JEFFERSON CITY, Tenn. – In the final preseason look at the 2019 Carson-Newman volleyball roster, Alex Biro analyzes the net with a glance at the outside hitters and the middle blockers.
One of the two seniors from last season occupied this group in former South Atlantic Conference Freshman of the Year Natalie Harris. The middle blocker played in 117 matches and racked up 759 kills and 0.80 blocks per set spending four years as a starter.
Despite her graduation, the Eagles are deep in the middle with Biro returning from injury missing the final 24 matches of the season after being limited to 13 sets as a junior. A highly efficient hitter, the Ooltewah, Tenn. native posted a .268 attack percentage in 2017 and has 320 kills for her career. Blocking has been a strong suit as she has averaged just shy of one block per frame twice in her tenure.
"I was thinking about it the other day that it's almost been a year," Biro said. "It was a long process but I had such a good support staff with the trainers and everyone jumped on the ship to help me out. Towards the end of last semester, I felt full go. This summer, having a free schedule and my own rest period really helped. It was the best thing for me in terms of healing my body and helping me mature."
One of the most improved players on the roster in 2018, Katie Parnell (Atlanta) proved to be one of the best blockers in the country. With 1.36 blocks per set, she ranked seventh in the country in the category. Her 144 total blocks and 1.36 blocks per set put her fourth for a single season behind three campaigns by Nikki James. Parnell's efficiency took a major leap improving by over 100 points to a .279 margin as a sophomore.
Coach Dave Franklin brought in a pair of newcomers starting with a transfer from Sioux Falls, Kaina Roehrkasse (Fort Collins, Colo.), is a teammate of Taylor Rohr (Windsor, Colo.) in high school. She played for a team that went 20-10 picking up a kill against the No. 1 team in the country, Concordia-St. Paul.
A name familiar to Carson-Newman history buffs, Grace Ieremia (Homestead, Fla.) is an incoming freshman and daughter of former Eagle football player Hugo who was the Jacobs Blocking Trophy winner in 1994 as the SAC's best blocker.
"Katie is bringing back all of her experience," Biro said. "Kaina is still trying to learn a little bit of our system but she can adapt so quickly. She is such a natural athlete. Grace is equally willing to learn and she brings so much natural talent that as soon as she can get the fundamentals down, it's going to be a four-part circus. The competition between us is going to be really fun."
On the pins, the Eagles return nearly every kill from each of the past two seasons and have a potent tandem on the outside in all-conference performers Marnie Streeter (Goldvein, Va.) and Megan Oldenburger (Cedar Rapids, Iowa).
Streeter has received postseason plaudits in two of her first three seasons in the Orange and Blue touting 55 double-digit kill efforts and 14 double-doubles. After posting her 1,000th career kill on Nov. 2, 2018, the senior enters the year with 1,027, less than 300 away from moving into the top five in school history.
Oldenburger has earned postseason laurels in each of the first two campaigns of her career including a second team nod last year. The team leader in kills in 2018, the junior racked up 14 double-doubles. She was an elite defender as well finishing second on the team in total digs leading to 17 double-digit dig contests.
Joy Rhodes (Youngsville, N.C.) flashed her versatility working as a six-rotation outside and in the middle when injuries riddled the club. The junior had three matches with double-digit kills and racked up all but one of her blocks in the final five outings of the year.
Veteran Abbie McFarlane (McKinney, Texas) finishes off the left side with 51 matches under her belt posting 10 outings with at least 10 blasts in her career.
Shifting to the right side, no player saw greater development than Erin Edwards (Midlothian, Va.) who saw her numbers leap from 46 kills to 215 from year one to year two. She finished eighth in the SAC in hitting percentage at .264 while blasting nine double-digit kill outings.
The other option on the right side is senior Kendall Cooley (Castle Rock, Colo.) who has averaged at least 0.50 blocks per set in each of her first three seasons at Carson-Newman. She had a career-high 10 kills at Newberry on Sept. 24.
"They are pushing each other so much and it's so fun to see," Biro said. "We have combined the left and right pins in terms of everyone being a hitter. Everyone is going to learn from both sides and be efficient from both sides. Seeing all of that effort pushes each other to help themselves and help each other. It's making everyone better, more mature and well rounded. It's a constant push and pull between all of them because they all bring so much to the table."
The Eagles take flight for the first time in 2019 on Sept. 6 at Mary Mars Gym in Harrogate, Tenn. against King at 1 p.m. in the first of two games on the opening day of the year. C-N's first home match comes a week later on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. against Virginia-Wise.
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