Volleyball opens season with Spring Hill Suites Invitational on Friday
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The preseason is officially in the books as the JU volleyball team starts the 2011 season on Friday with the Spring Hill Suites Invitational on Friday.

The Dolphins, picked sixth in the A-Sun preseason coaches’ poll, starts the tourney against Montana State at 10 a.m. before coming back to play Stephen F. Austin at 5 p.m. On Saturday, JU battles host Georgia Southern at noon before rounding out the tournament against South Dakota State at 5 p.m.

“We’re excited to start playing against someone else this weekend,” JU head coach Shaun Kupferberg said. “It’s been a fun, competitive preseason, but you never know how good you are until you play the actual games. We look good on paper, but I’m anxious to find out what we look like.”

The Dolphins return 11 players from the 2010 squad that tallied a 14-16 mark, just missing a spot into the A-Sun Tournament for the first time since 1999.

Leading the crop of returners is senior outside hitter Kathryn Kane who led the team in attacks (752) and finished second in kills (222) and digs (245) in 2010. Sophomore middle hitter Alyssa Robertson is also back after leading the team in blocks (88) and finishing fourth in kills (173) to earn A-Sun all-freshman honors.

Montana State finished 10-19 overall in 2010 which was its highest win total since the 2005 season. Rachelle Allen and Alex Penewell are the two top returners for the Bobcats. Allen led the Bobcats with 307 kills, while Penewell paced them at the net with a team-high 77 total blocks.

SFA is coming off a 12-19 season in 2010 en route to a 10th place finish in the Southland Conference. Senior middle blocker MC Bottles received preseason all-conference honors after leading the Ladyjacks with 3.01 kills per set and a .271 attack percentage last season.

Georgia Southern may be the Dolphins toughest opponent on the weekend after the Eagles were picked first in the SoCon coaches’ poll.

Kate Van Dyke, Bethany Sanford and Parker Small were all selected to the preseason team for the Eagles. In 2010, Van Dyke set the single-season school record for assists with 1,465 last year, while Small's .375 hitting percentage ranked second for a season. Sanford moved up the career kills chart (1,151) to third all-time.

South Dakota State was picked second in The Summit League polls following a 12-6 mark in conference play and a 16-14 overall record in 2010.

The Jackrabbits return two all-league selections with Kelli Fiegen and second team all-league selection Ellyce Youngren. Fiegen finished the 2010 season atop the league with 1.21 blocks per set, second in the league and 23rd in the nation with a .377 hitting and fifth in the league with 352 kills. Youngren led the Jacks in 2010 with 366 kills.

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- Brian DeLettre