HIGH POINT, N.C. – The High Point University volleyball team enters the 2015 season with depth, versatility and a chance to win a conference title on its home floor.
“The depth of the team is our strength,” head coach Jason Oliver said of his 15-player roster than includes nine Panthers that return after seeing action in at least 20 matches in 2014.
“We have good volleyball players at every position. Because of that every day, every practice – even with three in one day during the preseason – has been intense and high-energy with a high level of execution. We’ve had pretty good depth at some spots in the past, but we’ve never had this much depth.”
The roster is spread out equally from all four classes as the roster includes three seniors, three juniors and four sophomores and five freshmen. The trio of seniors – Annemarie Chin, Wavie Chin and Gabi Mirand – will be looked upon to provide leadership as Oliver’s program has undergone some changes in the offseason.
“We have restructured our leadership standards and readdressed the program as a whole,” Oliver explained. “We’ve revamped what responsibilities are for each class and what leadership roles changes as the student-athletes get older.”
Those alterations weren’t only of the off-court variety as the Purple & White has put an emphasis on getting better defensively this offseason.
“The main initiative is to play better defense and be dedicated to a defensive mindset,” Oliver said. “The team has shown a lot of resiliency to the type of toughness it takes to be a good defender. As a team we are buying into this system.”
Fortunately for Oliver and assistant coach Jake Hong, they have seniors at key defensive positions that have embraced the new challenge.
“We’ve put more of an emphasis on defense this preseason and the fact that the seniors are really good at it helps that mentality trickle down to everyone else,” Oliver continued. “The younger players see how good the seniors are at it and they see the effort the seniors put into it. Annemarie and Wavie set the tone for the type of toughness that we will need throughout the season. Obviously having seniors in those positions and not freshmen makes it easier to make our defensive mindset an initiative.”
Along with the focus on getting better defensively, the coaching staff is looking to see who earns starting roles as the season heats up. With the amount of talent on the squad, Oliver sees the competition in practice as a positive that is strengthening the team’s versatility.
“I think the depth will only pay dividends and never a hindrance in the end,” Oliver said. “Versatility within all the positions is huge. We can switch out of certain offensive systems and into another depending on how we match up with who we are playing.”
While the seniors are steering the ship, it’s the freshmen class that the coaching staff sees as a big part of the driving force.
“We have five freshmen who can play and because of that everyone has to step up,” Oliver said. “It’s good to see us integrate five young players and reestablish the type of mentality it takes to win a championship.”
Despite earning Big South Freshman of the Year in 2013, junior Savannah Angel is competing with freshmen Jordan Hefner and Molly Livingston at the middle blocker spot. Meanwhile, 2014 all-freshmen team members Camryn Freiberg and Haley Barnes are battling with freshmen Katie Tylman and Abby Broadstreet at right side and outside hitter, respectively.
Junior Megan Kennedy also is in the fight for time at outside hitter while junior Greta Griswold and sophomore Amy Pilat are pushing the Chin sisters in the back row. Likewise, sophomore Carly Jimenez and Mirand are neck-and-neck at the setter spot.
But once again, the competition is all by design and gives the coaching staff even more options.
“All of the position battles are going to play out as the season goes on,” Oliver explained. “We are going to find out which 7-to-10 student-athletes give us the best chance to win and compete for championships and go from there.”
A championship is always the goal for the program and this season is no different. However, the fact that the Millis Center will be the home of the Big South tournament adds fuel to the fire.
“We have a great opportunity to host the conference tournament and that’s been our focus all year long,” Oliver said. “Every team in the Big South wants to get to the tournament in November and show well in it. We are not only excited to host the tournament, but to have the chance hoist the trophy at the end of the year.”