JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – To open South Atlantic Conference play, Carson-Newman looks to build upon a 2-1 start with short trips to Tusculum Friday at 7 p.m. and Mars Hill Saturday at 2 p.m in the middle of a seven-game away stretch to start the 2017 season.
"For us, [improvement] has to be in the offensive categories," Carson-Newman coach Dave Franklin said. "Our kill percentage was a little low last week. We have addressed that and our setters have worked really hard at locating sets this week. Hitters are hitting better shots. I think if we are able to side out and run our offense through our serve receive we will be in good shape.
The Eagles are 11-14 in conference lidlifters all-time and have lost eight of their last 10 road openers in SAC play. Overall, C-N is 9-16 in SAC road starters versus 14-11 in their first home conference match.
Franklin's group went 1-11 on the road in 2016 and enter Friday night having lost six straight efforts away from home. Carson-Newman swept Brevard on Oct. 7, 2016 overcoming a 2-0 deficit to capture a five-frame win.
Senior Anna Patton (Franklin, Tenn.) enters the weekend needing 19 assists to move past Sherry Trimble (1999-03) for fourth on the school's all-time assists list for a career.
C-N and Tusculum (2-2) clash for 57th time as the Pioneers hold a 31-25 overall advantage including a pair of triumphs in 2016. The Eagles swept the season series in 2015 winning all six sets the two schools played.
Tusculum was picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches' poll. Libero Melissa Mazur leads the Pioneers after posting 589 digs last season, sixth in the SAC, while her 5.77 digs per set were good for the second-best margin. Mazur was an All-American in 2015 and ranks fifth on the program's all-time digs list with over 1,300.
"Tusuclum is going to push us," Franklin said. "It's a rivalry game in their gym with experience. They are going to be very consistent – that's what an experienced team does. We are going to have to earn it."
The Pioneers opened the season in the Sunshine State going 2-2 in the Nova Southeastern Shark Invitational. Junior Cassie Born led the way offensively with 2.81 kills per set racking up 31 in the final two matches of the weekend. Shannon Murphy registered 9.81 assists per set and posted three double-doubles.
Two-time All-SAC pick Laryssa Welch is back to anchor the middle as she posted 29 total kills and hit .270 last weekend. The senior racked up 13 kills and five block assists against St. Anselm for her best outing.
Mars Hill (1-2) and C-N meet for the 60th time in volleyball as the two program's split the season series a year ago as the Eagles were swept in the most recent outing. The Eagles are 31-6 since 2000 against the Lions and have lost back-to-back matches just one time in that span falling on Nov. 1, 2011 and Sept. 25, 2012.
The Lions were tabbed to finish 10th after going 7-15 in the conference in 2016. Mary Kate Griffin, the team's leader in kills last year, has graduated and leaves a vacancy on the pins.
"Mars Hill is going to be scrappy," Franklin said. "Mars Hill teams are just scrappy all the time. They are going to push us to see if we can be patient enough offensively and not make a bunch of hitting errors."
The Lions played the same three teams, Erskine, King and Lee, as the Eagles to open the year going 1-2 with a sweep over the Flying Fleet. Sally Anne Johnson and Maddie Spurgeon hit .373 and .278 respectively during the first weekend piling up 55 of the 126 kills the program recorded.
Coach Tony Fontenelle's group begins their season Thursday evening at Stanford Arena against Lincoln Memorial in an attempt to snap a two-match skid.
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