Following a program best 27 wins and an appearance in the ASUN Volleyball Championship Final last season, the FGCU volleyball team kicks off the 2017-18 campaign on Friday against FIU.
Marking a program best 27-6 record last season, head coach Matt Botsford stressed that the Eagles record-setting achievement brings momentum that can be carried into this season and can eventually help them reach new heights as a program.
“We’d like to ride as much of that momentum as we can of course,” Botsford said. “Specific goals for us this year and every year is going to be the same is to win a conference championship and to represent our conference in the NCAA tournament. “We’ve come very close over the last few years but we still haven’t quite gotten there so we cheer that’s what’s going to push us and motive us.”
Riding a 15-game win streak throughout a big chunk of its non-conference schedule, FGCU made it back to its first ever ASUN Volleyball Championship final since 2009, falling to Lipscomb 3-1 and coming short off an NCAA Tournament berth.
While each season brings new heights and victories, each season includes its series of losses on and off the court. Despite regaining Ciara DeBell following a season-ending ACL injury, the Eagles lost graduates Leigh Pudwill and Marlene Moeller.
Pudwill appeared in all 33 games for the Eagles last season and finished second on the team in kills, with 329, and points per set, with 3.25. Moeller was one of three Eagles to start all 33 games last year and lead the time in hitting percentage with .315.
With the tandem of Pudwill and Moeller holding down the right side, Botsford has taken advantage of preseason to see how deep his squad can go in fulfilling the shoes of the former Eagles.
“We lost two pretty good contributors in Leigh (Pudwill) and Marlene (Moeller) so the right side position and that second middle position is going to be really important,” Botsford said. “We’ve spent a lot of this preseason trying to determine who gives us the best option in those spots and the reality is there’s a couple different people we can play in those roles so our depth is going to be a big advantage for us. From a coaching perspective it’s our ability to find the right pieces and put them in that puzzle but those are the two spots that we’ve really got to prioritize.”
With their 2017 schedule including two NCAA tournament teams, three Power Five units and four RPI top 100 programs from last season, the Eagles will open up their season by hosting back-to-back tournaments.
Following the FGCU Hilton Garden Inn Invitational, where the Eagles will face Georgia Southern, FIU and IUPUI, FGCU will host the newfound Homewood Suites Sunshine State Classic where they will face in-state foes FAU, UCF and Miami.
“This year we’re facing harder competition then we’ve ever faced before,” Carroll said. “Coming from out of state being able to play teams like Miami and UCF is really exciting for me and I know the girls that are from Florida are also really excited to play those teams. It will be a great opportunity for us.”
Finishing third in conference play with an 11-3 record, the Eagles kick off conference play against Stetson on Sept 23. The Eagles will kick off their quest for an ASUN Volleyball Championship crown on Friday when they take on FIU at Alico Arena at 7 p.m.
“I think that we’re expecting to do really big things this year,” Carroll said. “We have a lot of new skill coming in, we got a lot of good players coming in and a lot of good returners so I think as a team overall we should be pretty strong. We’re confident and we’ve got some good stuff coming.”
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