BUIES CREEK, N.C. – The Campbell volleyball team opens the 2012 season on Friday night at East Carolina with the first serve slated for 7 p.m. inside Williams Arena at Minges Coliseum. The Camels play two matches on Saturday against Charlotte and Bethune Cookman beginning at 11 a.m.
GoCamels.com takes a look at the team with a position by position breakdown below. Above is an embedded video that provides insight into the preparations for the season opener.
2012 Volleyball Season Outlook
Coming into the campaign, the Camels have developed chemistry and continuity on the volleyball court through preseason practice. The team returns four starters in sophomores Mallorie Cubillos and Lorin Thomas, junior Heather Wilson and senior Kelsey Marek. The young team consisting of 10 underclassmen, which includes five newcomers, has been motivated through competition.
"Throughout the preseason, I saw one of the fastest teams in adapting to any situation that I have coached in my career," said head coach Leigh Mullins. "It was amazing to see these student-athletes adapt and come together as a team. The upperclassmen have gone above and beyond to make the newcomers feel a part of this team. Their leadership has been immaculate."
Campbell finished fifth in the conference last season with a 13-18 mark in the program's return to the Big South Conference. The league's coaches have slotted them seventh entering the campaign after losing five players, including the graduation seniors Kelsey Campbell, Annie Kobeski and Lauren Garza.
The coaching staff of head coach Mullins, associate head coach Nathan Leggett and assistant Kelsey Bendig knew the importance of developing the young team. Throughout the spring, that was the task and the players responded.
"Our returners worked hard in the spring and we saw a lot of growth," said Mullins. "Then they continued to progress over the summer and returned with added growth and maturity. At times last season, they were freshman, but now these sophomores are hitting their stride."
One of the most important aspects of a team is the setter, who runs the offense and distributes the ball with precision on the offensive attack. Campbell has two quality options in Wilson and sophomore Pia Holzgreve, a transfer from Germany.
Last year, Wilson ran the offense amassing 7.97 assists per set and setting a career-best with 49 assists at Liberty. The Concord, N.C., native was named to the NC State Classic All-Tournament Team and received recognition on the Big South Presidential Honor Roll.
The addition of Holzgreve from Gymnasium Nottuln in Muenster, Germany, has solidified the position. She has played with USC Muenster, a club team, and was a part of an under-20 state championship team in 2010.
All teams need to have reliable outside hitters that can put the ball down and build rallies, but also provide a much needed kill on a sideout. Sophomores Jessica Groen and Thomas are the two returners competing on the outside along with freshmen Katelyn Layden and Renatta Laport.
Thomas was a starter and key offensive contributor last season on the outside and right side. The native of Raleigh, N.C., posted 1.31 kills per set and was a force at the net with 0.62 blocks per set.
Another player that has shown hard work pays off is Groen, who saw limited action last season, because she was adjusting her swing. The Las Cruces, N.M., native found her groove in the preseason and has regained her prep form, where she captured New Mexico 5A state player of the year as a junior.
Layden has come in and contributed on the practice court. The Chapel Hill, N.C., native was a four-year starter at Chapel Hill High School and was announced as the runner-up for conference player of the year honors.
A late addition to the 2012 class was Laport, a native of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She attended the British School or Rio de Janeiro and was selected as a two-time team MVP.
The Camels have height and experience in the middle with junior Lindsey Coats, 6-0, Marek, 6-0 and Thomas, 6-2, even though the team graduated Annie Kobeski, who earned Big South Second Team honors. Freshman Sam Zuber, another tall middle with a 6-2 frame, has been impressive in preseason practice.
"We are returning two amazing middles that have proven themselves in the Big South," said coach Mullins. "Our freshman has worked extremely hard and is going to find her way onto the court this year."
The team's lone senior this season is Kelsey Marek, who is the leading returner in blocks per set with 0.78. She saw action in 80 sets a year ago with 1.29 kills per frame. The Taylor, Texas, native has stepped up to provide leadership on and off the court.
Coats saw action in 69 sets during her sophomore campaign. She posted 139 kills per set, while hitting at a .172 clip. The Dunn, N.C., native totaled 52 blocks.
