GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- The Tusculum women's volleyball team will launch the 2019 season this weekend (Sept. 6-7) as the Pioneers travel to Milledgeville (Ga.) for the Georgia College Bobcat Classic.
The Pioneers will play three matches in the tournament and will face a NCAA Division II Tournament team from a year ago in the season-opener versus the host Bobcats. TU will wrap up their Georgia trip on Saturday with clashes against Lindenwood (Mo.) and future SAC opponent Limestone.
Tusculum head coach Danielle Marante, who is entering her first season at the helm of the Pioneer program, returns 15 letter-winners that posted a 6-20 record and finished 10th in the South Atlantic Conference.
"We are really looking forward to this weekend," said Marante. "It will give us an opportunity to play great competition. We will get to apply all of our training in the upcoming matches and see what we can improve on to prepare for Conference play the following week."
Leading the charge defensively is reigning All-SAC Freshman Team honoree and middle blocker Carli Pigza. A sophomore from Fort Mill, South Carolina, Pigza led the team in total blocks with 83. She was third on the squad with 157 kills, hit .211, and recorded six total blocks in four separate matches. Pigza collected double-digit kills in four contests, including 14 coming at Newberry.
Gabby Gray dominated the offensive attack in her first year as a Pioneer. A Western Carolina University transfer from Chickamauga, Georgia, she was second on the team with 240 kills, while also recording 134 digs, 15 service aces, and 23 total blocks in 23 matches. The junior outside hitter finished with nine double-digit kill performances and six double-figure dig matches. Gray collected two 15-dig performances with one including a career-high 23 kills. Her 2.93 kills per set put her on pace for fourth in TU career numbers and 10.41 attempts per set in 2018 was third all-time. Off the court, Gray was named to the Division II Athletic Directors Association (D2 ADA) Honor Roll.
Alyssa Rojas appeared in 78 sets through 21 matches as the primary setter in 2018. A Leesburg, Florida native, she finished the season with a career-high and team-leading 677 assists, a career-high 13 aces, and 204 digs. The senior averaged 8.68 assists per set and 2.62 digs per set. She recorded double-digit digs in 11 matches with a season-high coming at Carson-Newman. Rojas had a career-high 56 assists in a five-set match at Newberry in September. She was credited with 17+ assists in every match in which she played. Academically, Rojas was named to the CoSIDA NCAA Division II Academic All-District first team and D2 ADA Honor Roll.
Aubrey Hawkins played in all 26 matches with action in 77 sets. The Stamping Ground, Kentucky-born right-side hitter totaled 138 kills alongside 47 digs and 23 total blocks. As a junior, Hawkins posted double-digit kills in four matches, with a season-high of 14. She also tied her career-high four blocks versus Belmont Abbey.
Senior Tatum Thornton participated in 20 matches and 58 sets during her first year in Greeneville, finishing the season with 60 kills and 50 total blocks (second-highest on the team). The product of Dallas, Texas registered eight kills against Newberry and nine blocks versus Lenoir-Rhyne.
Taylor Blythe, a sophomore from Seymour, Tennessee, appeared in 16 matches, seeing action in 34 sets. She finished the season with 60 kills, two assists, 12 digs, and 29 total blocks. Blythe recorded double-digit kills in two matches, 12 at Catawba and 10 in the rematch, and had a season-high six total blocks in the second matchup with the Catawba Indians.
Jordan Zaleski (Brentwood, Tenn.) played in 20 matches and 62 sets as a freshman. The defensive specialist amassed nine aces and 116 digs, compiling double-digit figures in six matches. A high of 24 digs were racked up at Mars Hill.
Courtney Whited, a West Chester, Ohio native, was a defensive specialist that saw action in 16 matches and 43 sets in her rookie year. She registered 48 digs with a high of eight versus Anderson.
Nevena Pejovic looks to move into the starting rotation during her senior year. After playing her junior season as a Pioneer, the outside hitter from Podgorica, Montenegro totaled 50 kills, 47 digs, and 11 total blocks through 40 sets. She collected a season-high eight kills and four block assists versus Belmont Abbey and scooped up 12 digs against Montevallo.
Lydia Collins competed in 16 matches and 40 sets and finished her first season with 38 kills and 18 total blocks. The sophomore from Knoxville, Tennessee had two matches with six kills and four total blocks in three contests.
Cameron McAbee aims to be a key figure in the lineup in her final season. An Asheville, North Carolina native, she competed in 35 sets across 10 matches. McAbee recorded career-highs in three statistical categories with five assists, six service aces, and 58 digs coming in 2018. She also posted a season-high 10 digs versus Lenoir-Rhyne.
Catherine Clingan will be one of three battling for time as the primary setter. The Franklin, Tennessee native saw action in five matches and 11 sets in 2018, collecting four kills, 94 assists, six service aces, 19 digs, and four block assists. The sophomore racked up 44 assists alongside two block assists versus Coker and four aces with nine digs versus Catawba.
Gracee Peters (Seymour, Tenn.), Madison Dye (Kingsport, Tenn.), and Kennedy Roberts (Pegram, Tenn.) each look to earn more playing time and increase their contributions in 2019. Peters played in three matches and four sets, recording a career-high three kills at Coker. Dye played in two matches and two sets, totaling one kill. Roberts did not see action but was named to the D2 ADA Honor Roll.
Sosnowski, a sophomore libero from Oxford, Florida, played last year at Florida International where she saw action in 92 sets and collected 110 digs. She played her prep volleyball at Villages Charter High School. Sosnowski earned both the Scholar Athlete and Best Defense Award her senior season, compiling career numbers of 887 digs, 81 service aces, and 78 kills.
Byrd, a right-side hitter from Bluff City, Tennessee, was a three-time All-District Tournament selection and was named the 2018 Three Rivers Conference Hitter of the Year at Sullivan East High School in Bluff City, Tennessee. The two-time All-Conference performer was the 2019 recipient of the Wendy's High School Heisman Award, earned the TN/VA Scholars Community Service Award all four years, and finished third each year in conference play. For her career, Byrd ended with 544 kills, 91 blocks, 128 digs, 75 assists, and 37 aces.
Shawel, a freshman libero from Peoria, Arizona, was an All-State and All-Conference selection at Glendale Preparatory Academy. She was a member of the 2017 Region Champions and the 2018 State Runner-up squads. Shawel was also the team's most consistent server in 2017.
Burrowes, a rookie outside hitter from Wesley Chapel, North Carolina, was a two-time All-Conference honoree and three-time Offensive Player of the Year at Sun Valley High School. Collectively, she recorded 846 kills and 456 digs for the Spartans.
Carmichael, played her prep career at Avon (Ind.) High School where she lettered two seasons and was named to the All-Tournament Team twice. The setter was a state champion in 2017 and runner-up in 2018. The team went a perfect 22-0 and 19-3 in those seasons, respectively.
Following this weekend's Georgia trip, Tusculum will play three more contests away from home, including two conference matches. They will return home and continue South Atlantic Conference play against SAC-newcomer Virginia-Wise on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at Pioneer Arena.