NASHVILLE, Tenn. – It is not the effect of a massive dose of spring fever, but even Lipscomb coach Brandon Rosenthal admits it is a crazy idea.
“We have said from the start of the spring that we can be as good as we want to be,” Rosenthal said of his volleyball team. “To me, we are really at the beginning of something that can get out of control and when I say out of control I mean that in a good way.
“I have told people that I don’t want to hide from this. The potential for this group is unbelievable. This group could not be in a better spot. This is a team that has a lot going for it. They are not afraid of it. I am not afraid of it.”
The Lady Bisons have won three Atlantic Sun regular season titles and four A-Sun Tournament Championships. They have been to the NCAA Tournament four times. Rosenthal is saying that this team not only has the ability to repeat that success, but that they can far exceed what any other team has done here.
“This fall should be very special here,” Rosenthal said.
Two years doesn’t seem like much in this fast-paced world but in the case of the Lady Bisons two years has been too long.
It has been two years since the Lady Bisons last won the Atlantic Sun Championship and made a trip to the NCAA Tournament. Rediscovering what it takes to get back to that level has been the theme of this spring’s workouts.
“We have a group of rising seniors that won it their freshman year,” Rosenthal said. “We have a group below them that has heard a lot about it, but has not tasted a championship.”
The Lady Bisons made it all the way to the championship match at the A-Sun Tournament at Kennesaw State. They lost 3-2 to Jacksonville, a disappointment that still resonates loudly in the heads of the Lady Bisons and the coaching staff.
“We didn’t talk about it a lot,” Rosenthal said. “We didn’t have to. It was really neat to see them go back to work.”
Rosenthal traditionally talks about great spring workouts. But he calls this spring one of the best as he enters his 12th year as head coach because of the attitude of his returning players.
“Typically, you go through spring and you have some lulls,” Rosenthal said. “It is a long period and you get out of rhythm.
“But we didn’t have that this spring. We had maybe one or two bad practices all spring. I was really encouraged by what they brought to the table every day, not just in individual development but in team development.”
Rosenthal talked often last season about how much he liked last year’s team. Caitlin “Dot” Dotson, Claire Peterson and Stephanie Rex have graduated.
All-Conference performers Lauren Ford and Jewell Dobson, also the A-Sun Player of the Year return along with Bri McCombs, the A-Sun Libero of the Year.
“You wonder how losing the three seniors is going to affect the team,” Rosenthal said. “This year’s players have challenged each other. They haven’t run from conflict.
“I think it shows they are not satisfied with the status quo. I was really impressed with that.”
Dobson and Ford are coming off strong junior seasons and have been known for outstanding individual play throughout their careers.
“I think the thing that is eluding them in some sense is the championship, even though they won one their freshman year,” Rosenthal said. “Everybody is a role player. Their roles have gotten bigger.”
Ford, Dobson and Sophie Kellerman have been selected to be the captains of the 2014 team.
“What they have done this spring is become better leaders,” Rosenthal said. “They have all done a tremendous job this spring.
“We have worked just as hard on them becoming leaders as we have on individual skill work. They have embraced it and I am encouraged about that.”
With a group of five seniors working through their last spring Rosenthal was pleased by their constant contributions.
"Meg Stout really embodied the spirit of the team and took her game to new heights."
One of the key roles to be filled is the setter position which is being vacated by Dotson who ran the offense for the past three seasons. Rosenthal liked what he has seen from both Kayla Ostrom and Jordan Huston.
“Kayla did a fantastic job,” Rosenthal said. “She has a lot to learn but her dedication is unmatched. It is amazing to see.
“Jordan has a tougher road balancing volleyball with her nursing degree. This spring was really tough for her. I was impressed with what Jordan did.”
The most important aspect of the new setter will be continuing to build trust among her teammates. He expects the rest of the team to take the pressure off of the setter.
“We saw it this spring,” Rosenthal said. “They were saying you don’t have to set me perfectly. It is a matter of getting Kayla and Jordan to find their grooves and not necessarily focus on setting perfect balls.
“It is a process. I don’t think we can rush it. Billy Ebel has done a fantastic job in guiding the setters in their decision making.”
The spring saw Brittnay Estes make a huge impact.
"It was fun seeing Brittnay really coming of age each week this spring," Rosenthal said. "There is no doubt that Brittnay crushed it and will be a driving force toward success this next fall."
Adding to the mix is the freshman tandem of Katie Bradley and Kaitlyn Teeter. Both have seen tremendous progress through the fall and more importantly the spring.
"Bradley and Teeter had a tremendous spring and I am so proud of the way they attacked the spring season and rose to every challenge thrown their way," Rosenthal said. "The bottom line is we all got better… players and coaches alike."