The theme of the 2013 season for the Lipscomb volleyball team can be summed up in those two words.
“That applies to everything,” Rosenthal said. “They can’t wait until the next practice. If we have a bad practice they can’t wait to get back out there.
“We can’t wait until the season begins. We can’t wait to play each match. We can’t wait to go to the tournament. We can’t wait to win another championship. We can’t wait to go back to the NCAA Tournament.”
Last season the Lady Bisons ended a streak of three straight Atlantic Sun Tournament Championships and three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament. Rosenthal has literally counted the days from that loss to the start of fall practice.
Rosenthal has stressed to his players the need to be more aggressive on the court. Too many sets last season were lost due to the Lady Bisons giving up late leads.
“It is the mentality of what we do late in sets,” Rosenthal said. “It is the mentality of what we do in pressure situations.
“It has been our job to elongate plays. Now it is our job to finish that longer play and score. We can’t elongate a play and give the other team multiple chances. If you give a team four chances to score they are more likely to do it. We have to work on limiting the number of opportunities for the other team.”
Rosenthal thinks that the success of the season will hinge on how aggressive his team can be on the court.
“It boils down to how aggressive we can defend,” Rosenthal said. “How aggressive can we get scoring? How aggressive can we get serving? How aggressive can we get blocking?
“This is a team that has potential. But we are going to have to be an aggressive team. Last year we became less aggressive when we had the lead instead of becoming more aggressive. In the past we had a couple of teams where all we needed was a two-point lead.”
Rosenthal thinks the aggression will be fed by the fact that the team is not satisfied after last year.
“There is a sour taste from last year,” Rosenthal said. “There is this idea of I want more.
“If you want it, what are you going to do to get it? There are no excuses for us.”
The Lady Bisons, 18-12 overall, 15-3 in the conference last season, are ready to erase the disappointment of last year’s semifinal tournament loss to ETSU.
Last season’s record was one that many teams would love to have. But for the Lady Bisons the outcome left a lot to be desired. Rosenthal is happy to see that the standards of his players are high.
“The standards are there because we put them there,” Rosenthal said. “The standards are there because the teams before took the program to a new level. Not winning a championship last season is on us.”
Blocking a key
A primary emphasis in the spring and fall has been on improved blocking.
“Blocking has not been a key aspect for us,” Rosenthal said. “The middles were able to transition quicker in the past. Now we are adding more athletic movements to our blocking motion. We are just adding a new element.”
Ann Armes, a new assistant coach, has been instrumental this fall working on blocking, drawing from her experience as a player at the University of Kentucky.
“At Kentucky blocking was a huge point scorer and momentum turner,” Rosenthal said. “We are touching a lot more balls. We are blocking a lot more balls.
“How is it going to affect our offense? Until we see it on the court in a match it is difficult to know. We are excited to see where it goes from here.”
There are four freshmen – setter Kayla Ostrom, outside hitter Maggie Allen, middle blocker Katie Bradley and outside hitter Kaitlyn Teeter. Bri McCombs, a defensive specialist-libero, is a sophomore transfer from Middle Tennessee.
“Bri McCombs brings another level and will add tremendous depth to our defense with Stephanie Rex and Megan Stout,” Rosenthal said. “Bri has played at a high level for a long time. She has no shortage of confidence.
“She is confident in her ability and confident with what she is going to do to the other team. She levels that with some modesty by understanding when to not put it out there.”
Teeter, 6-foot-2, has been struggling with an injury but is making progress.
“Every day we see untapped potential,” Rosenthal said. “Anybody who comes into a program injured is in a tough situation. It is a credit to her what she has done to be a teammate whether it is shagging balls or wiping the floor. And when she gets the opportunity to get into drills she works hard.”
Rosenthal sees Ostrom as a double threat.
“Kayla can set the ball, but beyond that she is a pretty solid defender,” Rosenthal said. “If she is not setting the ball in a match I wouldn’t be surprised to see her in some sort of defensive role. She has that type of mentality.”
Bradley, 6-2, has also been dealing with the effects of an injury. Both she and Allen, 6-foot, play in the middle.
“The thing for them is the speed of the game,” Rosenthal said. “Unfortunately, they play in the middle and that is a challenge. It is just a matter of confidence.
