ANDERSON, S.C. – After winning the first regular-season conference title in program history and setting a school record with 28 wins last season, the Anderson University volleyball team will play eight matches against five teams that advanced to the NCAA postseason a year ago, as the Trojans announced their 2018 schedule on Wednesday.
The Trojans posted a 19-1 South Atlantic Conference mark and advanced to the semifinals of the NCAA Southeast Region Tournament, and for an encore, reigning conference Coach of the Year Todd Hay has assembled a slate for the Black and Gold that will feature 30 contests, including a dozen true road matches, seven contests at neutral sites and 11 matches in the friendly confines of the Abney Athletic Center.
In addition to the grueling 20-match South Atlantic Conference slate, Anderson's non-conference schedule is evenly split with four matchups each against opponents from the Conference Carolinas and the Peach Belt Conference, along with one opponent each from the Great Lakes Valley Conference and the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association.
Following a pair of preseason scrimmage dates, the Trojans open the campaign with a nine-match road swing, including back-to-back tournaments in the Palmetto State and the Tar Heel State. Following a pair of preseason scrimmage dates in mid-August, Anderson will open the season on Aug. 24 by squaring off against Indianapolis in the first-ever meeting between the two programs at the Coker/Francis Marion Tournament in Florence, S.C. The Greyhounds lost in the first round of the Great Lakes Valley Conference (GLVC) Tournament to nationally third-ranked and 10-time defending conference champion Lewis in UIndy's 18th consecutive trip to postseason play.
AU then faces a pair of Peach Belt Conference foes in two of their final three matches of the two-day event, as the Black and Gold will meet co-host FMU, which went 9-18 a season ago and fell to Georgia College in the quarterfinals of the PBC Tournament. A day later, the Trojans square off against Virginia Union in just the second meeting between the two programs since 2004. The Panthers were 15-11 last season and fell in the opening round of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA). AU closes out the two-day event by squaring off against UNC Pembroke in Hartsville. The Braves were 7-26 overall a year ago, but were unable to capture a win in 12 regular-season conference matches and fell to USCA in opening round of PBC Tournament.
"It's a tough schedule," said Hay, who's entering his second year at the helm of the program. "We are starting the year of with four good matches. UIndy will be a good first test for us. The GLVC is a good league and they have a strong history and tradition of winning at UIndy."
In just the second meeting since the 2012 campaign, AU opens the Queens Fall Classic a week later against Augusta, which posted an 18-15 mark last season and lost to eventual NCAA Southeast Region Champion Flagler in the PBC Tournament semifinals. The Trojans will also face Georgia College in Charlotte, with the Bobcats looking to build on their record-breaking 2017 season, as they went 25-8 a year ago before falling to second-seeded Wingate in the NCAA Southeast Regional. Peach Belt Coach of the Year Gretchen Krumdieck will return the PBC Setter of the Year in Kayla Brockway after setting a school record for wins and picking up GC's first NCAA Tournament win.
Less than 24 hours later, AU wraps up the Classic against a pair of Conference Carolinas squads in Barton and Converse. The Bulldogs won 20 of their final 22 matches last season and claimed the 2017 Conference Carolinas title, while finishing the campaign with a 23-8 record after falling to top-seeded Flagler in last season's NCAA Tournament.
"We will see some really good crossover in-region matches," added Hay. "Last year the Augusta got away from us a little. Georgia College returns a lot from last year and will be even stronger than they were last year. We got to see Barton in the NCAA Tournament last year – they run a quick offense and are a very aggressive, go-for-broke type of team. Coach Bomar does a great job at Converse and they should be improved from last year."
"With our nonconference schedule, we have good challenging crossover matches early, along with a good out-of-region test in UIndy," noted Hay. "It should be a good test. Hopefully in that two weeks of the heavier nonconference portion, we can see a lot of players get some playing time so we can figure out where we're at going into the conference portion of the schedule. We've scheduled opponents with a variety of strength we can try some different things. Hopefully the kids can show you what they can do in a real-match situation."
The Trojans close out the season-opening road swing and opens South Atlantic Conference action by traveling to Mars Hill on Sept. 4, and will be seeking their fourth straight win past the Lions.
