The College of Charleston volleyball team has some big shoes to fill this season, and the coaches and players are ready to step up to the plate.
After winning the CAA title during the College’s first year as members of the conference to qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the 2014 Cougars have major expectations coming into their new season.
On paper, the Cougars are already off to a good start, having been ranked first in the CAA preseason poll and projected to win the title again.
Last postseason, Charleston defeated Northeastern in a thrilling four set victory to clinch the CAA title and take the conference by storm. The Cougars then traveled to Duke for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, a second straight national appearance for the squad. Although they fell to the Blue Devils in that game, the experience fired up the returnees and made them hungry for an even better experience in 2014.
Despite the loss of All-American Darcy Dorton , the program has 10 returning players, with four all-conference selections among them. On top of that, the freshmen have impressed in preseason practice and are set to make an early splash for the Cougars.
Senior Sloane White was recently named to the preseason All-CAA team after a spectacular previous three seasons, including a junior year performance where she earned numerous individual awards, including first team All-CAA, AVCA All-Regional Honorable Mention and CAA All-Tournament team honors. Her goals for her senior season are simple, but set high.
“I definitely want to win the conference and go to the NCAAs and get to the second round. Maybe further if we can,” White said.
Joining White with the preseason recognitions include fellow senior and 2013 CAA Setter of the Year, Kallie McKown, as well as 2013 All-CAA second team, Cara Howley.
Howley noted that this season, Charleston will be viewed as the champions, rather than the new kids on the block.
“I’m excited to defend our title. We have a target on our back this year, but it gives us something to defend and this program is definitely used to doing that,” Howley said.
She says that living up to the hype that last season’s team created is never easy.
“It’s kind of a tough place to be but its exciting,” Howley added.
Head coach Jason Kepner has a similar vision for his squad this year.
“We always try to schedule tough and put ourselves in a position where if we win, we are in good shape. Ultimately, we are trying to keep the conference streak of winning 13 straight championships going as long as possible,” Kepner said. “We’re a lot more balanced this year. Offensively, I think we have just as many weapons as we did last year, but what I think Darcy [Dorton] provided for us last year, we can divide up among more players and make things a little bit easier.”
The Cougars are set to open their 2014 season at 7 p.m. on Friday night at TD Arena against former SoCon rival Davidson. It will be the first matchup for Charleston in the annual College of Charleston Invitational. They will face both Mercer and Kent State on Saturday.
“It’s going to be an emotional, fun group this year,” Kepner added. “This group is strong, they play with a lot of energy and I think we are going to see high level volleyball and the team having a lot of fun competing and they will win championships.”