Volleyball earns pre-season pick

North Alabama Volleyball will be the team to beat for conference opponents after being picked as the preseason favorite to win the Gulf South Conference.

The two-time defending GSC champions return 11 players including four starters from a team that won its league leading 18 GSC titles. After finishing 29-6 and advancing to the NCAA South Regional, the Lions will have to continue the success from the 2016 season.

Head coach Stephanie Radecki said she liked being picked to win the GSC title, and it is something that honors the program.

“I don’t feel like (winning the GSC) adds pressure,” Radecki said. “Any pressure we have to be successful has always been because it is our program’s expectation to compete for the GSC Championship every year. Being picked by the coaches as the preseason favorite is a huge honor. It shows respect that I feel the program has earned.”

Senior leader Lexie Bradley said there is extra pressure, but it is good for the team.

“Teams always play their top game against you when you’re GSC champs,” Bradley said. “But we wouldn’t have it any other way.”

After losing All-American Natasha Fomina from last year’s team, the Lions return senior leaders and preseason All-GSC selections Jessica Austin, Ashtyn Kapovich and Bradley. UNA placed a conference-high three players to the first team All-GSC team.

Austin was a second team All-GSC selection last season and the 2015 MVP of the GSC tournament. Kapovich earned first team honors and was named 2014 GSC Freshman of the Year. Kapovich was named to the second team last season, as well. Bradley was selected to the first team last season and the second team in 2015.

The Lions earned the voters trust as they picked UNA to win the GSC by a slim margin over West Florida. UNA earned 141 points to West Florida’s 136 points. The Lions also earned nine first place votes, and the Argos received four first place votes.

Shorter, Valdosta State and Christian Brothers were the other three teams to finish the top five in the preseason GSC rankings.

Bradley wants to help the team as a leader throughout her senior season and lead the Lions back to another GSC championship.

“I plan to take a bigger role by just playing the same game I’ve always played,” Bradley said. “I, along with my team, have worked very hard this past year improving all aspects of my game. I think being a good leader and showing by example will help more than anything.”

The Lions open up with a two-day trip at the Hampton Inn-vitational in Pensacola, Fla. The Lions will play four matches against Southwest Minnesota, Southern Indiana, Wheeling Jesuit and South Carolina-Aiken on the West Florida campus starting Sept. 1.