NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Tennessee State University volleyball team will ditch their practice uniforms for their game uniforms on Friday when they travel to Fayetteville for the Arkansas Invitational.
The Tigers will face the Razorbacks on Friday night at 7:00 p.m. to open the season and will then play Michigan and Stephen F. Austin on Saturday. The game against the Wolverines will be at 1:00 p.m. with the Ladyjacks game following at 4:30 p.m.
TSU begins the year with high hopes and great expectations of what they can accomplish. Returning this year is senior Naomi Wells, who is third in program history in kills, and sophomore Arijana Anderson, who was named to the Ohio Valley Conference All-Newcomers team last season and named to the preseason all-OVC team this year.
The front line will be strong this season with Wells and Anderson joined by senior Taylor Swayzer, transfer junior Haley Hampton, and freshman Carla Grayson. The coaches have been very high on both Swayzer and Hampton, lauding their athletic ability and competitive attitudes. Grayson will add height and blocking ability to the front line. Another transfer, sophomore Neisha Crockett, will add to a deep pool of talent up front.
Hampton joins Swayzer, Wells, and senior libero Ileanushka Maldonado as team captains.
Maldonado leads a defense with experience. She will be the libero in a back line full of match hardened players in senior Jaime Cooper and transfer junior Madison Halterman. Maldonado and Cooper were mainstays in the rotation a year ago, and Halterman was voted MVP of her team at Iowa Western CC after finishing second in the NJCAA in digs (713). Freshman Ariel Manuel will look to kick her Tiger career off strong this year.
A key point in the success of the 2014 team will be how they replace graduated setter Erika Moss. A battery of sophomore Taylor Patterson and freshman Samantha Beltran will attempt to replace the production of TSU’s all-time leader in assists. The coaches are optimistic about their chances at making this a smooth transition. Both have had a strong camp and looked poised for a strong campaign.
The Tigers will be tested early as this tournament boasts two top-50 RPI teams in Arkansas (44) and Michigan (33). Stephen F. Austin also finished last year with a 16-16 record and have two players on their team that were voted to the preseason All-Southland team.
Arkansas finished with a 16-14 record in 2013 and boast All-SEC player Meredith Hays on this year’s squad. The Razorbacks held a 9-6 record at home with a 5-3 mark in home, non-conference matches. Four of those wins came in straight sets.
The Wolverines were 18-14 overall in 2013 but struggled to a 8-12 record in Big Ten play. They had five neutral site matches last year, winning three of them. This year they have a preseason All-Big Ten player in Lexi Dannemiller and are picked to finish 8th in the conference.
The games against the Razorbacks and Wolverines will be the first ever for the Tigers.
They will play Stephen F. Austin for the second time in program history. TSU fell to the Ladyjacks in 2006. SFA is picked to finish fifth in the Southland Conference this year and have two players on the All-SLC preseason team. The Ladyjacks had a 5-3 record in neutral site games last season.
The Tigers first game against the Razorbacks can be seen on ESPN3.com at 7:00 p.m. The other two games on Saturday will be available through audio broadcast at TSUTigers.com.
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