Gamecock Volleyball Gearing Up For Friday's Season Opener

The Jacksonville State volleyball team is wrapping up its preparations for the 2009 season, which will get underway on Friday at the Deacon Invitational in Winston-Salem, N.C.

The Gamecocks will begin their quest for a fourth Ohio Valley Conference title in the past five seasons at 3:30 p.m. on Friday against Furman in the first-round of the two-day tournament that will be played on the campus of Wake Forest. Eighth-year head coach Rick Nold wraps up his team's preseason preparations feeling confident in his group and excited to see what they are capable of against some outside competition.

"I think that overall, we've had a great preseason and I believe we are ready to go," Nold said. "We are going to have some tough competition to start with, but fortunately, I think our level of competition in practice has been better than what we may have seen last year. That should really help us."

Jax State is attempting to bounce back from a disappointing 2008 season that saw the Gamecocks post a 10-19 record and finish seventh in the OVC. A season that featured early wins over Auburn and Ole Miss didn't finish the way the Gamecocks had hoped, but they return eight letterwinners from a year ago in an attempt to make a run back to the top of the league standings.

Senior Brittney Whitten leads the returnees and is coming off a junior season that saw her lead the OVC in kills and rank ninth in digs per game. The Boonville, Ind., native enters her senior season fourth in school history with 1,179 career digs and eighth with 1,025 kills. The Preseason All-OVC selection is one of just three players in school history to record both 1,000 digs and 1,000 kills in a career.

Also back is preseason All-OVC pick Caitlin Vorbeck, who also made a splash in the OVC rankings in 2008. The junior from Raytown, Mo., ranked second in the league in kills behind Whitten with 390. Sophomore Laurne Harkins leads the Gamecock defense after a freshman season that saw her rack up 482 digs, the fourth-highest total in school history, and earn OVC All-Newcomer honors.

The Gamecocks will play three matches in this week's Deacon Invitational, wrapping up the weekend with matchups against host Wake Forest and UNC Charlotte on Saturday.

"This should be a solid tournament for us," Nold added. "Every team is going to be capable of beating us, and we are capable of beating every team. That is what we want to see. If we're not playing well, I want us to get beat, because I think that helps us get a true indication of where we are and what we need to do through the year."

JSU's home opener will be on Sept. 15, when the Gamecocks host in-state rival Troy at 6 p.m. at Pete Mathews Coliseum. Admission is free to all JSU home matches.