HARROGATE, Tenn. – It has been 302 days since Carson-Newman last served falling to Wingate in the South Atlantic Conference semifinals. The Eagles turn their focus to a new season with high hopes starting Friday in Harrogate, Tenn. with three matches over two days.
Coach Dave Franklin's crew opens the year at 1 p.m. against King before wrapping up the first day against USC Aiken at 5 p.m. The weekend comes to a close on Saturday versus Emmanuel at 1 p.m.
"We have had a different focus in our gym," Franklin said. "We have been learning the system for a few years. I keep improving within the system. We are a lot more comfortable there so we are progressing through that. We have to pay attention on whether we are a great team. What are our performance standards in practice? The preparation on how to compete and understand on what wins at the highest level is consistency. We have to put more energy there which should lead us to finish off some tighter matches and tighter sets and getting over that hump and getting this thing rolling in a pretty good direction."
Carson-Newman is 16-11 in season openers all-time. Dating back to 2006, the Eagles have won 11 of their last 13 lidlifters with the lone blemishes coming in a five-set loss to Francis Marion to begin the 2012 season and the 2016 season opener versus second-ranked and defending national champion Wheeling Jesuit, a four-set loss in Pensacola, Fla.
This year marks the third straight season in which the unit starts the year inside of Lincoln Memorial's Mary Mars Gym. Over the first six matches, C-N is 5-1 with a four-match winning streak. The lone loss in that period came to Lee on Sept. 1, 2017, a four-set setback.
"With how our schedule sets up, getting right into conference play and knowing how important that is for regional ranking and college athletics, conference is very important," Franklin said. "We want to play tough competition and find out where our weaknesses are. I think that doing this right from the get-go will show our weaknesses. It will also give us an opportunity to know where we have to go."
For the 39th time in history, King is C-N's opponent with the Tornado holding a 23-15 lead thanks to victories in each of the first 19 meetings. Since Oct. 17, 2001, the Eagles have won 15 of the last 19. King's last win over the Eagles came on Sept. 13, 2013, a four-set win on its home floor.
In the 2018 rendition of the series, Franklin's crew earned a sweep behind 10 kills and a .389 efficiency mark from Erin Edwards (Midlothian, Va.) and 10 blasts from Marnie Streeter (Goldvein, Va.). C-N registered a .216 hitting percentage and seven blocks.
After winning nine of its final 11 to close the year, the Tornado lost a five-set match to Belmont Abbey in the Conference Carolinas semifinals. The preseason coaches' poll pinned the unit fourth.
The Tornado were one of the tougher serving teams nationally ranking 11th with 2.04 service aces per game. Holding teams to a .119 hitting percentage, coach Ryan Booher's team was eighth in the category.
This year's team is led by reigning Freshman of the Year Julie Ward led the team with 14 double-doubles finishing second in the conference with 3.54 kills per set to earn first-team all-conference honors. She had 16 kills and a .333 attack percentage against C-N a year ago. 2018 third-team all-league honoree Tristyn Lozano, who posted 1.98 kills per set and 0.43 aces per frame.
USC Aiken tangles with the Eagles for a sixth-straight year in the first of two meetings between the two clubs this year holding an 8-4 lead in the series. Through the first 12 affairs, the teams have traded four-match winning streaks. C-N is 0-6 at Aiken all time but unbeaten, 3-0, in neutral matches including a sweep in the most recent meeting, the opening round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
A team that spent most of the time as the second-best team in the region fell in straight sets to Wingate in the Southeast Region final last year. The Pacers return two All-Americans from that team led by middle Christine Carroll who posted 4.60 points per set. First-team All-American libero Rebecca Martinez led Division II with 7.86 digs per set.
The Eagles take on reigning Conference Carolina champ Emmanuel for the second time after sweeping them a year ago behind 15 kills and a .419 hitting percentage from Megan Oldenburger (Cedar Rapids, Iowa).
The Lions were swept by Wingate in the first round of last season's NCAA Tournament and are picked to win the league getting nine first-place votes. Julie de Blanck, the league's player of the year, graduated after posting 4.4 points per set to lead the team.
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