By Jared Fields, Sports Editor
This weekend, most students will celebrate the end of their first week of classes by relaxing and hanging out with friends. However, the volleyball team will be in Tampa, Fla., competing in its first tournament of the season. The women play two top 10 nationally ranked teams and another winning team from the Southwest Region.
The Wildcats’ first game is at 7 p.m. CDT Friday against Tampa University, which is ranked ninth in the nation. At noon Saturday, the team plays seventh-ranked Central Missouri State, and at 7 p.m., plays regional opponent Metropolitan State.
Head coach Brek Horn and her players are focusing in on the Metro State match. One of the Wildcats’ goals is to go to the regional finals, and a victory against Metro State would prove them to be headed in the right direction.
“The one that’s the most important is the Metro [State] match,” Horn said. “If I had to pick which one I wanted to win, and I could just pick one, I’d pick the Metro State match.”
Horn’s players echo her desire and anticipation to play Metro State.
“We play some pretty good teams in our region, and we need to go and be winning some matches,” senior Amanda Slate said. “They’re all good, but we really want to win that Metro match.”
Before the Wildcats can play Metro State, they must play a couple of highly ranked teams.
“I purposely set up this tournament because I felt like the team that we had this year can play at the national level,” Horn said. “I want my players to get the exposure of what it is to be a nationally ranked team.”
The Wildcats will get that exposure, but that doesn’t mean that they are not experienced. Four seniors return from last year’s Lone Star Conference South Division championship team to take the team to a higher level.
Senior Michelle Bernhardt, the LSC Preseason Player of the Year, Amanda Slate, last season’s LSC South Division MVP, and Lindsey Martin who was first team all-LSC South team last year, return for their senior season.
“They are a great class of seniors, and that’s why we’ve got so much preseason recognition,” Horn said. “The amount of experience and knowledge they’ve gained are key.”
Along with a talented group of seniors, Horn said her freshmen are a great addition to the team.
“We’ve had some injuries, but two that are OK are Laura Leone and Erin Curry,” Horn said. Leone and Curry are graduates from Arlington Lamar where they played together. “They’re competing for playing time and challenging my upper classmen,” Horn said.
With the level of talent this year’s team has, the team’s goals are high. Last year the Wildcats were knocked out of the national tournament in the first round of the regional tournament. This year, the Cats look to take their game up one step.
“We started to work up with our goals,” Horn said. “We want to be undefeated in our conference, host the conference tournament and then win our conference tournament and go to regionals. We want to make it to the finals of the regional tournament.”
With such high goals and expectations, other teams will be gunning for the Wildcats during the season.
“It’s something we’re going to enjoy instead of cower to,” Horn said. “We’re going to have to be ready every single time we step on to the court because everyone’s going to be bringing their A-game to us.”
The talent of the teams at this weekend’s tournament and long wait from the end of last year is more than enough motivation for the players.
“We’ve been working hard the past couple of weeks,” Bernhardt said. “It’ll be exciting to go and see what we’ve got.”
One person will not be with the team for the trip. Horn will stay here with her newborn daughter. Horn gave birth Monday and will stay behind for this trip. Assistant coach Sarah Carthel will be in charge of the Wildcats in Florida. Carthel graduated for West Texas A&M where she was a two-time NCAA Division II Player of the Year in 1997 and in 1999 as a senior.
Horn said that she knows Carthel will do a great job and will try not to let her absence affect her.
“It will be very difficult since I won’t be there,” Horn said. “Hopefully I’ll be busy with my family and won’t worry too much.”