GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum volleyball team will tip-off the 2017 season this weekend as the Pioneers travel to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for the 2017 Nova Southeastern University Shark Invitational.
The Pioneers will play four matches this weekend and will face two NCAA Division II Tournament teams from a year ago, including Friday's season-opener against national quarterfinalist American International. TC will follow that contest against defending Sunshine State Conference co-champion Saint Leo WHO also advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Tusculum will also face St. Anselm and host Nova Southeastern on Saturday to wrap up their Florida trip.
Tusculum head coach Michael Robinson, who is entering his 10th season at the helm of the Pioneer program, returns 13 letter-winners, including four starters from last year's squad the posted a 12-19 record and finished eighth in the South Atlantic Conference.
Leading the charge defensively is two-time All-SAC first team libero Melissa Mazur. Mazur, a junior from Chicago, Illinois, has led the team in digs in each of her first two seasons, including last year where she averaged 5.77 digs per set, which were second in the conference. Her sophomore year was ended prematurely due to injury with five matches left on the schedule.
Mazur is two seasons removed from her 2015 All-America rookie year where she led all NCAA divisions in digs averaging 6.84 per set. She enters her junior season with 1,300 career digs, which are already the fifth-most in program history. She has also amassed 145 assists and 36 service aces in her 54-match career.
One of the four starters returning from a year ago is senior middle blocker Laryssa Welch. The two-time All-SAC honoree started in all 31 matches last season as she led the team in kills (273), hitting percentage (.265), blocks (77) and points (333.5). The New Castle, Indiana native accounted for 11 matches with 10 kills or more, including a stretch of five in a row towards the end of the season. She enters her final TC campaign with 641 career kills, 37 service aces, 162 blocks, 179 digs and a career attack percentage of .243.
Guiding the Tusculum offensive attack will be senior setter Shannon Murphy. The Manhattan, Illinois product saw action in every match last year and averaged 5.64 assists per set while splitting time at the setter position. She enters 2017 with 1,154 career assists to her credit, which are the ninth-most in program history. In 2016, she recorded double-digit assists in 30 of her 31 matches, including six contests with 30 or more helpers. She also led the team with 13 double-doubles as she averaged 2.24 digs per set to go along with 21 service aces.
Also returning in the starting line-up is junior outside hitter Cassie Born. The Hendersonville, North Carolina native averaged 2.05 kills, 2.31 digs and 0.34 blocks per set, while seeing action in all 31 matches a year ago. She was responsible for 268.5 points last season, which were second on the team. She totaled 227 kills, 22 assists, 22 service aces, 256 digs and 38 blocks on the season.
Middle blocker Mariah Lewis averaged 1.89 kills and was second on the team in blocks per set (0.65) and third in hitting percentage (.258) as she played in all 31 matches. The Canton, North Carolina senior recorded 10 or more kills on six occasions in 2016, while totaling 219 kills, 40 digs and 75 blocks on the year.
Senior outside hitter Sabrina Schleuger is braced to have an outstanding final season with the Pioneers. The Louisville, Kentucky product has been battling injuries over the past two seasons, including 2016 where she was limited to only seven appearances, averaging 2.76 digs per set and recorded four service aces. For her career, she is third all-time averaging 0.36 aces per set while her 7.23 hitting attempts per set average are the sixth-most in Tusculum history.
Senior right-side hitter Kaily Weiss appeared in 28 sets covering 13 matches a year ago. The Lynchburg, Virginia native totaled 28 kills, 15 digs and nine blocks to go along with her .170 hitting percentage.
Erin Carmody, a senior middle blocker from Midlothian, Virginia, appeared in eight sets covering four matches in 2016 as she totaled two kills and five blocks in her junior season.
Madison Shumaker, a junior outside hitter from Riner, Virginia, totaled 38 kills and 14 digs in her 22-set span which covered nine matches. She averaged 1.73 kills and 0.64 digs per set for the Pioneers.
Sophomore Aubrey Hawkins is coming off a solid rookie season where she averaged 1.67 kills, 0.46 digs and 0.35 blocks per set. A native of Stamping Ground, Kentucky, Hawkins played in all 31 matches and totaled 175 kills, 48 digs and 37 blocks. She posted 10 or more kills in six matches and finished the year with a .168 hitting percentage.
Floyd Knobs, Indiana sophomore Kayli Dempster, played in 14 contests in her rookie campaign, averaging 1.31 kills and 1.31 digs per set. She recorded 46 kills, 46 digs and eight blocks in her 35 sets on the court. Also returning are sophomores Cameron McAbee (Asheville, N.C.), Brooke Statler (Columbus, Ind.) and Gracee Peters (Seymour, Tenn.).
Rojas, a sophomore setter/defensive specialist from Leesburg, Florida, played last year at Broward College where she was an NJCAA All-American Scholar. She played her prep volleyball at the First Academy in Leesburg where she was her team's most valuable player on two occasions.
Roberts, an outsider hitter from Pegram, Tennessee, was a three-time All-District selection and was named the 2015 District Most Valuable Player at Harpeth High School in Kingston Springs, Tennessee. She led Harpeth to four district titles, a 2014 region crown and a Sub-State Championship. During her career, she played in 466 sets where she tallied 1,295 kills, 79 total blocks, 609 digs and 239 service aces.
Dye, a freshman right side hitter from Kingsport, Tennessee, was an All-Conference standout at Sullivan Central High School.
Myers, a rookie defensive specialist from Newport, Tennessee, was a two-time All-Conference honoree at Cocke County High School where she also lettered in track and field.
Chaney, played her prep career at Thousand Oaks (Calif.) High School where she lettered two seasons and was an Academic Award recipient all four years on the teams. Whited, a libero/defensive specialist from West Chester, Ohio, lettered at Dakota West High School.
Following this weekend's Florida trip, Tusculum will return home to open South Atlantic Conference play against arch-rival Carson-Newman on Friday, Sept. 8 at Pioneer Arena.