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GSU volleyball enters 2010 with a chip on its shoulder

GSU volleyball enters 2010 with a chip on its shoulder

GSU volleyball enters 2010 with a chip on its shoulder



    Three words sum up the Georgia Southern volleyball team and the massive chip it has on its shoulder heading into the 2010 season — cost cutting measures.
    The Lady Eagles (21-10, 11-5 Southern Conference in 2009) narrowly missed the budget-constrained, four-team SoCon tournament last season after late 3-2 losses to Furman and College of Charleston put them in third place in the south division and out of reach of a tournament bid, despite winning the last three matches of the season.
    “It’s kind of one of those things — if this and if that — but all things said and done, we should have beat [Charleston], we should have handled the South, and I think it ended the season badly last year,” said junior middle hitter Parker Small. “But it kind of left us going into this season with a lot of motivation.”
    The Eagles’ 11-5 slate in 2009 SoCon play would have put them in first place had they played in the north division and would have been good for a bid in this season’s expanded, eight-team tournament, but GSU doesn’t want to leave its postseason hopes to chance.
    The Eagles want to control their own destiny this time around.
    “I feel like there’s so much for us to prove and it’s such a big motivator,” said outside hitter Bethany Sanford, a junior who enters 2010 as a preseason, All-SoCon selection. “I feel like last year if we had the opportunity, we could have done so many more things. Now, we’re not going to leave it in anyone else’s hands. We’re going to take care of it.”
    “I think if we learned anything from it, it was don’t take anything for granted, take advantage of the opportunities when you get them,” added third-year coach Chad Callihan. “You don’t always know when the next time’s going to be when you can get there.”
    Sanford and Small were part of Callihan’s first recruiting class in 2008, and are part of a group that the GSU coach feels brings much-needed experience to the table this year.
    “Going into year three, we have a class of six kids who are now juniors, and four or five of those kids were starting as freshmen,” said Callihan. “We definitely took our lumps on certain nights but we learned from that. We definitely have a lot more maturity on the court.”
     Sanford, who led the team in kills (390) and was second in the SoCon with 3.48 per set, is surprised how far her class has come since it joined Callihan at GSU.
    “I’ve grown so much as an athlete it’s crazy,” she said. “[Callihan] has these fundamentals and skills he’s been trying to instill in us, and just now I’m starting to get it. It’s all clicking. I’ve grown so much as a player, all my teammates around me, we’ve grown so much.”
    One position GSU is looking for someone to step up is libero, where the Eagles lost 2008 junior-college transfer Cristin Haines to graduation.
    Senior Lindsey O’Conner and freshman Lauren LaRocque will vie for the position.
    Sophomore Kate Van Dyke returns to setter, where she gained much-needed experience as a freshman in 2009.
    “She’s kind of the kid that makes it all go for us right now,” Callihan said of Van Dyke’s role on the team.
    The 2010 season gets underway Friday as the Eagles head to Auburn for a four-team tournament. Georgia Southern suffered narrow 3-2 losses each of the last two times they faced Auburn.
    The 2010 slate also includes big-time matchups with Duke, Miami, N.C. State and Southern Miss, and GSU will host the Springhill Suites Invitational in Hanner Fieldhouse Sept. 16-18 which will feature Winthrop, East Tennessee State, Charleston Southern and South Alabama.  
    Even with all the marquee matchups, the Eagles remain focused on the main objective – the SoCon.
    “We do play some big names and things like that, but it almost doesn’t matter. The SoCon is the biggest tournament to us and the biggest games to us,” Small said. “The Southern Conference is kind of the world, the reality we play in. Everything is driven to having a banner for our team, having a banner for our school and being able to have the Georgia Southern volleyball team be a big part of the conference. Those other games are kind of a nice way to reach out and see where we stand, but at the end of the day, the SoCon is where the focus is.”
    Auburn’s War Eagle Invitational features AU, Troy and UT Martin and takes place Friday and Saturday.

    Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9408.

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