The Lady Bisons will open the season in Knoxville Aug. 29-30 at a tournament hosted by the University of Tennessee. In addition to the Lady Vols, the Lady Bisons will also play Western Kentucky and Tennessee Tech.
On Sept. 4 and 5 they will be in Lawrence, Kans., for a tournament hosted by Kansas University. In addition to the host team, the Lady Bisons will also play Creighton and Florida International.
“To me getting wins, just to have wins, is not important to me,” said Rosenthal. “It is what we do with those wins.
“We always want to play tournament bound teams. A few years ago when we went to play teams like this we didn’t have a lot of success. Over the years we have gotten closer and closer. This past spring we beat Alabama, Virginia Tech, and Western Kentucky. I think our players realize we can play with these teams and beat them.”
Rosenthal uses these tournaments to prepare his players for play in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He views the Kansas tournament as a challenge, but also sees it as an opportunity for Alex Kelly, Stefine “Jake” Pease and Meghan Hinemeyer to play in front of their friends and relatives.
“The Kansas tournament is the toughest overall, but it will be fun,” said Rosenthal. “It should be a pretty good homecoming for them. I’m sure we will have a good crowd.
“Florida International was one of the toughest teams we played last year. Creighton is also a very tough team.”
The Lady Bisons will once again play a double round-robin schedule in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Florida Gulf Coast, North Florida, and Kennesaw State will be eligible for the conference tournament for the first time this season, making it more difficult to be one of the six teams that qualify for postseason play. USC-Upstate is still not eligible for postseason play.
“I still would imagine we would be in the top three,” said Rosenthal. “With the talent we have returning, the addition of Hinemeyer from Clemson over the break and the talent we have brought in we are going to be one of the teams that will contend.”
Two of those returning players are Kelly, the 2008 A-Sun Player of the Year and “Pease, an A-Sun First Team All-Conference selection. Rosenthal was impressed by what he saw from both players during spring workouts in terms of their leadership skills.
“They are going to get better every year,” said Rosenthal. “But what they are getting better at is the leadership process. They have let everybody know they are in control of what we want to do.
“I think in years past we were kind of susceptible to maybe the momentum swings of teams. I think this year we are going to be mentally tougher in that way.”
Rosenthal is also encouraged with how quickly Hinemeyer has made the transition to the Lipscomb program.
“Meghan is a huge addition for us both on and off the court,” said Rosenthal. “She is an awesome personality that the team has gravitated towards.”
Last season Erin Pierce was one of the most important players on the team, though her stats didn’t always indicate her true value. Rosenthal is expecting even more from her this season.
“The play of Erin Pierce is one of those stories every kid should hear,” said Rosenthal. “Last year she got her first season of full-time playing time after a medical redshirt year. She has stuck through it all. She has developed into the player I have expected her to be in the spring. When you look at a play Erin is going to be nearby.”
For the second year in a row the Lady Bisons will open the A-Sun portion of the season against Belmont, their top rival. The match will be played at Belmont Sept. 8. Belmont will visit Allen Arena Oct. 13.
“Atlantic Sun teams start off with playing their travel partner,” said Rosenthal. “Having Belmont as a travel partner makes it tough for us. Playing them early on in the season will give us a good gauge of what they are going to be like.”
Last season the Lady Bisons won their home match 3-0 and then lost 3-2 at Belmont. The two teams were in the finals of the A-Sun Tournament in 2008 with the Lady Bruins prevailing.
“When we played them this spring we did some really nice things,” said Rosenthal. “We only graduated one player, but they graduated two of their bigger players. I expect it to be a typical Lipscomb-Belmont match-up.”
North Florida will be the first home A-Sun match, Sept. 11 at Allen Arena. The remaining home A-Sun matches are Jacksonville (Sept. 12), Mercer (Sept. 25), Kennesaw (Sept. 26), USC-Upstate (Oct. 9), Florida Gulf Coast (Oct. 23), Stetson (Oct. 24), Campbell (Nov. 13) and ETSU (Nov. 14).
The last two seasons the Lady Bisons have played in the finals of the A-Sun Tournament, winning the tournament championship in 2007 and making their first trip to the NCAA Tournament. They have qualified for the tournament the past four years.
“Six years ago we would have given anything just to be in the conference tournament,” said Rosenthal. “To get to back-to-back championship matches is extremely difficult. You can’t take for granted the championships you win.
“We expect to go to the tournament and we expect to win it. With that becomes increased pressure but we are ready for that. We talked to our players all the time about this and we tell them they are the ones who have raised the bar.”
The rest of the non-conference schedule for the Lady Bisons includes Tennessee State, Sept. 15 at Allen Arena; Evansville, Sept 29 at Allen Arena; Murray State, Oct. 6 in Murray, Ky.; and Austin Peay, Nov. 3 at Allen Arena.
“Murray will be a real scrappy match,” said Rosenthal. “They play some great defense. We played Evansville this spring. Every time we play them it goes the full distance. Tennessee State is going to have a bunch of new people.”
The Atlantic Sun Volleyball Tournament will be held at Florida Gulf Coast in Fort Myers, Fla., in 2009.