MOREHEAD, Ky. -- The Morehead State volleyball team opens its 2012 schedule this weekend when its faces a trio of nationally-ranked opponents at the Active Ankle Challenge at Louisville's KFC Yum! Center.
The Eagles kick off the schedule against five-time national champion Penn State at 5 p.m. ET Friday. The Nittany Lions are ranked No. 5 in the preseason American Volleyball Coaches Association poll. MSU continues Saturday with an 11 a.m. ET match against No. 31 Louisville and concludes Saturday evening at 5 p.m. ET against No. 34 Western Kentucky.
The Eagles were picked to repeat as Ohio Valley Conference champions this year in a vote by the league’s head coaches and media relations personnel ... MSU made its first NCAA Tournament appearance last season, facing No. 5 Purdue in the opening round ... Seniors Ellie Roberson and Caitlin Clark, juniors Aryn Bohannon and Leslie Schellhaas and sophomore Laura McDermott were named to the Preseason All-OVC Team ... McDermott was named the 2011 OVC Freshman of the Year ... Head Coach Jaime Gordon is in his 10th season with the Eagles and has led MSU to five OVC regular season titles, one tournament championship and 175 victories ... MSU enters the 2012 season with six consecutive 20-win seasons ... Schellhaas set the school single-season dig record last year with 641 ... Roberson led all OVC player with 440 kills in 2011 ... The Eagles led the league in hitting percentage, hitting percentage defense, assists, kills and aces last year ... MSU is 36-2 in OVC matches the last two seasons.
The Eagles return eight letterwinners, including All-OVC and AVCA All-Region setter Caitlin Clark. In her junior season, Clark led the conference with 11.4 assists per set. Sophomore Laura McDermott ranked sixth in the league in blocks and became MSU’s fourth-ever recipient of the OVC Freshman of the Year Award. She was also named to the OVC All-Newcomer Team. Senior Ellie Roberson earned All-OVC status after topping the conference in kills. Sophomore setter Colbey Cameron, junior outside hitter Aryn Bohannon, junior defensive specialists Leslie Schellhaas and Lindsey Roth and senior middle blocker Annie Gruenschlaeger are also back in the mix.
The Eagles added three newcomers this season in freshmen middle blocker Hannah Sigala and outside hitter Courtney Smith and junior middle blocker Alex Fitzmorris, a middle blocker. A native of Liberty Township, Ohio, Sigala was named to the Under Armor All-American Watch List. Smith led Greenwood High School in Bowling Green, Ky., to a 2011 state championship. Fitzmorris, who will sit out due to the NCAA transfer rule, played her freshman season at Arkansas before suiting up last season at Boston College.
Scouting the Competition
• Penn State -- Five-time national champion Penn State returns a pair of AVCA All-Americans in 2012 after posting a 28-6 record in 2011. Junior Deja McClendon was a First-Team All-American, while fellow junior Ariel Scott earned a Third-Team All-American accolade. Head Coach Russ Rose, the NCAA leader in career winning percentage having won more than 86 percent of HIS matches, is in his 32nd season at PSU.
Series: PSU leads 1-0
• Louisville -- The preseason favorite in the Big East Conference, Louisville was 24-9 in 2011 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament second round. Senior Lola Arslanbekova returns after nailing a team-high 576 kills last year. Former U of L player Anne Kordes is in her second year as head coach.
Series: U of L leads 24-21
• Western Kentucky -- The Hilltoppers were 31-4 in 2011 and participated in the NCAA Tournament. Senior Jordyn Skinner, the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year, is the leading returning offensive threat, having knocked down 454 kills last year. Travis Hudson is in his 18th year as head coach.
Series: WKU leads 9-7
Morehead State has a long tradition of excellence on the court and in the classroom. MSU leads all OVC programs with 656 victories and 295 league wins. MSU also owns 10 OVC titles, the most of any league school, and has boasted five OVC Players of the Year and three All-Americans. Academically, the program has claimed five straight OVC and AVCA Team Academic Awards and has had 17 academic medals of honor and three Academic All-Americans.
The Eagles return to Morehead for their home opener on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET against Xavier.