“Both she and Maggie are doing a good job. They are starting to get it and understand how vital their transitions from defense to offense are.”
Several players, including junior outside hitter Sophie Kellerman, will be expected to elevate their games this season.
“Sophie has done a nice job,” Rosenthal said. “She is so competitive. The big part for her is realizing the expectations for her have probably doubled.
“Before she was filling in at spots. Now we have moved her into an outside hitter position full-time. We are asking her to score more and the pressure is on her. We used to be happy if she scored four out of 10. Now we are expecting her to score six out of 10.”
Sophomore Molly Spitznagle is coming off of a strong freshman year at middle blocker 129 kills.
“Offensively, her game has become much more diverse,” Rosenthal said. “She is really starting to understand the offense as far as the transition game goes and what she will call.”
Outside hitter/opposite Brittnay Estes has also made great strides from her freshman year.
“She is making far less errors,” Rosenthal said. “She can play two positions.
“I think she will play both. We really worked with her on both last year. Her passion is hard to keep off of the court.”
Jordan Huston, a junior opposite, is known for her work ethic and her desire to do what is best for the team. She was slowed in the spring due to an injury.
“That has made it tough for her,” Rosenthal said. “I am sure she would want it to be different, but we never question where she is mentally. She always puts out her best effort.”
Claire Peterson, a senior and co-captain, will play multiple positions.
“Claire is an absolute warrior,” Rosenthal said. “I don’t know if you could ask for a better person to have as a teammate. She will do whatever is needed for our team.”
Senior setter and co-captain Caitlin “Dot” Dotson will set the tone for the team this season. She led the conference in assists and ranked in the top 15 nationally.
“Caitlin did some pretty impressive things last year on a national scale,” Rosenthal said. “She didn’t get quite the credit that she should have because we didn’t win the championship.
“They know that it is not about the individual awards. They know coming in it is about the team aspect. Dot is fully aware and fully capable of putting that in play.”
Rosenthal allows “Dot to be Dot”.
“Dot has a very good understanding of what we are trying to do,” Rosenthal said. “As a coaching staff we will encourage and assist her, but I trust Dot and her decision making.”
The Lady Bisons are also looking for new ways to score points. Lauren Ford and Molly Spitznagle will continue to be a stats leader, but Rosenthal is expecting junior middle blocker Jewell Dobson to increase her point production.
“Everybody knows our people, just like we know all of the other teams,” Rosenthal said. “Those players have to be a little bit different and a little bit better to score. That is tough.
“Some of it is where do you distribute the ball. You look at the numbers from last year and you look at how much Kaycee Green did. She was our only senior and she was a big piece of our team. Where do those balls go?”
Green led the team in 2012 with 448.5 points and 415 kills. Ford was second with 433.5 points and 389 kills. Ford is expected to move to the top spot as an outside hitter and will be getting an increased number of chances to score filling the void left by Green.
“We are looking for more consistent play from Lauren as the season goes on,” Rosenthal said. “We also have to give her more opportunities.
“I think Lauren is ready to sit in the big chair. She is working on diversifying her game. I think Lauren is ready to go.”
Rosenthal is looking for junior middle blocker Jewell Dobson to increase her production. Dobson was third on the team in points with 410.5 and kills with 360. She had the highest hitting percentage on the team at .332.
“Both of our middles need to get the ball more, especially Jewell,” Rosenthal said. “We have to get Jewell to demand the ball more. It becomes the idea of how do we do that…how do we make that happen?
“Outside hitters traditionally get more balls than the middles. Now we are flipping the script. We have to change the training and the mental aspects as to what is expected. A lot of times setting the middle is geared on passing and defense.”
Dotson, Ford and Dobson were Second-Team All-Conference last season. All three earned preseason All-Conference honors for 2013. Senior libero Stephanie Rex is also part of the veteran core.
“Any time you bring that kind of talent back is a good thing,” Rosenthal said. “But it just happens to be a year where the top teams in the conference are doing the same thing. Florida Gulf Coast brings five or six starters back. ETSU has four or five starters back.
“It is interesting. It should be fun. Every conference match win should be celebrated.”
The Lady Bisons open the regular season Friday night at 6 against host Georgia at the Bulldog Invitational in Athens. Saturday morning they face Furman at 9 and close out the tournament at 4:30 against Texas Christian.