Aug. 28, 2014
WEST POINT, N.Y. - Led by head coach Alma Kovaci, the Army volleyball team opens its 2014 campaign on Friday afternoon at the Hampton Inn-vitational in Smithfield, R.I. The five-team tournament features the Black Knights, St. John's, Towson, UMass Lowell and tournament-host Bryant.
Kovaci returns eight letterwinners from last season's Patriot League Tournament squad that finished with a 14-13 overall record and an 11-5 conference mark. Joining the team are 12 freshmen, who will be leaned on heavily as the team begins its eighth season under Kovaci's watch.
"We are excited to get started this weekend against some great opponents," Kovaci said. "In our first match against St. John's, we face a team that returns all of its starters from last year and it will be a tough test for us to open the season. Having 12 freshmen on the team creates some question marks and this weekend gives us an opportunity to see who will provide a positive contribution to the team. We really need to concentrate on our passing and serving to give us a chance to succeed."
The returning players include seniors Deanna Dalton, Molly McDonald and Kristen Smeland. Dalton is one of two returning players who played in every set in 2013 and will serve as a co-captain with junior Vanessa Edwards this year. As a sophomore, Edwards paced Army and was sixth in the Patriot League with 727 assists from her setter position.
Preseason All-Patriot League honoree Olivia Fairfield leads Army's trio of sophomores along with Janaya Simmons and Alexandra Bell. Fairfield burst onto the scene last season and earned All-Patriot League second-team recognition in addition to being selected as the rookie of the year. Fairfield started all 27 matches as a freshman and ranked fourth in the conference with a .324 hitting percentage, a number that led Army and all conference first-year players.
Army's opening match against the Red Storm puts the young squad up against a pair of preseason All-BIG EAST selections in Karin Palqutova and Aleksandra Wachowicz. A two-time All-BIG EAST first-team choice, Palqutova led the conference in kills (510) and kills per set (4.36) as a sophomore. Wachowicz returns for her senior season after being honored with a place on the All-BIG EAST second team in 2013. As a team, St. John's was picked to finish fifth in the BIG EAST's annual preseason coaches' poll after finishing last year with a 16-16 record. Junior Nicole Perri, third on the team in kills with 211 in 2013, figures to play another prominent role for Army this year as an outside hitter.
After facing St. John's on Friday at 3 p.m., Army challenges Bryant on its home court at Chace Athletic Center at 7 p.m. A young team in its own right, Bryant will debut seven freshmen on Friday and will also be playing its second match of the day, which can be seen live online on NEC Front Row. The Bulldogs, selected fifth in the Northeast Conference preseason poll, open the tournament with a 1 p.m. start versus UMass Lowell. Army is 3-0 all-time against Bryant, with victories in 1989, 2010 and 2011.
The event continues Saturday when Army challenges Towson at 10 a.m. and UMass Lowell at 4 p.m. Towson boasts six seniors, led by co-captains Saitaua Iosia and Paige Sekerak, and was picked to finish seventh in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll. Iosia was named a 2014 Preseason All-CAA Honorable Mention selection at outside hitter after leading the team in kills (381) and service aces (38) as a junior. Sekerak leads Towson defensively from the libero position, a place she has occupied since her freshman season. She is closing in on the school's all-time record in digs after contributing 517 as a junior.
Army concludes its opening weekend against UMass Lowell, an opponent out of the America East Conference. The River Hawks enter 2014 with a new head coach, Resa Provanzano, as the program begins its second season as a member of the conference. Last year, UMass Lowell went 0-26 in its first season of Division I competition, including 23 losses by 3-0 margins. Two seniors to watch are Anisa Smith, who led the team in kills (160) and Ella Merrill, who averaged 1.98 kills per set in 2013.
Click here for a full tournament schedule.