SOUTH PRINCE GEORGE, Va. -- Richard Bland College is fielding its first-ever women's volleyball team this fall and will begin competition with a home contest against Louisburg (N.C.) College on Monday, September 11, at 6 p.m. in Statesman Hall. The Statesmen will play a provisional season within NJCAA Division II, Region X, having no post-season eligibility. Nonetheless, first-year head coach Scott Newton is excited for the season to begin and has realistic, if not lofty, expectations for the program.
"We are very excited for the start of the season and the beginning of a program," said Newton. "We have a very cohesive group that has bonded well together in just a short period of time. The team consists of some strong experienced players along with some athletic players and we are beginning to catch on to a high level quickly. Our expectations are high, but aren't so far out of reach to where it's easy to fail. We expect to be competitive and surprise some teams, and plan to take a lot away from this season in preparation to compete for a championship next season."
Richard Bland will rotate five at the left/right side hitter positions, including sophomores Alexis Lyons/Prince George and McKenzi Thorne/Chester, along with freshmen Emma Eggleton/Chesterfield, Hollie Hill/Buchanan and Caitlin Stout/Dinwiddie. Freshmen Cassi Jencik/Midlothian and Taylor Laxton/Wakefield are middle blockers, while Lyons and freshman Kendall Clark/Virginia Beach will switch off at the setting position depending on the game plan. Clark, sophomore Sara Gardner/Chester, as well as freshmen Avery Munden/Chesterfield and Oshyn Barnes/Hampton will be battling for action in the back row either in the libero or defensive specialist role.
"Alexis has settled in nicely, moving from the outside hitter two position to the setting position," explained Newton. "She is working hard and improving each practice. Strong points in our offense are going to be on the outsides. Emma has been working hard to be our leading force. To help balance the offense, we have good athleticism in the middle and hope to improve each day to become an asset in the blocking game. Hollie is on the right side and has the experience to be successful and help balance our offense. Kendall is filling the libero role, has great energy and is constantly communicating; two extremely important characteristics that you want in a libero."
Unfortunately, the Statesmen have already suffered season-ending injuries to freshmen Lauryn Basl/Midlothian (setter) and Mallory Cunningham/Fredericksburg (middle blocker). Cunningham is the daughter of Dr. Eric Cunningham '86, a member of the Richard Bland men's basketball team from 1984-86 and who was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame last February 22. In addition, sophomore Harper Smith/Midlothian will redshirt this year before competing with eligibility next fall.
"We have suffered some early injuries to our starting lineup," said Newton. "Losing Lauryn was a major blow to our ball control and offense, but others have stepped up and filled in those roles quickly."
Richard Bland will play a limited 18-match schedule that includes five home contests and participation in a pair of two-day tournaments on the road. The additional home matches include Regent University on Sept. 21 at 6 p.m., Lenoir (N.C.) Community College on Sept. 29 at 6 p.m., Pitt (N.C.) Community College on October 14 at 12 p.m. and Bryant and Stratton College on Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. The tournament action will take place at Bryant & Stratton on Sept. 15-16 and at Catawba Valley (N.C.) Community College on Sept. 22-23. The Statesmen will face nine of the other 11 Region X members this season.
"I think we have a schedule that is challenging, but also presents an opportunity for success," added Newton. "We are fortunate to have five home matches in our first year to give our student body an opportunity to see our program and its potential success. Seeing the competition this fall will help us gauge our needs for next season and the spots we need to work on."