JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – In a spring season where the Carson-Newman Eagles volleyball team defeated a couple Division I teams, a new coach has brought a new attitude to Mossy Creek.
"I thought it was going to be a lot tougher," Carson-Newman volleyball head coach Dan Ahiers said of his transition. "The girls have been really hungry to learn, really hungry to learn the system that we are implementing. They've been amazing. They have done everything that I have asked. They have helped with recruiting and changing the culture."
The Eagles set up three spring tournaments playing teams from Division I to NAIA programs including East Tennessee State, Winthrop, King, Milligan and Maryville.
"I think it's been great," Ahiers said of his team's effort during the spring season. "The first [tournament] we actually got beat by a couple NAIA schools and a couple of D-2 schools. It was a process. Our second tournament we got a lot better. We beat everyone we should beat and we got beat by better schools."
In the third tournament, Carson-Newman played in Johnson City, Tenn. and beat Division I schools East Tennessee State and Winthrop.
East Tennessee State finished second in the Atlantic Sun regular seasons standings going 22-8 during the regular season before bowing out in the conference semifinals in a competitive five-set match to Lipscomb.
Winthrop finished the 2013 season with a 17-13 overall record competing in the Big South Conference.
Carson-Newman returns a pair of All-SAC players next season with second-team selection outside hitter Rachel Harper (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and honorable mention setter Kristen Pickett (Cleveland, Tenn.). While those two remained consistent in the spring a pair of hitters caught the eye of Ahiers.
"Sara Fairley is a bit undersized and I thought she would be a good role player for us," Ahiers said of the Charlotte, N.C. native. "As the spring went on, she was probably our best player. She dominated at the net, her serve receive was great and became a leader on the team."
"The other person that really stepped up was Lauren Santarelli," Ahiers mentioned of the Colorado Springs, Colo. native. "She played outside the last three years and we moved her to the right side and she dominated every match that she played in. She's still learning the position, but she's doing really well at it."
With the summer looming, several players will remain on campus to work out while others will stop back in the area over the next several months.
"The girls are signing up for a lot of grass and sand tournaments," Ahiers said of how the players will stay sharp. "It will be important to connect with them and keep them on track."
Stay tuned to cneagles.com and @CNathletics on Twitter for updated information about the volleyball team including the release of the 2014 schedule.
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