FORT MYERS, Fla. – With a combination of a new coaching staff, eight returning players and a strong incoming class, the FGCU women’s volleyball team is prepared for the 2014 campaign. The schedule, which was released this week, includes 29 matches in cities across the United States with four tournaments and a full Atlantic Sun Conference slate.
The team will face two teams from last year’s NCAA Tournament and will be challenged by six programs among the NCAA’s top-100 teams.
The schedule boasts four tournaments including the 2014 FGCU Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites Tournament hosted by the Eagles at Alico Arena and features opponents from 12 different conferences including the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, SEC and Conference USA. The team will play 12 matches on its home court before hosting the 2014 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship at the end of November.
“Our preseason schedule will be challenging but I think that is necessary as we prepare for the Atlantic Sun Conference,” said first-year head coach Matt Botsford. “With matches against Big Ten, ACC, and SEC opponents, we will be tested early against a very physical brand of volleyball. I am looking forward to seeing our team’s competitive response as we go on the road the first three weekends of the season.”
The Eagles will open the 2014 campaign at the University of Miami for a two-day tournament in Coral Gables. FGCU will face Florida A&M on Friday, Aug. 29 in the season opener and will take on Seton Hall of the Big East on Saturday, Aug. 30. The tournament will conclude with a 7 p.m. contest on Saturday against the host Hurricanes. Miami finished last season ranked 53 among the nation’s 332 teams and earned an at-large bid to last year’s NCAA Tournament. The South Florida foes have met just once before. The 2009 east-coast meeting resulted in a 3-0 win for the Hurricanes.
FGCU will continue the season when the team heads to Columbus, Ohio for the 9th Annual D.C. Koehl Classic hosted by Ohio State Sept. 5-7. The Eagles will face Southern Illinois during the morning session on Friday, Sept. 5 before taking on the host Buckeyes Friday at 7:30 p.m. The Green and Blue have faced the Big Ten opponent just once before, resulting in a 3-0 loss for the Eagles at the FSU Invitational last season. The team will conclude play at OSU with an 11 a.m. game against Auburn of the SEC. Ohio State stands as the highest ranking opponent on the schedule this season as the Buckeyes finished the 2013 slate with an RPI rating of 43. Despite the strong season, the Buckeyes missed the 2013 NCAA Tournament as the Big Ten produced seven of the nation’s top-25 teams, including National Champion Penn State.
The team will play in its third-consecutive tournament on Friday, Sept. 12 and Saturday, Sept. 13 at the University of Texas-Arlington. The Eagles will take on Houston Baptist on Friday morning and will follow with a 7 p.m. match against UT-Arlington. FGCU will finish play with a Saturday morning match against Texas Southern before returning to Fort Myers.
FGCU will host the 2014 Hilton Garden Inn/Homewood Suites Classic Friday, Sept. 19 and Saturday, Sept. 20 at Alico Arena. The Eagles will welcome Alabama State, Missouri-Kansas City and Florida Atlantic for the six-match event. It will be the first meetings between the Eagles and Alabama State and Missouri-Kansas City. The Green and Blue hold a 3-2 all-time record against the in-state foe Owls with wins in the last three contests played.
The Eagles will begin Atlantic Sun Conference play on Saturday, Sept. 27 when they host Stetson at 7 p.m. The Eagles are 10-1 all-time against the Hatters, including a win in the first round of last year’s A-Sun Tournament. The team will continue conference action with home games against UNF (Oct. 3) and Jacksonville (Oct. 4) and road contests at USC Upstate (Oct. 10) and Kennesaw State (Oct. 11).
FGCU will host Lipscomb (Oct. 17) and Northern Kentucky (Oct. 18) before beginning the second half of the conference season with another seven A-Sun tilts.
While A-Sun action is in full swing, the Eagles will break from conference play for three additional nonconference matches. The Green and Blue will travel to Bethune-Cookman (Oct. 7) and host Florida A&M (Oct. 14) and FIU (Nov. 12) to complement the conference slate.
Following the conclusion of conference play, the Eagles will host the 2014 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship at Alico Arena. The three-day double-elimination tournament is slated for Thursday, Nov. 20 to Saturday, Nov. 22 with the winner earning the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
With only a spring season under their belt together, Botsford and the Eagles will look to take a stand in the Atlantic Sun this season. The team returns eight players from last season, including Second Team All-Conference award winner and upcoming senior Olivia Mesner (Boca Raton, Fla./Spanish River High School) and Academic All-Conference honoree Gigi Meyer (Gainesville, Fla./Buchholz High School). Former Preseason Libero of the Year, Whitney Masters (Muncie, Ind./Wapahani High School), who was also an Atlantic Sun Sand Volleyball Championship All-Tournament team member this season will add depth and experience to the Green and Blue lineup for the fall.
“Although our time was limited this spring, I was very pleased with what I saw from the team and especially our upperclassmen,” Botsford noted. “We have four seniors that have played a critical role in the growth of this program throughout their four years. That type of experience is invaluable and we will need to rely on that in an effort to achieve the type of results we are looking for. We are presenting these players with an entirely new environment that includes new systems and of course new coaches. That is a transition that takes time, but if we can manage it effectively I expect we will see a positive response.”
In addition to the new staff, the team also welcomes two transfer students eligible to play and six freshmen.
For up-to-the minute information and a behind-the-scenes look at the FGCU women’s volleyball program, follow @FGCU_VB on Twitter and ‘like’ the team’s Facebook page.