NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Lipscomb volleyball announced its complete 2018 schedule Thursday, revealing a 28-match slate that features 16 ASUN Conference contests and 11 matches to be played at Allen Arena.
The docket also includes seven matches against 2017 NCAA Tournament teams, four against teams that finished in the top 30 of the final AVCA poll and eight against programs that finished with a top-50 RPI.
“I am extremely excited about this schedule and the caliber of teams we have on the schedule in the preconference,” Lipscomb head coach Brandon Rosenthal said. “For the past 10 years or so, we have wanted to go out and really challenge ourselves with tough competition.
“I think we have compiled a good array of teams ranging from the West Coast to the East Coast. Every match we are going to have to bring it. It’s fun for us as we try to take that next step.”
The first match on the slate for Lipscomb is an exhibition tune-up with the University of Tennessee on Aug. 18 at Thompson-Boling Arena. The Bisons and Volunteers will finish up a two-year agreement for preseason play after the Orange and White visited Nashville a season ago.
“It will be a little different this year starting out on the road, but it will give us an opportunity to learn something about our team right out of the gate,” Rosenthal said.
Lipscomb’s regular season will open up at home a week later with the 8th annual LUV Invitational on Aug. 24-25, one of four nonconference tournaments for the Bisons. Play will feature a three-team, round-robin with Iowa and SMU.
“We always like to play one tournament where we only compete in two matches, so that’s what we are doing this year for the LUV Invite,” Rosenthal said. “Iowa is a team that has been knocking on the door of what may be the best conference in the country in the Big Ten, while SMU is a program that’s always like us - usually in the top 50 and receiving votes for the top 25.”
During the second week of the season, Lipscomb will travel west to the desert in Tucson, Arizona for the Cactus Classic hosted by Arizona. The Purple and Gold will play a doubleheader on Aug. 31 against the host Wildcats and Pacific, before closing out the trip Sept. 1 against San Diego State.
“This should be a lot of fun as it’s a return trip from Arizona coming here a season ago,” Rosenthal said. “It is also unique in that we will be playing in Lanie Wagner’s home state and also Megan Kuper has some family there as well. It will be a little bit of a family reunion on a couple different fronts.”
The Bisons then trek to West Lafayette, Indiana Sept. 7-8 for three matches in the Stacy Clark Classic. They will serve it up on the first day of action against a pair of 2017 NCAA Tournament participants – Louisville and host Purdue. The Cardinals are the defending ACC champs, while the Boilermakers closed out last season ranked No. 18 in the AVCA Top 25 poll.
Lipscomb will finish the invitational on Saturday against Xavier.
“Purdue has one of the best volleyball environments in the country,” Rosenthal said. “I have never experienced it myself, but I have heard a lot about it and I am looking forward to being in front of that crowd.
“This program and team will be somewhat experienced and ready for it as we’ve put ourselves in big-time environments the past couple of years. It will be a tough challenge, but it’s one we will relish.”
This event is the first of a four-year tournament agreement that will rotate amongst the four teams. Lipscomb will host the same trio in Nashville next season.
Next up on the slate for the Bisons is rival Belmont on Sept. 11, which represents the first of five rare midweek matchups.
“Not a whole lot to be said here,” Rosenthal said. “It’s a rivalry that means a lot to me and this program. We want to continue our streak. It’s something that we’ve worked for so hard, to bring home our share of the Battle of the Boulevard.”
Lipscomb has won six in a row against the Bruins, including a 3-1 win at the Curb Event Center last season.
Then it is back on the road for one final tournament Sept. 14-15 in Champaign, Illinois for the Illini Classic Presented by Hyatt Place. Going off of 2017’s final rankings, this will be the toughest tournament of the season. Lipscomb will face three teams that finished in the top 30 of the final AVCA poll – Creighton (16), Illinois (17) and Northern Iowa (30).
“With these four tournament combined, I can’t imagine anyone would look at our preconference schedule and not get an idea of what we are trying to do with this program,” Rosenthal said. “We want to gauge where we are, not only in the conference, but also in the country. These tournaments will do that.”
After getting through one of the strongest nonconference schedules in program history, the road will not get any easier for the Bisons. Just three days after returning from The Prairie State, Lipscomb will open its 16-game ASUN schedule primed and ready to avenge last season’s finish in the standings.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that we didn’t finish the way we wanted last year,” Rosenthal said. “This group is hungry.”
With the addition of North Alabama and Liberty to the conference, it brings the member total to nine and gives the programs their most league games since the 2013 season.
Lipscomb will get a chance to introduce UNA to the ASUN on Sept. 18 in Nashville for the league opener. Following a single road match at NJIT on Sept. 22, the Bisons will return home to host North Florida and Stetson on Sept. 28-29.
“With UNA and Liberty coming to the league, the ASUN had to make changes to the schedule,” Rosenthal said. “We have four midweek games in conference and there are new travel partners. It poses some challenges, but also some really cool opportunities and experiences.
“UNA comes from Division II, but they were a power there,” Rosenthal said. “I am excited about hosting them for our ASUN opener.”
The first effect of the change in travel partners for Lipscomb will come on the opening weekend of October. The Bisons will make the trek to Lynchburg, Virginia to face Liberty (Oct. 5) before heading south to Fort Myers, Florida to take on ASUN runner-up Florida Gulf Coast (Oct. 7).
The next three matches will all be at Allen Arena for the Purple and Gold, its longest home stand of the season. Jacksonville will visit the Music City on Oct. 13, followed by defending ASUN champion Kennesaw State (Oct. 17) and NJIT (Oct. 19).
“The conference is going to be tough once again as the top three teams will relatively be the same, with ourselves, FGCU and Kennesaw State,” Rosenthal said.
“There has been a lot of movement across the league with not only new teams, but also new coaches at Jacksonville, UNA, North Florida and Liberty.”
Five of the last seven matches will be on the road for the Bisons.
Following trips to UNA (Oct. 23), Stetson (Oct. 26) and North Florida (Oct. 27), they will get a week’s rest to prepare for senior weekend and the final home matches of the season against FGCU (Nov. 2) and Liberty (Nov. 4).
The Bisons will conclude the regular season at Kennesaw State (Nov. 6) and Jacksonville (Nov. 9).
“That’s a tough stretch late with FGCU and Liberty at home and then Kennesaw State and Jacksonville on the road,” Rosenthal said. “We’ve worked the last couple weeks of narrowing down how we want to approach this schedule. It’s going to be challenging with a good bit of travel, but we will be a deeper and more experienced team than a season ago.”
The ASUN Tournament will be held Nov. 15-17 at Kennesaw State. The Owls earned the championship bid by winning the conference’s regular season title last season. It will be the first time since 2014 that Lipscomb is not the host.
“All-in-all, this group really wants to make their mark on the legacy of this program and that is fun to see,” Rosenthal said. “This summer the girls are already talking about what they want. As a coach, that’s exciting to hear. I can’t wait to get started.”
SCHEDULE BY THE NUMBERS
6,290 – Total miles to be traveled between all road contests
1,407 – Mileage on longest road trip of the season to Tucson, Arizona
29 – Total matches on the schedule (including the exhibition)
16 – ASUN Conference contests
11 – Home matches
11 – Road matches
8 – The number of contests against teams that finished 2017 with a top 50 RPI
7 – Matches against 2017 NCAA Tournament teams
6 – Neutral site matches
6 – Opponents that competed in the 2017 NCAA Tournament
5 – "Power 5" opponents (Iowa, Arizona, Louisville, Purdue, Illinois)
4 – Nonconference tournaments
1 – Preseason contest