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PREVIEW: Belmont volleyball going for the ace

New management means a change of pace for the Belmont women’s volleyball team this year. First year head coach Tony Howell is challenging the girls to push themselves in ways they’ve never done before.

Last year, the team finished second in the 2013 conference tournament and were picked to finished third this year, mainly due to losing six standout seniors.

“We lost the great young ladies from last year and they made up a great team, but we’ve come into this year as this is a new year,” said Coach Howell.

The team’s schedule contains some really tough competitors including Wichita State, Virginia Tech and Middle Tennessee. But the team sees it as a way to better prepare for the conference season.

“Those teams are good, strong, competitive teams. On paper, they should be able to beat us pretty handily, but this group is showing a lot of intensity, a lot of energy, a lot of drive and discipline to where they could possibly play against these teams very well,” said Howell.

Howell is challenging the team to take risks and compete at a high level at every practice to prepare them for tough competition.

“Practices are hard. I don’t think anyone leaves here not drenched in sweat,” said senior Alex Martin. “Everybody puts in 100 percent all the time and we’re flying around the gym. It’s amazing cause it’s a lot higher than it was last year, and just everybody feeds off of everybody in a positive way.”

Martin returns for her final season as a Bruin alongside fellow seniors Kelsi Dean and standout Scarlet Gable, and they are already seeing the team blend together better than in past years.

“There’s not a single girl on the team that I’m not comfortable with, that I can’t feel like I can’t talk to on and off the court,” said Gable. “It’s one thing to be playing with somebody because you have to, but it’s like you’re playing not for yourself, but you’re playing for the person next to you because you want to do as well as you can for them, and you want to lift them up.”

The team welcomes five new Bruins to the squad to make up for the huge loss of players from last year. According to the team, so far, so good.

“They are meshing really well. They all bring something different, and it’s fun to see how they interact with us. They have already transformed into really good college players, and there’s not a lag. No one has to pick up their slack,” said Martin.

Thanks to Howell always changing up practice and encouraging the girls to work their hardest, there isn’t any slack coming from anyone.

“Every single practice has been very high intensity, so they have really bought into what we’ve been teaching them,” Howell said.

Howell described his coaching style as aggressive and risk-taking. He wants his players to risk it all to save a point or sacrifice their body to get the ball over the net. Howell said he would rather see his team miss when they take a risk then miss when they play it safe.

“On serving, I want to go for the ace, I don’t want to just get it over and play. I want that point right now,” said Howell.

The team looks to, “go for the ace,” this weekend as they compete in the 2014 Belmont Invitational. Howell is planning to do something a little different this year at the competition in conjunction with his motto of mixing it up.

“We’re going to do three different lineups, which will give every single person on the team an opportunity to get on the floor. We need to see what everybody’s like in an actual competition, not just against each other, so there’s going to be a lot of learning on our part,” said Howell. “We’re looking to be able to maintain our intensity throughout the weekend like we’ve been able to in preseason and increase our aggressive style of play.”

The invitational kicks off tonight at 6:30 p.m. as Belmont takes on Kennesaw State in the Curb Event Center. The Bruins also play Saturday at 9:30 a.m. against Youngstown State and later that night at 6 p.m. against Evansville.

After a two-week long preseason with no outside competition, the team is definitely looking forward to competing against a team other than their own. They’ve been working hard since Aug. 7, and they are more than ready to prove themselves.

“I think our season will definitely be tough this year, but I don’t think it’s anything that we can’t handle. We’ve done a lot of extensive training this preseason, and it’s been a lot of fun. I’m just excited to see where we go,” said Martin.

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