BRISTOL, Tenn. – The preseason hasn't gone as planned for the King University women's volleyball team, but head coach Chris Toomey's squad has fought through the adversity of not being able to practice on campus for a week, and is ready to kick off the 2013 season. The Tornado return nearly everyone from a squad that finished third in the Conference Carolinas West Division, leaving expectations high for 2013.
A season ago, the Tornado had one of the most potent offenses in Conference Carolinas, ranking in the top half of the league in kills (2nd), kills per set (4th), hitting percentage (4th), assists (2nd) and assists per set (4th). King finished with a 16-16 overall record while going 9-7 in league play, finishing third in the west division and fifth overall in Conference Carolinas.
Conference Carolinas Defensive Player of the Year, Payton Tipton headlines a solid group of returners for Toomey. The junior from Cleveland, Tenn., was also named second team all-conference after leading the Tornado, and ranking third in the league with 454 digs (3.95 digs per set) to anchor the King defense. Fellow junior, and Jonesborough, Tenn., native Brooke Calhoun will compete with Tipton for time in the back row after ranking second in the team with 253 digs a season ago.
"Payton is certainly a leader on our team, both as captain off the court and on the court just in her play," Toomey said. "Payton is one of those players that are so consistent, you always know what to expect from her, and she's always going to step up and perform. She was honored last year as defensive player of the year, and very deservingly so, she's excellent."
"But we have other players that are stepping up at the position too, Brooke Calhoun returns, she was a starter for us last year, just exceptional in the back row, as well as Casey Williams and Maribeth Kern who both played in a defensive role last year," Toomey continued. "Defense is such a big part of the game, and knowing that we have a group back there, that is not only veteran, but they have a lot of grit and have a love for that position, I think that we're going to be really strong in the backcourt."
Offensively, the Tornado return two all-conference selections, outside hitter Summer Kremer and setter Olivia Underwood. Kremer earned second team all-conference honors after leading Conference Carolinas with 448 kills, and ranking second with a kills per set average of 3.70 in 2012. The junior from Mills River, N.C., also posted an attack percentage of .223, ranking her third on the team. Underwood hails from Pearland, Texas, and was named third team all-conference after dishing out 931 assists in her freshman season, ranking fourth in the league. Her assists per set average of 8.46 also ranked fourth in the league. Senior Mariah Herington should add a nice compliment on the right side as she ranked third on the team a season ago with 195 kills. The Jonesborough, Tenn., native added 38 total blocks, 12 solo last year.
Fellow senior, Kelsey Griffitts, along with sophomore Grace Underwood both return in the middle for the Tornado. Griffitts, a native of Bristol, Va., led King with 73 total blocks, including 19 solo stuffs while Underwood, a sophomore from Pearland, Texas ranked second on the team with 67 total blocks and 220 kills from the middle.
The Tornado were selected to finish second in the Conference Carolinas Preseason Coaches' Poll with 68 points and three first place votes. Belmont Abbey College was picked first with 79 points, and received the final seven first place votes while Erskine College was selected third with 65 points.
King opens the 2013 campaign on September 6 and 7 at the University of West Georgia Tournament where the Tornado will play four matches. The following weekend, the Tornado host the King University Invitational which will take place on September 13 and 14 in the Student Center Complex. King opens Conference Carolinas play on September 20 when they host Belmont Abbey College.