JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – After playing six matches in 11 days, Carson-Newman opens up a stretch that features nine of its next 11 away from home with a trip to Wingate Friday night at 7 p.m. and Saturday at Queens (N.C.) at 2 p.m. to continue South Atlantic Conference play.
"We were able to take Sunday and Monday off to get their bodies back to where they need to be," Carson-Newman coach Dave Franklin said. "We got to see little things that had gone array because we haven't had the practice time. We were able to address those last night and hopefully tonight and tomorrow and be better prepared for this weekend. I think it's finding the small details that are going to allow us to be more efficient."
Friday evening is the 60th all-time meeting between C-N as the Bulldogs have dominated the series 45-14 with wins in each of the last four matches and a 23-5 mark at home since 1992.
Wingate was picked to finish first in the preseason coaches' poll receiving 10 of the 11 first-place votes after winning the regular season and tournament titles in 2016. The Bulldogs earned the No. 2 seed in the Southeast Region and was bounced in the first round for the second straight year losing in five sets to Queens. Shelton Collier's team placed four members on the preseason All-SAC club led by 2016 all-region performer Oakley Attaway.
In 2017, Wingate is one of six remaining undefeated teams in Division II having dropped a total of four sets. Overall it is a 15-match winning streak in the regular season dating back to Nov. 5, 2016 when Lenoir-Rhyne earned a sweep. The last time the Bulldogs lost at home was Oct. 1, 2016 to fifth-ranked Wheeling Jesuit.
From a stats point of view, Collier's unit in five categories ranking fourth in the country in opponent's hitting percentage at .096. No foe has topped .165 this season and five clubs have posted a mark below .100.
With 15.26 kills per set and a .273 attack percentage, the Bulldogs place fifth and 10th respectively in the nation. Six times the team has hit at least .300 in a match with its lowest number of .167 coming at L-R on Sept. 28.
Katie Bludau has been the steady force with 4.29 kills per set to lead the league and rank 13th in Division II. The senior has registered eight of the 10 highest tallies for Wingate in 2017.
For the 11th time, C-N and Queens will meet on the volleyball court as the Eagles hold a 6-4 edge. After losing four straight outings, the Royals swept the regular-season series in 2017.
Queens was projected to finish fourth and will need to replace the conference's player of the year, outside hitter Meredith Jones. 2016 second-team All-SAC setter Sydney Kunz and honorable mention outside hitter Rebecca Cochran are both on the preseason second team. The Royals reached the Southeast Region title game with five-set wins over Wingate and Flagler before falling in five frames to top-seeded South Carolina Aiken.
Notching 1.86 service aces per set, the Royals are the top serving unit in the SAC having recorded double-digit aces in half of their affairs this season.
Senior Rebecca Cochran is taking swings more than anyone in the league with 11.65 per set, 19th in the nation while racking up 3.29 kills per set, fifth in the league. She has tallied nine matches with at least 10 kills, posting a double-double in each match. With 4.24 digs per set, Cochran is 11th in the league.
"We are trying to get them to understand the intensity and focus that it takes for 25 points especially against veteran teams [to win at this level]," Franklin said. "A little of our youth is that they don't know what it takes yet. They are still trying to figure it out. The good news is it's like climbing up a mountain. Once you fall over the other side it should snowball for you. We have been climbing. It's going to take one to get us over the edge. We are hoping one of those is this weekend."
The Friday evening affair will be aired on ESPN3 for those with the subscription access while Saturday will be streamed on Queens's web portal. As always fans are encouraged to stay tuned on Twitter on @CNathletics for real-time updates.
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