Depth. That will be the theme this season as the Lady Eagles navigate their way through their third consecutive year in the NAIA's Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference.
Depth. It's what Head Coach Larry Bittle considers his first victory of the season as he can be found celebrating this in preseason volleyball practice every afternoon on Mark Arthur court.
His team now has a reserve player for every position on the hardwood.
"It's a huge game changer. That added support is going to make all of the difference this season," stated Coach Bittle, who is in his third year as head of the women's volleyball program at SCU. "My girls are going to have to get tough and fight for a position on the court, which will make us more competitive against other squads."
Since entering the NAIA in the Fall of 2010, the Lady Eagles have compiled a 24-40 record, earning only one match-victory each season in conference play.
Depth. That's the thing that is going to turn it all around.
The Lady Eagles are prepared to dig deeper, train harder, and fight longer to earn some recognition this year.
Coach Bittle is suiting up a team comprised of 13 freshmen and three returners for the 2012 season. The squad is young and inexperienced, but they are ready. They have depth in leadership.
Middle hitter Tiffany Ward and outside hitter Rachel Church were two of the Lady Eagles' leaders in kills in 2011. Though a redshirt in 2011, outside hitter Courtney Clark is what Bittle tabs as his ‘strongest player on the court.'
"They can handle it," said Coach Bittle. "My returners are strong - they are born leaders. My freshmen are phenomenal. This is the best team I have put together in my three years that I have been here. We are going to be solid in every position this year. It's going to be a good season."
Tabbed ninth in the ten-team MCAC Women's Volleyball Preseason Poll, the Lady Eagles have a long road ahead of them as they will face some tough teams in the MCAC.
Ranked 19th in the NAIA Preseason Top 25 Coaches' Poll, the extremely athletic Bellevue Lady Bruins have helped deliver some heavy blows to SCU over the past two years. SCU has yet to punch out a win against the Nebraska squad. Following Bellevue in the rankings is the equally athletic and talented College of the Ozarks (Missouri), who in turn, is trailed by the York College (Neb.) Panthers who came in third in the preseason rankings after posting a 20-12 record in the 2011 season. The league is capped off by College of Saint Mary (Neb.), Oklahoma Wesleyan, Central Baptist (Ark.), Haskell Indian Nations (Kan.), Waldorf College (Iowa), Southwestern Christian, and Central Christian (Kan.).
SCU's only two wins in the MCAC since 2010 were against the only team that trails them in the rankings - Central Christian College. The Tigers posted a 0-11 record in the MCAC in 2011. The Lady Eagles had a chance to sit closer to the middle of the pack last year, but fell short of some much needed victories in five-set matches against Haskell and Central Baptist. Oklahoma Wesleyan, Saint Mary, York, Ozarks, and Bellevue all took care of the Lady Eagles in three-set defeats.
Waldorf College will be fresh competition for SCU this season as the Lady Warriors are newcomers to the MCAC in 2012. Although they are ranked higher than the Lady Eagles starting out, the Lady Warriors should not be a huge threat to SCU, as they went 9-29 from the hardwood in 2011 and were also dropped by York in a three-set match.
Coach Bittle and the Lady Eagles will find out just what they are made of this weekend as they open their season in Sterling, Kansas at the Sterling College Invitational, facing off against Bethel College and Johnson and Wales University on Friday before taking on Sterling College and Manhattan Christian College on Saturday.
SCU will kick things off on their home court with a conference match against Oklahoma Wesleyan on Tuesday, September 4th in the Pickens-Springer Gymnasium.