Lexington, Ky. – In the first year of the Amy Barmore era, the Transylvania volleyball team staked its claim as the team of the present and the future in the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference in 2018.
With Barmore transitioning into the role of assistant coach to head coach in her fifth year with the program, the Pioneers continued to pick up steam in 2018 as they clinched their first outright conference regular-season title in program history.
After carving through one of the toughest nonconference schedules in the nation that included battles against the eventual national champion, the Pioneers entered the back half of their 2018 season refined for their most likely pathway to the NCAA Tournament: the HCAC Tournament championship route. After facing the best of the best across the country, the Pioneers reeled off eight straight wins in conference play to finish the 2018 regular season to finish at the top of the HCAC standings.
The unprecedented drive by the Pioneers landed two sets short as they fell to conference rival Rose-Hulman in their first HCAC Tournament Championship match appearance in six seasons.
Despite a bitter end to one of the finest seasons in Pioneer Volleyball, that sting has fueled a roster full of seasoned veterans through their offseason as they return to the Beck Center, hungry to take the next step towards what would be their first-ever trip to an NCAA Tournament.
As they enter the 2019 season which begins on August 31, the Pioneers approach a new chapter, one that includes unfinished business and a continuation of their process towards full team maturation.
The 2019 Transylvania volleyball team furnishes arguably the most comprehensive amount of talent in program history. The Pioneers welcome back two critical members to its lineup in seniors Hannah Talkers, the team's everyday setter, and Jordan Horne, a right-side hitter who generated offensive explosions on a nightly basis in 2018.
Both players have won the last two HCAC Offensive Player of the Year awards and have been intricate elements of Transylvania's steady rise over the past three years. Horne comes off a 2018 season which saw her earn HCAC Offensive Player of the Week awards twice and rank top-three in the conference in kills per set. Talkers delivered another all-around season driving the offense as she ranked fifth in the HCAC with 834 total assists and led the Pioneers in hitting percentage.
"Jordan and Hannah have taken over a leadership position on our team," witnesses Barmore. "I have seen them grow since their freshmen year and with their mentality; it is going to set this season apart from any other season those two have experienced here at Transy."
The frontline of the Pioneers is also made complete with the return of junior Ellie Stigger, a middle blocker who won HCAC Freshman of the Year honors in 2017 and sent back her fair share of opponents' volleys. Stigger asserted her role on the Pioneers as a sophomore, ranking second on the team in kills and finishing fifth in the HCAC in blocks.
Transylvania's back line features a combination of steady veterans which led the Pioneers to a top-three ranking in digs per set. Senior defensive specialist Abby Wills led the Pioneers with 431 digs last season while senior defensive specialist Sarah Shivley finished top-three on the Pioneers in digs per set. Junior Kori Rudolph also returns to the mix for the Pioneers after appearing in 26 matches last season.
"We are DS-heavy on our roster and that spot will be very competitive this season," comments Barmore. "We got better defensively last year and our goal for the 2019 season is to make a few adjustments."
CROSS COUNTRY VOLLEYBALL
As has become an annual tradition, the Pioneers will hit the road early and often in September to wage battles against a confluence of national powers in Division III volleyball as they measure up how far they've come, and where they currently stand in the national hierarchy.
An eye-popping early-season matchup comes on opening weekend in Ada, Ohio on the campus of Ohio Northern University where the Pioneers will face the Calvin College Knights on the second day of their season on Saturday, August 31. The matchup with the 2018 national runner-up kicks off a back-to-back set of matches on that Saturday which follows with a battle against the host team in Ohio Northern.
The grueling doubleheader comes after the season opener the evening before, pitting the Pioneers against Wittenberg, another team that advanced to the Sweet 16 last season.
This year, the Pioneers are also taking to the skies as they head west to the only Division III institution located on Mountain Time, the Colorado College Tigers in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Transylvania will face the Tigers to serve off the 2019 Pikes Peak Classic before taking on Whitworth (Wash.) and Birmingham-Southern in their westerly adventure.
In the 2018 season, the Pioneers took on five opponents ranked in the top 25 – while they were able to wrest away some sets from those national powers, Transylvania ultimately wound up going 0-5 in those contests. The process, however, chiseled the Pioneers for their stretch run as they went 8-1 in the month of October and a perfect 8-0 against conference competition in that span.
"Last year we played nationally-ranked teams but didn't beat them," recalls Barmore of her first year on the job as head coach. "That is where our team mantra of 'trusting the process' came into play. We had to really sit back and understand why we were playing the best of the best. There is a reason and there is a process. Playing the top-ranked teams the last two seasons and this season ahead should provide us with even more experience so that we know how to finish at the end."
The vast amount of talent that the Pioneers will unveil in 2019 lends credence to a forecast for another winning season. Along with two HCAC Offensive Players of the Year on their active roster, the Pioneers will welcome nine new incoming players, raising their total to 21 members as training camp opens up this month.
The quantity of the incoming freshman cadre forms the next foundational group for the Pioneers, who will graduate eight seniors from their 2019 roster. But the instant quality of the Class of 2023 poses another dose of help on the court as Transylvania boasts a depth-intensive roster with a heavy balance of veteran and youth presence. Barmore views that sum as a benefit during matches and away from the action.
"Preseason is quickly approaching for us and with 21 kids on the roster this year, our practices will be more intense and way more competitive."
MAKING THE JUMP
Barmore is candid and objective when viewing the progress of her team in terms of the strides which have been made, the obstacles that stand in her team's way, and the work that remains in order to make the jump to becoming an HCAC champion.
"When it came down to the championship match of the conference tournament, our nerves got the best of us and understanding the process became too late," Barmore says. "This offseason was important for us and what our players are doing this summer will be important for us. We want to go faster and we will have hitters in all positions that can make this happen."
Though the Pioneers enter the 2019 season far from their desired finished product, fans will get their first look at the team as it squares off with regional rival Centre College on Tuesday, September 3 at the Beck Center in a battle of winged warriors. Conference play commences on October 5 as the Pioneers host Anderson University in a Saturday afternoon matinee.
The long road of the 2019 season reaches a head in the second week of November with the HCAC Tournament as the Pioneers look to surpass the finish line established in 2018.
The 2019 campaign represents a finish line of sorts as well for a memorable Class of 2020 which has engineered a pathway back to the top of the HCAC. This season offers that class one final chance for an NCAA Tournament run but also an opportunity to culminate the hard work and ambitions of their entire collegiate careers.
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