AU opens its home slate with a tri-match featuring Coker (14-17, 7-13 SAC) and longtime archrival Erskine (2-23, 1-14 CC) on Friday, Sept. 7. The Trojans will be looking to continue their recent success against both squads after having defeated the Cobras in their last 17 meetings and have swept the Fleet in four of their last seven meetings. The Flying Fleet will be looking to bounce back from an uncharacteristic 2-23 record after winning the Conference Carolinas South Division two seasons ago.
"Lincoln Memorial, Coker and Mars Hill are the three teams in the SAC that tend to have biggest opportunity for improvement over last season," noted Hay. "They have a real legitimate shot at being among the top four in the league. [All three teams] are going to be much improved."
The Trojans conclude non-conference action on the road at Emmanuel in just the third meeting in program history between the two schools, with the Lions are coming off the most successful campaign in school history after wrapping up the 2017 season at the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) National Tournament with a 20-13 overall record.
AU gets back in league action on the road against Lenoir-Rhyne, which dropped its final six contests and failed to advance to the conference tournament for the first time since the 2010 campaign. Bear's head coach Dave Markland, in his 16th season in Hickory, expects to return senior setter Bailey Cloninger, who missed several contests last season due to an injury, along with reigning SAC freshman of the year Taylor Prall. Nine of the 19 contests between the two teams have gone the full five-set distance.
The Trojans return to the Abney Athletic Center to play host to Carson-Newman on Sept. 15 in a brief one-match homestand and will be seeking to avenge a five-set loss suffered at the hands of the Lady Eagles in the 2017 SAC Tournament semifinals before traveling to Newberry and squaring off against first-year head coach Ross Kessler's Wolves. AU has won two straight over Newberry and nine of the last 10 meetings.
Three days later, AU returns to the Electric City to face Tusculum, which finished fifth in the SAC last season with a 15-16 overall mark and a 10-10 league record, with Lincoln Memorial (13-13, 8-12 SAC) visiting the Abney center on Sept. 22. The Lady Railsplitters are looking to return to the NCAA tournament for the second time in three seasons after winning a school-record 25 matches and after making an appearance in 2016.
The Trojans then go on the road to face perennial regional powerhouse Wingate (Sept. 29) and Coker a day later for the second time in three weeks. The Bulldogs had claimed the SAC regular-season title for 11 consecutive seasons before AU won last year's championship. Wingate has claimed 10 conference tournament titles in the last 12 seasons, with Queens winning the 2017 title and Lenoir-Rhyne claiming the 2015 championship tilt at the Abney Athletic Center. The Bulldogs finished 27-4 last season after advancing to the NCAA Southeast Regional for the 13th straight year.
"Lenoir-Rhyne was really tough for us last season and Coach Markland always has his teams ready to play," added Hay. "Wingate will probably be the preseason No. 1 pick again – and deservedly so. But if you don't pick Wingate, you have to pick Carson-Newman. Outside of Wingate, they will be the team to beat."
AU opens its longest homestand of the season by squaring off against Lenoir-Rhyne (Oct. 2) for the second time before matching up with Catawba (Oct. 5), Queens (Oct. 6) and Mars Hill (Oct. 9). The Royals are the defending SAC Tournament Champions and advanced to the NCAA Southeast Regional for the second straight year before falling to the Trojans for the third time of the season and finished the campaign with a 23-8 record.
The Trojans continue the second half of the conference schedule at Carson-Newman (Oct. 12), then play host to Newberry in mid-October before traveling to Tusculum and Lincoln Memorial (Oct.19-20). Following a five-day layoff, Wingate visits the Abney Center for Senior Night on Oct. 26 and the Black and Gold wrap up the regular season with a road swing to Catawba (Nov. 2) and Queens (Nov. 3).
"Queens should be in contention since they return all of their key players except for [all-region setter] Sydney Kunz," Hay added. "They are always tough to beat at the Levine Center and they play with a lot of confidence. Catawba was a very young team last year and I expect them to be much stronger this year with an additional year under their belt."
The 2018 South Atlantic Conference Championship will feature the top eight teams in the league squaring off on Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the home sites of the four top seeds, with the tournament semifinals and championship slated to be held on Friday and Saturday, Nov. 9-10, at Coker.