UNA Volleyball looks to exceed conference expectations

The UNA volleyball team was voted third in the 2015 Preseason GSC Coaches’ Poll. This is coming off a 2014 season where the Lions finished 20-12 overall and were runners-up in the GSC tournament.

On paper the Lions look young, but the experience level is there. UNA has two starters coming back, but between the other returnees many of them have logged significant playing time. This gives head coach Stephanie Radecki plenty of options when she starts filling out a lineup in September.

“I think everything’s up in the air right now,” Radecki said. “I don’t have a set lineup in my head. We have 16 players on our roster and I think they’re all going to be fighting for a position to play. I think that’s exciting and it’s always good to have depth.”

There are a few core players that Radecki will have to rely on for the Lions to be successful. One of those players is sophomore libero Ashtyn Kapovich, who was 2014 GSC Freshman of the Year and was named to the 2015 Preseason All-GSC Team.

“I do think we’ll have to depend on Ashtyn to play well,” Radecki said. “She did a lot of good things for us last year as a freshman and hopefully we’ll see that again from her.”

Another player the Lions will be looking to this season is junior outside hitter Natasha Fomina. Fomina was second on the team in kills and kills per set last season and will be one of the key offensive threats for the Lions.

“My main goal is to lead by example for everyone and just do everything I can to help us win conference,” she said. “I want to be the best player I can personally be and just do my best every day in practice.”

The only senior on the team is setter Andrea De Leon. She led the GSC in assists per set last season and a similar performance is expected of her.

“Last year I think Andrea led the conference in assists per set and was the best setter in the conference last year,” said Radecki. “We expect her to be the best setter in the conference again this year or at least compete for that role.”

Two sophomores Radecki mentioned as important to the overall success of the team were outside hitter Lexie Bradley and middle hitter Jessica Austin, but Radecki said one player stood out to her as someone that could make an impact.

“I think Peyton Lang is one that we expect could be a breakout player,” she said. “Seeing what she’s done physically — how she looks, how she’s been training — I could see her breakout into that role where we imagined her last year and she’ll do that for us.”

This offseason UNA added five new players to the team including four freshmen and a transfer. The transfer, Kristina Headrick, will redshirt this season but the four freshmen could see playing time right away.

“Madison Ruble is a middle (hitter) so we definitely need someone to fill that role,” Radecki said. “Also I think Ava Carnley will step in for us in a defensive role so we’re really excited about her.”

The GSC is a tough conference for volleyball — seven of the 11 teams were .500 or better in conference last season — but the Lions are on a mission.

“I have high expectations for the team this year,” said De Leon. “I feel really good about this team and my expectations are high and we’re not going to accept anything less than a conference championship.”

UNA will start the season off at the Tony Banner Invitational in Pennsylvania before debuting at home Sept. 11 against Kentucky Wesleyan.