VB Season Outlook; Ladies Prep for Opening Weekend
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
SHREVEPORT-The Centenary volleyball team will take their preseason preparation into the weekend when it travels to the University of Dallas to take part in the U-Dallas Invitational, beginning Friday.

The Ladies (0-0) are set to play Polytechnic University of NY on Friday at 11 am, followed by Milwaukee School of Engineering at 3 pm. Centenary will wrap up the weekend tournament on Saturday against ASC foe, Sul Ross State at 1 pm and the University of Dallas at 5 pm.

Centenary began on August 18 with preseason training and has continued to thrive on the hopes of producing a solid first-year in the American Southwest Conference. A mix of both a strong returning class and an impressive look at the newcomer class, the Ladies and head coach Jon Stenman have high hopes for the season ahead.

"We are very excited coming out of preseason due to the experience that we have from our returners, plus the talent our freshmen add," said Stenman. "We believe we will make a great first impression in our inaugural season in the ASC."

With a look at the team's strengths, Stenman and assistant coach Jon Valiao have worked hard to assess the Ladies approach to the game of volleyball.

"We have very diverse types of hitters. Even though our freshman class lacks in height, they make up for that in speed, hard work and intelligence," said Stenman. "We will use this weekend to evaluate our strengths and weaknesses as we try to improve moving into conference play."

For every successful team, defense is the key. The Ladies are fortunate enough to have three solid liberos on their roster for this season in seniors Taylor Gilmour, Kayla Tibaldo and junior Jesi Wilcox. All three pose a great deal of experience and are vocal leaders on the hardwood.

"All three showed a tremendous amount of hard work over the summer and that will be prominent early this season," said Stenman. "They have made strides in bringing their serving, serve/receiving, and defensive skills to the next level. We are counting on our defensive trio in helping the team develop a very strong defensive scheme."

Senior Jaclyn Lopez has shown a great deal of leadership this preseason in directing four freshman outside hitters to new heights at the collegiate level. As the only four-year veteran on the squad, Lopez joins freshmen Brooke Bahlinger, Sarah Sumner, Ashley Jones and Chelsea Petska as Centenary's outside hitters. The value of the five is unheard of considering their contribution to play multiple positions within the Ladies lineup.

"Lopez has taken it upon herself to put the four freshmen hitters under her wing in guiding them on how to be collegiate volleyball players," said Stenman. "With this type of mentorship, we expect the freshmen to assimilate into the Centenary Way seamlessly no matter where on the net they end up."

Despite Centenary's lack in size, junior middle blocker Shelby Singleton is back after several dominating efforts at the NCAA Division I level. Her size and ability to control the middle has continued to improve and Stenman looks to her to be a driving force for the Ladies.

"Singleton is the only legitimate middle blocker on the team. It is very exciting to foresee the dominance she will show in the ASC," said Stenman.

With two returners in the setter position, Centenary and Stenman have high expectations for senior Caitlin Neese and sophomore Beth Nuttall as they work to feed off one another's skill set heading into the opening weekend. Freshman Jacey Beasley also joins the duo as a setter and has learned a great deal from both Neese and Nuttall.

"Neese and Nuttall have been doing a great job quarterbacking our team," said Stenman. "They constantly push each other to bring their games to a higher level. Neese and Nuttall have also done well showing Beasley what it's like to be a setter for Centenary," said Stenman. "Based on their experiences, I expect the setter position to be a strength for our program."

Four seniors will suit up this season and all four possess a great deal of leadership and experience. With that, Stenman has high expectations for the four to stay grounded and showcase what they experienced the past years in leading the team to a new chapter in Centenary Volleyball.

"I believe our four seniors have taken it upon themselves to direct this team in making something extraordinary happen," said Stenman. "Based on the experiences they gained as athletes in The Summit League, they have made it clear that we are going to operate as a premier NCAA Division III program. They are paving the way towards the program's future," said Stenman.

Every year a newcomer class is welcomed into a program and every year that newcomer class gains the experience needed to progress and excel in the future. Stenman and Valiao worked hard over the summer months to land six strong newcomers in Petska, Bahlinger, Jones, Beasley, Wilcox and Sumner.

"We are very proud to say that we acquired six hardworking newcomers with great attitudes. They are a bunch of fiery, very motivated and eager to learn individuals," said Stenman. "They are constantly showing positive impacts and we feel like anyone of them can compete amongst the ASC competition."

Stenman and Valiao sought out for a strong knit group of Ladies that would represent Centenary Volleyball on a new and improved level. That being said, the Ladies, a group of 12, have made their on-court contributions and off-court values a priority in representing one another this season.

"It seems that our returners and newcomers all have similarities in their personalities," said Stenman. "They get along well on the court and are starting to bond. They enjoy each other's company at practice and it seems as if the team's camaraderie is showing well after a week or so of preseason. Hopefully that will carry through the trials and tribulations that the season will bring along."

Going in blinded by competition in the American Southwest Conference, the Ladies and coaching staff are excited about what they hear and what to expect when conference play begins. Their expectations and determination to be a successful program have not changed and may have even grown stronger as they look to make a solid first impression with the new conference foes.

"We have no idea what types of challenges we may face, however, we do know we are in the business of winning," said Stenman. "We expect to continuously work harder than our competition to produce a winning season. The opportunity is there for us. We just need to make sure we stay focused, composed and together throughout the season."

Centenary will take part in the University of Dallas tournament featuring NY Polytechnic University, Milwaukee School of Engineering and U-Dallas. Having not played these teams in the past, the Ladies are expecting solid competition that will ultimately prep them for what is ahead in the ASC.

"Coming into opening weekend, we really don't know what to expect from our competitors," said Stenman. "NY Poly won their conference last year, so we are looking forward to a good test right off the bat, while MSOE seems to be very similar to us in having a great defense and relying on their newcomers to contribute. As for the host team in U-Dallas, they finished last year at 26-11 as an Independent DIII team, so we are expecting a battle."

Following the weekend Invitational, Centenary will open conference play at LeTourneau in Longview, Texas on Tuesday, Sept. 6 at 7 pm.