Fall Preview: Eagles hoping ‘third time’s a charm’ in 2017

Embry-Riddle aiming for Cal-Pac title, national tournament appearance

Seniors Katie Powell, Kaitlin Shroll, Leah DeLaurell and Megan Riley pose for photo before Embry-Riddle volleyball practice Monday, Aug. 14, in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Seniors Katie Powell, Kaitlin Shroll, Leah DeLaurell and Megan Riley pose for photo before Embry-Riddle volleyball practice Monday, Aug. 14, in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

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Head Coach Jill Blasczyk drives home a teaching point in practice for the Embry-Riddle volleyball team Monday, Aug. 14, in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

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Sharik Joseph and Jalin Yoder go for a block during Embry-Riddle volleyball practice Monday, Aug. 14, in Prescott. (Les Stukenberg/Courier)

Nine months has passed since the Embry-Riddle volleyball team lost 3-1 to La Sierra in the Cal-Pac Conference Tournament semifinals back in November 2016, but the disappointing end to a promising season isn’t far from the memory of returning players.

To make matters worse, Embry-Riddle lost to the same La Sierra club a year earlier in the 2015 Cal-Pac Conference Tournament finals, putting that much more pressure on the Eagles moving forward.

Entering training camp, the biggest question among returning players was an easy one: “How do we get over the hump?”

Megan Riley, a senior libero, said the “third time is a charm.”

“We lost a few players last year, but we have some talent coming in this season with our freshman class. We’re excited,” Riley said of the Eagles, which have won two straight regular season Cal-Pac titles.

Boasting two straight 20-plus win seasons, Riley said the Eagles (20-5, 13-1 Cal-Pac in 2016) will mostly lean on a core group of returners to get them over the hump.

“Our strength is most of our core, our starting lineup, we’ve played together for awhile, which will help,” Riley said, adding it will be imperative the Eagles play with high energy and a positive attitude.

“If we have a winning season, it’s easy to stay complacent, so hopefully we push ourselves throughout the entire season,” Riley said.

Jalin Yoder, a returning junior outside hitter and first team all Cal-Pac performer in 2016, said the Eagles have “worked hard” during preseason camp.

“I think as a team, we’re all trying to jell together and figure out what’s going to work for us this year because we all want it so bad,” Yoder said about the Eagles wanting a Cal-Pac title. “We’ve come up short two years in a row, and this is our year.”

Yoder said it’s important the Eagles play well on the road if they are to claim a Cal-Pac title this season. They’ll get their chance when the 2017 season begins Thursday at the Johnson & Wales Wildcat Classic in Denver, which features 2016 NAIA national champion Hastings College.

“It’s going to take us being mentally strong and to win all of our away games so we’re prepared to win at the end of the season,” Yoder said.

Eagles head coach Jill Blasczyk said her club will play a tougher schedule this season in effort to prepare for challenges at the end of the season.

Audrey Baldwin, a sophomore setter, said to continue the high-powered attack Eagles fans have come to know so well over the past few seasons, she’ll need to be on top of her game.

“My role as a setter is important, I make sure the blockers on the other side are guessing and staying on their feet,” Baldwin said. “We have very versatile attackers, so it makes it easy to do that.”

So when asked if she’s feeling any pressure by trying to replace 2016 Cal-Pac Conference Player of the Year Hannah Mercurio (graduated in May) at the setter position on the court, Baldwin quickly said no.

“I’ve been ready since freshman year, I love running the floor. I don’t think there’s any extra pressure on me,” Baldwin said.

TOP NEWCOMERS

Three freshman make their way onto the court this year searching for playing time with the Eagles including outside hitter Lauren Davidian of Roseville, California, opposite hitter Caylee Robin of El Paso, Texas, and middle blocker Sharik Joseph of Spring Valley, California.

UP NEXT

Embry-Riddle (0-0, 0-0 Cal-Pac) begins the 2017 campaign at the Johnson & Wales Wildcat Classic with Montana State-North on Thursday at 2 p.m.

The first home match for the Eagles comes Friday, Aug. 25, at 6 p.m. against Johnson & Wales at the Embry-Riddle Invitational in Prescott.

Brian M. Bergner Jr. is associate sports editor and a columnist for The Daily Courier. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, Periscope and SoundCloud at @SportsWriter52, or on Facebook at @SportsAboveTheFold. Reach him at bbergner@prescottaz.com or 928-445-3333, ext. 1106.