OVC Tournament loss fuels Racers

Chalice Keith/The NewsChalice Keith/The News

Story by Sarah Combs, Assistant Sports Editor

The women’s volleyball team is preparing for another successful season, but gearing up with a different lineup for the first time in two years.

Head Coach David Schwepker and Assistant Coach Becca Lamb are preparing for the 2016 season with a different approach from. The back-to-back regular season OVC Champions had an early start last year, returning all of their players and gaining a head start on the rest of the conference. This year the Racers lost four seniors and are welcoming four freshmen. The team’s nonconference tournament schedule will give the team time to establish their dynamic but less time to assert dominance.

“It’s a huge adjustment,” Schwepker said. “Last year was the first year in my history of coaching that we didn’t lose anyone from the year before. And we won the year before so you get the entire team back.”

Schwepker said the dynamics of the team at the beginning of this season is different than the dynamics of last year’s team.

“Last year, we were ready at the beginning. When other teams were trying to figure their stuff out we were playing and winning. This year, we will be one of those teams trying to figure it out,” Schwepker said. “We are still going to be good. That’s what we have these preseason tournaments for, so we can be successful in the OVC.”

The Racers will compete in the Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne Invitational, The Oregon Classic, Butler Classic and the Billiken Invitational. All of their non-conference games will be on the road so their first home game in the Racer Arena will also be their OVC season opener. The Racers decided to not host a tournament due to potential costs of doing so. Schwepker said he isn’t concerned about not playing at home early in the season and is confident in his team.

“I think they will be ready,” he said. “We do this every year. We are very, very late all the time. They are just excited when they finally get to play at home, so I think they are really pumped up.”

Schwepker doesn’t set a limit on his team’s winning mentality. Instead, he expects them to compete with the mindset only to win, not to win a certain match.

“The expectation is to win,” he said. “We don’t set expectations to win the conference. If that’s the goal, then where does the goal stop? Every match we play we are supposed to win.”

Schwepker said  the mix of the new and returning players should make for a good team.

“I think there will be a lot of hesitancies,” he said. “Losing those (seniors) people will cause the younger girls to be hesitant. Losing the way we did to Belmont in the end; for the girls that are returning, are fired up. They will remember that situation from last year.”

The leadership will change for the Racers after losing setter Sam Bedard. Schwepker said he expects new leadership from senior outside hitter Scottie Ingram. The Racers face losing several key positions; starting setter, starting middle, starting outside and the seventh man off the bench who played the outside.  Only one player reaches above six feet for the Racers, but that hasn’t changed much from previous years.

“The type of players are still the same type, as in we are still a small team,” he said. “We are athletic, high-jumping and hard-hitting players.”

Ingram, from Solsberry, Indiana, plans to lead the younger team through the tournaments and develop as a team in order to advance further than last year.

“We are leading by example,” Ingram said. “Maybe they will follow in our footsteps and realize that this is our last year and that we want them to play for us, we want to play for them and want everybody to play for each other.”

Freshman outside hitter Rachel Giustino from Algonquin, Illinois, is part of the Junior Volleyball Association’s All-National Team and was named one of the top 20 club volleyball players in the country. Giustino is one of four freshmen who will wear a Racer jersey and compete for a third straight OVC Title.

“We lost some key positions, but we’re filling them fairly good right now,” Ingram said. “We will see in the real game how we can fill those positions. Hopefully we can come out and show them that we deserve to be in the top spot and we’re gonna fight and push and show everyone that we’re gonna come back for more than we got last year.”

The Racers are preparing for their first OVC matchup with UT Martin at 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at Racer Arena.