Blossom volleyball set to open at Lyon

In her third season already, University of Arkansas at Monticello volleyball coach Kelly Burdeau is looking for marked improvement in her Cotton Blossoms. She’ll get a chance to find out early, as UAM opens the 2017 season on the road against Lyon College in Batesville at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Then, the Blossoms travel to Memphis, Tenn. to participate in the Christian Brothers University Invitational Friday and Saturday. On Friday, UAM faces Assumption (Mass.) College and Tiffin (Ohio) University before meeting host CBC and Newman (Kan.) University on Saturday.
“This season we have a full roster of 16,” Burdeau said. “I was excited to have nine returners with the addition of seven fresh faces. I believe the ratio is perfect from returners to new players because we are still growing this program.
“Over the past season, we made some big leaps and I am very proud of all that we accomplished. Not only did we make the postseason and compete very well in the tournament but we also maintained a team GPA of 3.55.
“During the offseason, they worked really hard at individual practices and during weights to come back stronger and faster to have an even better season this year. We have a great culture beginning here and this team is something special. They are a great group of girls that you find yourself wanting to be around. Our motto this season is to trust the process. I believe it will be a great season.”
UAM ended 2016 with an overall record of 12-17; the Blossoms were 8-8 in the Great American Conference, which was good for seventh in the regular season. Senior Aubrey Harrison, who enters her fourth year with the program, leads the key returners. Harrison finished second in blocks a year ago with 44, recorded 149 kill, and 15 service aces.
Fellow senior Macy Mitchell also returns to the squad. Mitchell led the Blossoms in digs with 528, a 4.80 digs-per-set average. Mitchell finished sixth in the conference in both categories. The only other upperclassman Burdeau has on her roster is Vanessa Pawlak.
“All three saw solid time last season,” Burdeau noted, “so they are returning with some more experience under their belt. I was able to add a junior class to the roster, which was previously missing. Our three transfers—Laurene Cushinberry, Kassidy Pomeroy and Shayna Daniels—will and have brought in some more leadership and some college game experience.
“In the sophomore class, our biggest class, Elizabeth Harshaw, Katie Kuehl, Kendall Vondra, Lacey Lyons, Maggie Pyles and redshirt freshman Taytumn Schlegel-Ridgeway return. These girls contributed last year at major points in the season and look for them to do the same again this season.  We have four new freshman, Brittany Hamilton, Gracie Taves, Reagan Skinner and Toryn Cox. The four of them have stepped in at practice and already holding their own. I am excited to see how much they grow throughout the season.
“Our preseason went really well. We were able to go to Florida and spend time there exploring along with practicing twice a day. We have had some great scrimmages amongst ourselves and we are excited to get the season started and play some other teams.”
As a team last fall, UAM finished fourth in hitting percentage in the GAC, as well as finishing second in service aces and sixth in total digs.
The first home match for the Blossoms will be on Thursday, Sept. 5, when they host Crowley’s Ridge College of Paragould and Mississippi College for a tri-match at 3 p.m. at Steelman Field House. The first GAC match is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 12 at Ouachita Baptist University.

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