Number 17th nationally ranked Vanguard University is expected to improve upon last years disappointing ending of their season.
At the time, Head Coach Eryn Leja had no idea that last years season ending loss to San Marcos would be a turning point for the 2013-2014 lions. “We had already beaten them earlier in the year, then to turn around and lose to them in the national tournament was devastating. It really threw the girls for a loop, they weren’t expecting to lose. Last years loss was so instrumental to the beginning of how we started our season this year,” said Leja.
Reflecting back “Last year was always said to be our growing year and I think that’s exactly what it was,” said co-captain Jessica Neves.
The returners came in with a new work ethic and stressed the importance of preseason. They helped the freshman adjust from playing high school volleyball to the uptempo, hard hitting college game. As well as understanding the importance of preseason for rankings.
Leja knew her team was different from teams of the past, when all the girls returned for the fall. “They weren’t just working hard, they work hard every year. But this year the girls have been working hard to win.” said Leja.
“This team has really surprised me this year on how easy it was for the girls to become a cohesive unit so quickly and so early on in the season with 7 new players,” said Leja.
This year the lady lions are very athletic and have depth from every position, making them a force to be reckoned with. Even with the luxuries of athleticism and depth, Coach Leja stressed how important defense was going to be for her team as they enter conference play.
“Defense wins matches.” Right now junior Kelly Heenan is leading the conference in digs as a libero, giving VU a very strong back line. Not only is Vanguard strong in the back line but also very strong at the net with 3 girls in the top 15 for blocking.
At the beginning of the year the team sat down and created goals for the season: win GSAC (Golden State Athletic Conference) and compete for a national title. Since then, this has been the focus of every player, taking it one day at a time.
“My expectations for this year is that this team will finish best in the GSAC in program history.” said Leja. The lady lions have not finished higher than 4th.
The GSAC is one of the most competitive conferences in the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) holding 5 nationally ranked teams.
It’s a blessing that Vanguard will play the reigning national champions(Concordia) twice before heading to the national tournament, as well as other nationally ranked teams(Biola, Westmont, Masters). Two of these schools are currently ranked higher then the lady lions. “We will have to earn respect to improve our rating as the season continues, said Leja.
“I think it’s awesome that we get to play Concordia twice. It gives us the opportunity to play the best of the best and prepare us for the national tournament. I would rather play the number 1 team in the nation twice than play non-ranked teams in conference and not be prepared when we get to the national tournament. It also gives us the opportunity to beat the reining national champions, twice!” said co-captain Ashli Bellinger.
With the teams optimistic out look on their season the Lady Lions will face many tough opponents, battle testing them for the national championships and their conquest to be victorious…