LAURINBURG — The St. Andrews women’s volleyball team won its most games since 2008 last year — and third-year coach Holly Mandeville is pushing the program to reach even loftier goals this season.
According to the coaches in the Appalachian Athletic Conference, however, the Lady Knights may have their work cut out for them. The AAC Coaches’ Poll, revealed Monday, lists St. Andrews finishing seventh in the 11-team conference. The coaches slotted Bryan College, in Dayton, Tenn., as the favorite to win a third straight conference championship with eight first-place votes. Union College, at Barbourville, Ky., received the other two first-place votes and were picked to finish second.
Mandeville, who directed the program to eight wins in her first year and 13 in her second, goes into her third season with the expectation that they team will continue that upward trajectory.
“I’m looking for us to finish in the top half of the conference this year,” Mandeville said. “We brought in a lot of height this year and girls from all over. They’re young so I’d expect the upperclassmen to be leaders since they know what it’s all about here.”
Mandeville said a big part in the rebuilding of the program is getting some of the other schools, coaches, and players to take St. Andrews’ team more seriously. The program is on the rise, as is evident with the growth in wins over the last few years, but Mandeville and second-year assistant coach Katie Lovett said that in order to become a championship caliber team, the Lady Knights must consistently compete with the top schools in the conference.
“To be in the top of the conference, they just have to come in wanting to work hard every day,” Mandeville said. “Wanting to learn more, fixing our mistakes from the night before and applying that to the game, not just doing it in practice.”
The Lady Knights return eight players from last years team and are also bringing in eight freshmen. Mandeville said the biggest difference in where the program is now compared to when she took over three years ago is that the players have a stronger sense of commitment and an intense drive to improve.
“… We’ve recruited people that are better caliber players than the year before,” Lovett said, “so that challengers our returners too and they have to step up.”
Mandeville added, “I think we have a good group of girls that love volleyball and want to get better this year.”
St. Andrews opened practice on Thursday and today will be their first game action as they travel to Sandhills CC for a scrimmage game. The match starts at 1 p.m. The Lady Knights have only reconvened for a few days, as they spent the summer working out on their own before returning to school this week. ‘
The team’s season opener is at home against Meredith College on Sept. 3. The game is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.