SALISBURY, Md. – As a new season dawns for Salisbury University volleyball, Head Coach Justin Turco took some time to look at his new squad and talk about his outlook on the upcoming 2018 campaign. "I am excited and optimistic, we have a great group of returners and a lot of talent and athleticism," Turco said. "We had a great spring season, where we made a lot of progress and accomplished everything we wanted to accomplish."
The team will have seven new faces on it this season but that doesn't change Coach Turco's expectations of them.
"I am looking for them to compete at a high level right away," Turco said. "I talked to all of them about coming in right away and not acting shy or like rookies. They all have the talent to succeed and I expect them to come in and play hard and compete right away."
The new Sea Gulls will be looked at to contribute right away. The list of newcomers consists of one defensive specialist in Darian DiMatteo, two outside hitters in Amanda Chew and Chloe Adam, a setter, two middle blockers, and one opposite in Kiana Bopp, Hannah Sullivan, Jenna Hahn, and Caitlyn Edman, respectively.
Turco will lean heavily on his veterans not just on the court but off it as well to show the rookies the ropes on how the program does things.
"They will show the rookies how things are done here and have a lot of experiences to draw on," Turco said. "We have three captains but a lot of good leaders on this team."
Turco knows he has a strong upper class body and that they are excited for the challenges of this season.
One of the big returning pieces for the Sea Gulls, who was key in their success last season is Nicole Venturelli. Venturelli posted a spectacular 2017 campaign earning First Team Capital Athletic Conference honors totaling a career-high and CAC-best 457 kills and another CAC-high 4.15 kills per set.
"Nicole learned and had a willingness to learn right away," Turco said. "She came in talented but she always wanted to get better and that's a big thing. She comes in every day looking to get better through working hard in practice no matter what success she has experienced on the court."
Turco has been impressed with Venturelli getting better at not just the physical side but the mental aspect of the game and understands that the pressure is there every day. "She teaches the younger players how to be a great player while improving her own game as well," Turco said.
Another key returner is junior libero Hailey Dougherty, who completed her sophomore season second in the CAC in digs with 559 while placing third in digs per set with 5.08. On the defensive end, Dougherty will be joined by Gianna Savarese, who posted a conference-best 1.10 blocks per set last season totaling a team-high 89 blocks in 2017.
The Sea Gulls will hit the road to open the season on the west coast by taking part in the Pacific Coast Classic. Salisbury will square off against in Chapman University, University of La Verne, California Lutheran University, and Pomona Pitzer College.
"The goal is to win and we schedule good teams to beat them not just see them," Turco said. "We are in a really good and really strong region and we are in a good spot as a program to go play some great out of region teams." The tournament itself will host some of the top teams in the country, including last year's national champion Claremont Mudd Scripps.
The team will also see tough competition within the Middle Atlantic Region itself in Swarthmore College, and Capital Athletic Conference opponents Christopher Newport University and the University of Mary Washington. "It is anyone's region right now but we want to be that team to compete with everybody," Turco said. "There is a lot of talent and you have to be able to beat everybody."
With conference play, Turco knows there will be challenges but he also knows that his players have a determination to win. The CAC offers unique challenges with the opponents the maroon and gold will see but none harder than the Captains of Christopher Newport. "They are the model team in our conference in terms of consistent winning," Turco said. "They are talented every year and you have to be prepared with your team to be versatile to stop middle, stop outside, serve tough and serve spots, et cetera"
Turco and his staff are looking forward to a great season and eyeing a return trip to the NCAA tournament.
"It's just a few games, not playing down a few games," Turco said. "We lost games we were in position to win, falling to teams we were on equal footing with. Being more consistent and that comes with great upperclassmen, strong leadership, and being physically and mentally consistent throughout the 2018 season."
Salisbury open the season this afternoon, August 31 against Champman at 6:30 pm eastern time.