Coming in as a freshman, Zuber is from Sunbury, Ohio and was named to the First Team All-Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference as a senior. She ended her stellar high school career at Highland holding the program's career marks for kills (852) and aces (179) and single season record for aces with 66.
"She is a freshman that has stepped in and developed extremely quickly," said Mullins. "There were a couple of tweaks that she has overcome. She is going to develop into a very good player for us."
The right side has the task of going up against the opponent's premiere outside hitter, providing the block that can limit their effectiveness. Campbell has Thomas and a pair of sophomores in Brooke Kelley, who emerged towards the end of the year, and Kendall Tart.
"After battling some injuries early on, Kelley emerged as an effective right side," said coach Mullins. "She is a big force that can put the ball down on the right side."
The Stafford, Va., native totaled 2.07 kills per set and is the team's top returner in that category. Kelley can also put up a big block at 6-2 and registered 0.35 blocks per set a season ago.
Thomas served as a backup a year ago on the right side, but also contributed as an outside hitter. She posted 105 kills and 50 blocks for the Camels.
Libero and Defensive Specialists
One area that the coaching staff knew the team had to work on going into the season was defense, but sophomores Kendall Tart and Cubillos, junior Chelsey Pachoud and freshman Lauren Bewick have stepped up to anchor the Camels' back row. The defense is the backbone of the team because it starts the offense by providing a strong and accurate pass to the setter.
Receiving quality experience in the back row was Cubillos last season, tallying 2.10 digs per set. The Holly Springs, N.C., native also totaled 10 service aces and assists.
Pachoud saw action in 75 sets, playing primarily in the back row, where she registered 143 digs. The Riverview, Fla., native additionally totaled 34 kills for the Camels.
Tart saw action in six matches last season and can be expected to challenge for additional playing time in the back row.
Bewick has come in as a freshman and has been a reliable passer for the Camels in practice. The native of Winterville, N.C., earned all-conference honors and defensive player of the year at D.H. Conley High School.
"Lauren is more vocal on the court than some of our upperclassmen," said coach Mullins. "She is passing the ball and doing all the little things that need to be done to sure up our back row."
Campbell begins its second year back in the Big South and has a full-slate of contests including nine home matches and four tournaments.
"Our tournament schedule is going to prepare us for the always competitive Big South slate," said coach Mullins. "After playing in five tournaments last year, we have added a few more mid-week non-conference contests to gain additional reps and set ourselves up for success."
The Camels open the season on Friday at 7 p.m. in Greenville, N.C., against East Carolina. Campbell faces Bethune Cookman and Charlotte on Saturday to conclude the tournament hosted by the Pirates.
Following a mid-week matchup at UNC Wilmington, the Camels travel to Williamsburg, Va., to face Georgetown on Sept. 1. Host William & Mary and Manhattan are on the schedule the following day.
Another road matchup at N.C. Central on Sept. 4 provides a tune up for the NC State Tournament that begins on Sept. 7. Campbell takes on Central Michigan before battling NC State and Western Carolina in a doubleheader.
On Sept. 11, Campbell faces South Carolina State before making a trip to Wake Forest. After seeing Appalachian State the night before, the Camels get to test themselves against Wake Forest and Toledo on Sept. 15.
The home and Big South opener for Campbell at the John W. Pope Jr. Convocation Center is slated for Friday, Sept. 21 against High Point. The Camels will play matches the next day against North Carolina Central and North Carolina A&T.
Campbell concludes a five-match home stand by hosting Charleston Southern and Coastal Carolina beginning on Sept. 28.
"Once the conference schedule begins, we are able to focus on scouting and preparing for each Big South match," said coach Mullins. "Each team in the Big South is very competitive and our team looks forward to the challenge of our conference opponents."
A two and a half week road trip continues the Big South slate with stops at Liberty, Radford, Presbyterian, Winthrop and High Point.
Gardner-Webb and UNC Asheville play Campbell beginning on Sept. 26, before the Camels welcome Radford and Liberty starting on Nov. 3. The Camels will honor the program's lone senior Marek prior to the Nov. 3 match at Liberty.
The final preparations for the Big South Tournament have the Camels traveling to Coastal Carolina and Charleston Southern on Nov. 10.
This year's Big South Tournament is hosted by Radford and will start on Nov. 15 with the championship game on Nov. 18.