NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Lipscomb Lady Bisons volleyball coach Brandon Rosenthal has never hesitated to challenge his team in terms of scheduling.
Rosenthal is not shy about talking about the high expectations he has for the 2014 version of the Purple and Gold. And a powerful team needs to be tested.
“We realized, with what we saw through the spring, that this team is going to have to be challenged and is very capable of being challenged,” Rosenthal said. “We saw a lot of good things.
“The challenges are there right from the get-go. Creighton returns everybody from last year, the best year they have ever had. “
The Lady Bisons open the season Aug. 29 and 30 at the Kansas Invitational Tournament at the University of Kansas. They will face Creighton, the No. 18 team in the final NCAA RPI rankings. The next day they will face host Kansas, No. 12 in the RPI. They close out the tournament with Utah Valley, a first-time opponent.
The tournament will be a homecoming for Lipscomb senior Lauren Ford and incoming freshmen Chloe Rogers and Brittany Thomas.
‘It’s a great tournament,” Rosenthal said. “In 2009 that tournament was the last place we lost before we went on the 25 match win streak.
“I think this team is very capable of playing at that high level. We are bringing back a lot of starters but where we get better is with our depth.”
The competition doesn’t get any easier the next weekend when the Lady Bisons head to the University of Missouri for the Tiger Classic Sept. 5 and 6. They open with host Missouri, a Southeastern Conference team with a No. 5 RPI ranking last season. The next day they face Oakland and Illinois State, No. 91 in the RPI from the Missouri Valley Conference.
The Lady Bisons first four home matches at Allen Arena are impressive. The home opener, Sept. 9, brings Western Kentucky, No. 55 in the RPI, to the Lipscomb campus. The Lady Bisons will host Atlantic Coast Conference foe Georgia Tech for the first time in a Sept. 12 match.
ETSU, which will not be a member of the Atlantic Sun Conference after the end of competition this season, will visit Sept. 13. ETSU finished 2013 at No. 76 in the RPI. Utah, from the Pac 12, will also play the Lady Bisons that same day. Utah, a first-time opponent, was 28th in the final 2013 RPI.
“We are playing 10 matches against teams that were in the top 100 in the RPI,” Rosenthal said. “We are playing four matches against top 25 teams. One is in the top 30.
“I think we have a challenging mix. We have a good home schedule.”
Even though ETSU will not be in the conference, Rosenthal thinks the rivalry between the two programs will continue.
“We were the team that put them out of the tournament last year,” Rosenthal said. “I am sure they want some sort of revenge.
Rosenthal points to the growing reputation of the volleyball program as one of the reasons why teams like Georgia Tech and Utah are willing to play matches at Allen Arena.
“Lipscomb volleyball is where it is supposed to be,” Rosenthal said. “Because of our RPI and the fact we are in the city of Nashville teams want to play us.”
Georgia Tech is a new team for the Lady Bisons. But they are familiar with the new coach. Michelle Collier was formerly the coach at Jacksonville.
In a touch of nostalgia Belmont returns to the schedule after a two-year absence. The Bruins will make the short trip to Allen Arena Oct. 21.
“It’s exciting news,” Rosenthal said. “We were the only sport at Lipscomb that wasn’t playing Belmont. It was not by our wishes.
“It is a great rivalry. It is good for the city of Nashville as far as volleyball goes. They have a new coach in Tony Howell, He and I have been good friends.”
The Lady Bisons final two non-conference regular season matches will be at Kentucky Sept. 18 and Xavier Sept. 19. Kentucky, the second SEC foe for the season, was No. 13 in the RPI. Xavier, from the Big East was No. 60.
Lipscomb assistant Ann Armes is a former player for the Wildcats. Sophie Kellerman, Megan Stout and Katie Bradley are from Kentucky.
“That is going to be a Thursday-Friday series so it is a little different,” Rosenthal said. “I give credit to Kentucky for continuing to play us.
“Xavier will be a home-and-home series. That is a good mix of schools right there.”
The A-Sun challenge
With Mercer and ETSU leaving, the A-Sun Conference schedule will have a different look. There will also be several new coaches helming A-Sun teams.
The Lady Bisons open conference play against Northern Kentucky at Allen Arena Sept. 26.
Other conference home matches are Jacksonville, Oct. 10, and North Florida, Oct. 11. The Lady Bisons lost to Jacksonville 3-2 in the 2013 A-Sun Tournament. Jacksonville finished No. 86 in the RPI. The Lady Bisons, despite the loss, were 69th.
Stetson visits Allen Arena for a Halloween match Oct. 31 and Florida Gulf Coast visits Nov. 1.
The final home conference matches are Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 against USC Upstate and Kennesaw State respectively. The Upstate match will be “Senior” Night.
The Lady Bisons first A-Sun road games will be Oct. 3 at USC Upstate and Oct. 4 at Kennesaw State.
On Oct. 17 they head to Florida for the first time to face Florida Gulf Coast Oct. 17 and Stetson Oct. 18.
The make a quick trip to Northern Kentucky Oct. 24.
The second trip to Florida is the final conference regular season road trip with North Florida Nov. 7 and Jacksonville Nov. 8.
The A-Sun Tournament will be played Nov. 20-22 at FGCU in Fort Myers, Fla.
“I think this is one of those teams that can really make some noise inside the conference, outside the conference, regionally and nationally,” Rosenthal said. “But I am telling your right now that I think this is a special group. I think they are very focused going into the summer. They have a great idea of what they are capable of doing.”