Things have changed in the Southern Conference.
The Georgia Southern Eagles won the 2010 Southern Conference volleyball title, but fell short of defending the championship last season by finishing 10-6 in league games.
Parity in the SoCon is at an all-time high.
“You used to go into a travel weekend to play two teams, and you’d have one team you’d really be preparing for,” said GSU coach Chad Callihan. “That’s not the case anymore. Every team has improved to a level where you have to take them seriously. You can’t just find a way to get through a match.
“The conference is tough this year. I keep saying that year after year and it just keeps getting better. College of Charleston is probably the team to beat again this year, along with Furman.”
The Eagles lose a perennial star in Bethany Sanford, a four-year, All-SoCon player, but bring back a seasoned senior class.
Setter Kate Van Dyke is 181 assists shy of the GSU career record, and could come close to reaching the all-time SoCon record with 1,638 assists in 2012. She would have to improve on her career high from the 2010 season, when she was named SoCon Tournament Most Valuable Player. She recorded 1,465 that season.
“She’s been a real standout for us,” Callihan said about Van Dyke. “She’s played in every set since she’s been here, and she’s going to break the (GSU) career assist record, probably sometime during the second week of the season. She’ll be huge for us.”
Moriah Bellissimo, a senior outside hitter, finds a way to get onto the stat sheet in just about every category. She led the Eagles in digs in 2011 with 455, and added 122 kills, 76 assists and 49 blocks.
“Moriah does all the little things, all the dirty work,” Callihan said. “She’s the lunch-pail kid.”
The Eagles open the 2012 campaign in Athens, Ga., at the Georgia tournament featuring the Bulldogs, the Eagles, Georgia State, Troy and an exhibition match against the team from the Mediterranean nation of Slovenia.
The Eagles will later travel to tournaments at Auburn, New Mexico and South Alabama.
Callihan hopes for a faster start than the Eagles had in 2011, when they went 7-8 before entering SoCon play.
It starts today at the UGA tournament, when the Eagles face the tournament host at 7 p.m.
“We’re not going up there to play the University of Georgia because they’re close,” he said. “That’s a match that we feel like if we play well, we can win.”
Matt Yogus may be reached at (912) 489-4908.