Written by Sean Dahlin
BUENA VISTA, Va.—The Southern Virginia women's volleyball team is optimistic for the upcoming 2012 season with seven scholar-athletes returning from last year's squad that placed third at the USCAA national tournament.
Earlier this summer, Michael Harmon was selected to replace Michelle Mahaffey to the post of women's volleyball head coach for the Knights, serving as the program's fourth head coach in four years.
In her one season as head coach, Mahaffey led the 2011 squad to a 21-12 overall record and third-place finish at the USCAA National Tournament.
"Michelle [Mahaffey] laid a solid foundation last year for Southern Virginia volleyball," said Harmon. "I just hope to build off that and continue to maintain that success."
Harmon is returning to the women's volleyball head coaching position after a five-year hiatus from the program−he is also in his 14th season as Southern Virginia's head women's basketball coach. In his first stint as women's volleyball head coach (1998-2006), Harmon led the Knights to a 197-112 record making him the program's all-time winningest coach.
The Knights are looking to return to contention for the USCAA national title in 2012 after having finished third-place in the USCAA National Tournament five of the last seven years while not qualifying for the tournament in 2006 and 2010. The two times Southern Virginia has won a women's volleyball USCAA national championship were in 2002 and 2004 under Harmon's helm.
As the fourth head coach in four years, Harmon will have the difficult task of implementing his style-of-play while also working with seven returners and seven fresh faces to all get on the same page.
The 2012 schedule is good preparation for Southern Virginia's transition into the NCAA Division III as all but three contests are against NCAA Division III opponents−University of Virginia at Wise (NAIA), Concord University (NCAA DII) and West Virginia Tech University (USCAA) are the three non-NCAA DIII opponents on the schedule.
"We have a schedule in 2012 that will challenge us," said Harmon. "We'll play hard but we'll also make mistakes, and the success of our season will depend on how quickly we learn from and fix those mistakes."
The Knights will be led this season by junior team captains outside hitter Shyanne Ison (Mt. Pleasant, Utah), middle blocker Tori Tuttle (Kauai, Hawaii) and defensive specialist Callie Woolston (Bountiful, Utah).
Coach Harmon will look to Tuttle to have her best season in 2012 as the 2011 USCAA All-American, who led the Knights last season with 82 blocks and was third on Southern Virginia's team in kills (167) and kills per game (2.14) in 26 matches, will be an opposing force in the middle of the court.
Senior middle blocker Kelsey Beck (Idaho Falls, Idaho) will be alongside Tuttle to solidify the middle of the court. Ison, who led the team in digs last season with 345, will provide experience and leadership as outside hitter while a sophomore Larissa Conger (Merino, Colo.), incoming junior transfer Amanda Firth (Preston, Idaho) and new freshmen Sydney Goggia (Soldotna, Ala.), Chelsea Lyons (McCallen, Texas) and Shannon Romito (Walker, La.) will look for playing time at the outside hitter and right side positions.
"There's going to be a battle for playing time at the outside hitter and right side positions on the front line," said Harmon. "With a new system in place, it will be interesting to see how the battle turns out."
Lyons and fellow Katelynn Tlustek (Bedford, Ind.)−who hails from the same city as two-time USCAA All-American Brynn McGinn−will gain experience as freshmen with Coach Harmon looking for them to take charge of setting duties for the team.
No different than on the front line, there will be stiff competition for time on the court in the back row with returning juniors Jordan Geist (Jerome, Idaho) and Woolston, sophomores Meghan Holmes (Holliston, Mass.) and Morgan Neese (Sanford, Colo.) along with incoming freshman Allison Nielsen (Herriman, Utah) in the mix.
"After being away for five years from coaching volleyball, I am excited to coach this corps of hard workers and expect to make a run for the USCAA National Tournament."
Women's volleyball opens its season Friday, Sept. 7-8 as the Knights will compete in a tournament at Washington and Lee University competing first on Friday against Johns Hopkins University at 5 p.m. and Lynchburg College at 7:30 pm.