hitter Liz Drewry.
MacDonald also pointed to the group of Eggert, Deaton, Legg, Crook, and Drewry as the core of the Patriot defense. “Mallory’s blocking abilities and her steady offense is why she earned pre-season accolades.” As a team, FMU was second in the PBC in blocks per game in 2009.
The Patriot newcomers include 5-11 junior middle blocker Danielle Parker and five freshmen: 5-7 setter Nicole Bennett (Round Hill, Va.), 5-4 defensive specialist Morgan Brazzell (Rock Hill, S.C.), 5-9 outside hitter Riley Forester (Alpharetta, Ga.), 6-1 middle blocker Megan Mooney (Lake Oswego, Ore.), and 5-10 outside hitter Paige Perreault (Kankakee, Ill.).
“The team is excited to get the season started,” said MacDonald. “Practice has gone well, but the players are anxious to put on their jerseys and play someone other than themselves. The freshmen and returnees have come together in a positive way and that synergy has been evident on the court.”
“I feel comfortable and optimistic entering the season. With the loss of several starters from last year, we obviously need immediate contributions from Parker and the freshmen.”
Asked about replacing graduated setter Jess O’Leary, MacDonald said, “The trio of Bennett, Legg, and Drewry should fill that void. Nicole had a highly lauded prep career and is a steady presence on the court. She has done a good job of learning our offense, a feat that normally takes a more extended period of time. She makes good setting choices and her setting deception is also well tuned. Every day is a learning experience for her as she adjusts to the college game. The challenge is to spike that learning curve as we start the season.”
Legg served as a setter on a part-time basis during the 2009 season (24 matches of double-figure assists), while Drewry last set during her high school career, but at 5-10 has the advantage of height in that role.
Parker joined the Patriot program last spring after her junior college finished second in the nation in 2009. “Danielle has an explosive approach, is a smart attacker, and makes good decisions. Her addition is very welcome.”
“Ashlee Crook has worked to improve her power and quickness as part of our right-side attack, while Amanda Mitchell has trained hard on her setting and on becoming a more dynamic hitter. Liz will also see time on the right side. She can do just about anything on the court at any position.”
“Each of the freshmen also adds a special talent, whether it is hitting, serving, setting, or receiving.”
Following this week’s tournament, Francis Marion will travel to the Mount Olive College Invitational on Sept. 10-11. The Patriots’ 30-match slate includes 14 home contests. FMU has won 21 of its last 29 home matches.