Bulletin Staff Report

The Howard Payne Lady Jackets volleyball program displayed dramatic improvement in head coach Ken Carver’s first season. With only two starters lost from last year’s 9-17 team, the Lady Jackets hope to continue their positive surge in 2007.

HPU’s season begins this weekend with four games at the Oglethorpe University tournament in Atlanta, Ga. The Lady Jackets will face Piedmont and Lynchburg on Saturday and Huntingdon and Oglethorpe on Sunday.

“There is a lot of excitement amongst the team already this season,” Carver said. “The returning players are hungry to build upon the success we experienced last year.”

Seven letter winners and four starters return from last year’s squad, but the Lady Jackets have just one senior on this year’s roster — middle blocker/outside hitter Katie Preuss.

“Just from preseason, I feel we are so much stronger than we were last year,” Preuss said. “We have strong returners leading the freshmen and this has contributed to good overall team chemistry. The new players have shown great work ethic and it feels as if we have all been playing together much longer than two weeks.”

At 5-11, Preuss is one of four players on the roster breaking the 5-10 height barrier. Freshmen outside hitters/middle blockers Megan Pick, Aja Brunner and Jessica Jorgensen also fit into that category. The Lady Jackets had only two players 5-10 or better last year, so the extra height should prove beneficial.

“With the additional height, our blocking strategy is going to be more aggressive and we are going to be a more formidable force at the net,” Carver said.

Also returning at outside hitter are junior Jessica Hutton and sophomores Jane Mattingly and Sydney Bryant.

“With the athleticism and abilities our front row players possess, our offense is going to be even more diverse and a lot of fun to watch,” Carver said.

Setter Patricia Brown is back for her junior season as she will again be in charge of making the offense click.

“Our returning setter is growing more knowledgeable and comfortable in the nuances of our offensive system,” Carver said. “Her confidence continues to grow with each practice and with it, so does our hitters’.”

Defensive specialists will include juniors Ashlee Beeman and Melissa Dennis, along with freshman Rebekah Rivera, who will also see time at middle blocker.

“We’ve been working hard to take our serve reception to another level this season in order to run our offensive system at the speed and tempo it is designed for,” Carver said.

After their trip to Georgia, the Lady Jackets will jump right into the 18-match American Southwest Conference schedule with a Sept. 13 home date against Hardin-Simmons.

The Cowgirls were picked second in the ASC West behind Texas Lutheran in the preseason poll, while Howard Payne — which was 6-12 in ASC action last year — was tabbed to finish sixth. The top three teams from the West will venture to the home of the East champion for the six-team conference championship tournament on Nov. 2-3.

“The team we are looking to be day in and day out, in practice or in matches, is one that is quicker, more dynamic and very enthusiastic,” Carver said. “Last season was just a start. The athleticism and height our new players bring to the table, coupled with the dedication and enthusiasm of the returning players, means we are going to be a whole different team this season. This season should prove to be even more exciting to watch from the stands.”