Scots embrace USA South challenge

(Photo by John Robertson)
Robertson asserts his aerial dominance over Sewanee forward Samuel Edoung-Biyo.

With questions about how the Maryville volleyball and soccer teams would hold up in their first year in the USA South Conference (USASC), the Scots have not disappointed for the most part. After dominating the Great Atlantic South Conference (GSAC) for years, the Scots finally got the chance to take on higher competition in the USAC.

With an overall record of 15- 10, 6-1 in the conference, the Lady Scots volleyball squad is dominating conference play. From the court to the field, women’s soccer team is also cruising with an 8-3-1 overall record and 6-1-1 in conference games. As a young team, the men’s soccer team is off to a slow start with a 4-8-2 record overall and a 2-2-1 record in conference play. With that being said, the men look to heat up just in time for the conference tournament.

After nine GSAC tournament titles and 10 NCAA tournament appearances, the Lady Scots volleyball team shows no signs of slowing down in the USASC. After a mid-season loss to conference favorites Christopher Newport University, the Lady Scots have gone on to win six consecutive conference competitions. Since that winning streak that started on Oct. 6, the Lady Scots have won 18 of 21 sets.

According to head coach Kandis Schram, a big aspect of the team’s success is due to the senior leadership of Teri Lind and Kara Strickland.

“Teri Lind is leading the team as good as I’ve ever seen her lead it at the setting position,” Schram said. She went on to say, “Kara is really playing all the way around phenomenally well, too.”

Lind is the team’s leader in assists with 758, while Strickland is first in kills with 275. Clearly the new conference has not been any trouble for the Lady Scots this year. With that being said, Schram knows that the tougher schedule is going to pay off for them if they make the NCAA tournament.

“We are playing against top 20 teams in the country, top regional teams and even top regional teams that aren’t even in our region,” Schram said. Right now our mission is to get better every game and learn from each other. I think that is going to prepare us right now for the conference tournament which is the gateway to the national tournament.”

For Lind, being in the USASC is all about getting revenge from last season.

“This new conference is harder because CNU were the ones who knocked us out in the first round of the national tournament last season, so it’s kind of like the revenge factor,” Lind said.

Another Lady Scot that has been a big ingredient of the team’s success is sophomore defensive specialist, Morgan Hall. With 204 digs on the season, rarely does a ball get hit that Hall does not get to. Hall is pleased with the way the team is playing thus far, but knows the team will really have to step up their game when it comes to the conference tournament.

“In order to beat CNU and some of the other teams, we need to be able to score four or five points after the other teams goes on a run,” Hall said. “We definitely need to improve on finishing and pushing points further than we have, but other than that I think we are in great shape for the conference tournament.”

With five games left of the regular season, Lind, Strickland and Hall plan on leading the Lady Scots into the conference tournament with one goal in mind: a conference championship. Along with volleyball, the MC soccer squads have also been introduced to the USASC for the first time this year.

After losing their season opener to Lynchburg, the women’s soccer team went on to win eight of their next 11 contests, while tying just once. With a 2-1 victory over conference favorites, CNU, and another big win over pre-game favorite, Meredith, by the score of 5-1, the Lady Scots soccer team has proven that they are the new team to beat in the USA South Conference.

According to associate head coach, Jon Baker, the USASC is definitely a “step up in competition” compared to the GSAC. Although Baker realizes that anyone can win on any given day, he realistically believes that the Lady Scots are one of four teams that are in the mix for the conference title. Two big reasons why the Lady Scots have had so much success this year is their two captains, Kayla Kiernozek and all-conference performer, Kelsie Kestner. Both of these girls take pride on their defense and have done a great job of protecting their net throughout the year.

According to Baker, it is their leadership off the field that makes them such good role models and captains. “Both girls have played through injuries this season and really lead the team by their work ethic.” According to Kestner, playing in a new conference has made this season more fun than the rest. “This year, in my opinion, is more fun because it challenges our team more and we have to be on our game for every game that we play,” Kestner said. “It’s also making practices more challenging because we’re fighting for positions and playing time. The new conference is making it more interesting.”

After being in the GSAC for three years, Kestner knew the other conference teams inside out. Although this is not the case this season, Kestner is enjoying every second of it. “

I personally really like that we haven’t known anything about the teams that we have played,” Kestner said. “When we went into our game against Meredith, we had just heard that they were second in the conference last year and really good.We ended up beating them 5-1 because we were so ready to pounce on them and score as many goals as we could.”

If the Lady Scots can keep that attitude throughout the year, it is going to be interesting to see if anyone can stop them on their way to yet another conference championship title. As far as the men’s soccer goes, the team has had a little tougher time adjusting to the new conference.

As a young team, the Scots have had their ups and downs this season. After losing several seniors last season, the team has been forced to depend on numerous freshmen throughout the year. With that being said, Baker has recognized two players in particular that have done a great job leading this young team. Sophomore midfielder Payne Fisher and senior defender, John Robertson, have caught Baker’s eye throughout the season.

After being asked to play more of an offensive role this season, Fisher has had an impressive season and continues to get better. He is currently tied for the team lead with two goals on the season. Robertson, who is also the team captain, is well known for his defensive excellence and has had yet another all-conference type season. “It has been a great challenge for him to lead such a young team,” Baker said. Robertson has embraced the conference switch this season and looks forward to playing teams that he has never played before.

“Personally, I love it,” Robertson said. “I never really worry about any other team; I just worry about taking care of me and making sure I’m ready. I’ll play anyone. You could put Cristiano Ronaldo on the field and I’ll play him.” Robertson is confident that even though the team has struggled throughout the year, the team will be right where they need to be when the conference tournament arrives.

As the conference tournaments get closer and closer for these teams, the anticipation rises to see how they will handle their first USASC tournament. From the looks and sounds of it, each team has the potential to win it all with great coaching and great leadership.

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