The Virginia Tech volleyball team opens up their season today with a pair of games against Towson and Pacific.
The two matchups are part of the Hokie Invitational taking place in Blacksburg this weekend.
“The girls are excited to play someone else,” head coach Chris Riley said. “I’m looking forward to the competition and playing the best we can and how we match up against other teams.”
That competition will be on full display when they take on the No. 14 Michigan State Spartans on Saturday.
Riley said the team has their work cut out for them this weekend. Tech is looking to improve from last year’s 16-14 record. Senior middle block Victoria Hamsher was named to the preseason All-ACC team. She led the team last year with 95 blocks and had one of the best hitting percentages in the ACC at .351.
According to the team’s blog on Hokiesports.com, Hamsher and the rest of the team have been excited for the season to get underway. They started conditioning and have had open gyms multiple times a week since mid July.
In addition to Hamsher, the Hokies are returning three other starters—middle block/right side Kathryn Caine, setter Jordan Fish and outside hitter Samantha Gostling.
“The starters have been there before, they’ve done it, they know what to expect,” Riley said. “I expect for them to teach the young kids what to do, how to calm them down and bring stability to the court when things get overwhelming.”
Riley expects a lot out of Hamsher and Gostling who have come to grow into their leadership roles since they began their careers three years ago.
“They both have been playing since they were freshmen. They understand what the game entails at this point,” Riley said. “They are ready to lead us to greater heights.”
With the team’s sights set on finishing in the top half of the ACC and getting a bid to the NCAA tournament at the end of the year, the Hokies will have to do it without recent graduates Cara Baarendse, Jennifer Wiker and Morgan O’Neill. Baarendse and Wiker both scored over 1000 points in their careers and O’Neill snagged the fifth spot on Tech’s all-time dig list.
Baarendse, Wiker and O’Neill were also Tech’s starters for serve receive last season. Riley knows that they will be hard to replace, but he’s confident that his team will step up to the plate after they get some experience.
“We have been working on that and we have some good kids,” Riley said. “We have to put them in the line of fire and see how they do.”
Though Tech lost three key members of the team they gained five new freshmen, who all stand at six-foot and taller. Riley says this freshmen class may be the most talented class Tech has ever had.
“We have been patient with the freshmen so far,” Riley said. “They need time to learn, grow and see what they need to do to be successful.”
Of all the freshmen, Lindsey Owens is the most prepared and has stepped up the most. Owens, an outside hitter from Orlando, Fla., was named the MaxPrep Medium Schools National Player of the Year.
The team’s short term goals for this weekend are to get better on serve receive and learn how to handle the pressure of different servers.
“Obviously our ultimate goal is to win,” Riley said. “But I am looking forward to competing at the highest level.”