The head coaches in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference's South Division had a high opinion of Ashland University's volleyball team prior to the start of the 2015 season.
Beginning Friday (Sept. 18), the Eagles will have the opportunity to prove those head coaches right.
AU (5-3) will start GLIAC play with two key South Division matches at Kates Gymnasium against Findlay (6-2) on Friday at 7 p.m. and Hillsdale (6-1) on Saturday (Sept. 19) at 2 p.m.
"After being on the road the first weeks, it will actually be really nice to be at home, on our own court with our own crowd," said AU head coach Cass Dixon. "It's good for the girls. We've been able to build up a little bit of confidence. We've been playing some good volleyball against some really great competition, so it'll be nice to be able to come home and show everyone what we've been doing."
In the 2015 GLIAC Volleyball Preseason Coaches Poll, the Oilers and Eagles garnered the most voting points (44), just ahead of the Chargers (40). Both Findlay and Hillsdale received three first-place votes, with Ashland picking up the other two.
"These two matches are going to set the tone for the season," Dixon said. "Who we are, what we're willing to do to be able to be successful out on the court. And it's good. It will be a good start for us, regardless of the outcome. It will, in turn, show us what we need to improve upon, or what we're doing well."
Ashland is coming off a University of Indianapolis Tournament in which it lost three matches to nationally-ranked teams – Minnesota Duluth (No. 1), Wheeling Jesuit (No. 10), and Colorado School of Mines (No. 11).
"We know that we can compete with anybody," said Dixon. "We know that we can do that. It's a matter of winning points when it counts. For us, defense has been a major focus for us this week. When you look at all the numbers, we are pretty close to point-for-point in most of the categories. But when you get into the defensive realm, we're not as strong there."
Junior outside hitter Alli Cudworth leads the GLIAC in kills with 121, senior middle blocker Samantha Zuber is tied for third in the league in solo blocks with eight and junior setter Mallory Slyder is fourth in the conference in assists with 300.
"Sam's been really solid for us," Dixon said. "We know what we're going to get from her all the time. She had an opportunity over the summer to go play in Italy with a collegiate team. It was a great experience for her. She works really hard in transition, she's always up, she's always available for our setters."
Friday night's home opener is Camp Night. Those 2015 AU volleyball campers who wear their camp T-shirt can get into the match for $1. Campers also can be a part of a reunion photo after the match, as well as a post-match autograph session with the Eagles.