Photo: Junior Lexi Sullivan conducts an interview Friday with NAU TV videographer Erik Sather.
FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. – After losing just one player to graduation and returning a combined nine juniors and seniors, the veteran NAU volleyball team began practice this week with high hopes for the 2011 campaign. Despite finishing seventh in the Big Sky in each of the last three seasons, and being picked to finish seventh again this year in the preseason conference poll, the coaches and student athletes feel that the team is ready to ascend the Big Sky table.
"We're a lot deeper than we have been since I got here," said fourth year head coach Craig Choate. "Its nice having good upper classmen who can be role models and help the freshmen learn faster. You can't compete at the Division-I level without upperclassmen, so this is the year that I expect to see a dramatic change in our program."
Among the biggest improvements that Choate has seen early in practice has been the depth of his team, as he sees competitive battles at every position on the floor. The team is also deep enough for both sides of the net to be equal in ability, allowing for competitive play in practice. Training has mostly consisted of blocking, setting and hitting drills thus far while trying to increase the tempo of the offense.
"So far this has been our strongest preseason since I've been here," said junior libero and team captain Anna Gott. "I think that we have all of the pieces and now we just need to put the puzzle together. We definitely think that this is our year to break through and get to the Big Sky Championship."
With two practices every weekday until the team opens its season on August 26 at the Wolverine Invitational in Orem, Utah, the focus will be on getting the returners and the talented freshman class in sync and fine tuning plays and positioning. The team is ready to turn some heads in the preseason and enter Big Sky play with confidence.
"The potential is obvious," added Choate. "The girls can see that we are a good program and now we just have to live up to it."