Golden Eagle volleyball schedule features some big obstacles in ‘09

COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – Four non-conference foes that reached the NCAA field last season, three tough tournaments to open the year, and an 18-game Ohio Valley Conference slate highlight the schedule awaiting the Tennessee Tech volleyball team in 2009 as the Golden Eagles defend their league title and bid for a return to the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re excited about getting to work this fall and defending our championship and returning to the NCAA,” said head coach John Blair. “We will have some significant changes in our roster from last year and this schedule presents some interesting challenges, but it also presents some opportunities.”

Tech opens 2009 with tournaments at Tennessee, Appalachian State and Louisville. Four of the nine teams in those weekend events joined Tech last December in the NCAA Tournament.

After the tourney weekends, Tech opens conference play with five home matches, a schedule that Blair feels can help his squad.

“I think the early part of our schedule will really benefit this team,” Blair said. “The first tournament (at Tennessee) comes before classes start, so we can concentrate on our preseason work, and the additional court time early on will help us as the season progresses.”

Tech kicks off the 2009 season with three matches in Knoxville, Aug. 29-30, at the Lady Vol Invitational. Tech will meet host Tennessee, plus Lipscomb and Western Kentucky. Both UT and WKU were in the NCAA field last winter with Tech.

“This is a huge tournament,” Blair said. “Three of the teams went to post-season play and Lipscomb is picked to win their conference this year. It’s a very challenging way to start the season, and we play three quality opponents.”

Tech’s second weekend finds the Golden Eagles in Boone, N.C., Sept. 4-5, for the Appalachian State Invitational. Joining Tech and Appalachian State will be William & Mary and North Florida.

“William & Mary is the preseason pick to win the Colonial Athletic Conference,” Blair said. “I expect Appalachian State to be good. We’ve played them before, but they have a new coach, a past colleague of mine, so we really won’t know what to expect.”

The ASU Mountaineers will be coached by Matt Ginipro, who was an assistant coach under Blair at Ole Miss.

The third weekend also features three NCAA tournament teams in the four-team field when Tech plays in the Louisville Invitational, Sept. 11-12. In addition to Tech and Louisville, Liberty plays in the UL event after advancing to NCAA play last year. Cleveland State rounds out the field.

“We’ve played in the gym at Louisville each of the last three years,” Blair said. “It’s an important tournament for us. It’s the last tune up before beginning conference play.

“Louisville is the defending champion in the Big East Conference and they always have a strong international roster, Liberty won the Big South, and Cleveland State will be strong,” he said.

The league schedule opens Sept.18-19 when Tech hosts Southeast Missouri and Eastern Illinois. The Golden Eagles also host Jacksonville State, UT Martin and Murray State while playing five OVC home contests during a nine-day stretch.

That’s followed with seven of the next 10 on the road, with Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State – last year’s regular season co-champions along with Tech – making visits to Eblen Center, Oct. 16-17.

After hosting Tennessee State and Austin Peay on Nov. 6-7, Tech closes the regular season Nov. 13-14 with road contests at Morehead Sate and EKU.

The OVC tournament, which Tech hosted and won last year, will be held Nov. 19-23, at the site of the regular season champion. The winner advances to the NCAA Tournament.

Admission to all home regular season volleyball matches in Eblen Center is free.