After a grueling three weeks of preseason practice, the 14th ranked Seward County Lady Saints Volleyball team is finally ready to get their regular season underway. Seward opens their 2012 campaign today at the New Mexico Military Classic in Roswell, New Mexico before returning home to kick off conference play Wednesday in a rematch of the 2011 Region VI Championship match on the road at Barton.

The Lady Saints return six players from last year’s 25-16 squad. Leading the way is All-Conference middle hitter Bailey McFerren who finished her rookie year 2nd in the country with 187 blocks while also adding 2 kills per game for the Lady Saints. Aubree Young, a local product from Satanta, comes back as an all-around threat for Seward this season and has a chance to see time at a number of different positions. Last season she ranked in the top five for Seward in kills, blocks, and assists and could be poised for a big 2012 for the Lady Saints. Jasmine Bryant saw time in 37 matches as an outside hitter during her freshman season in 2011 and will work as a two way player this year for Seward as she will continue to play on the outside as well as seeing time as a defensive specialist. Maybe the Lady Saints top breakout candidate this season is Lakeria Eatmon who was limited in action a season ago but is expected to see a large role in the Seward attack this season. One of Seward’s best athletes, Eatmon will start on the right side and will be a pesky opponent for the Lady Saints foes in 2012. Seward will start the season without one of the nation’s top blockers as middle hitter Sarah Miller opens the year on the dl after a 124 block freshman campaign and is joined by redshirt freshman Rachael Coleman who has been forced to the sideline to start the season for the second straight year due to injury.
Eight newcomers join the fold in 2012 for Seward, a group that includes seven freshman and one sophomore transfer. Alyssa Olson and Kourtney Moreland will man the setting position for the Lady Saints this season after Olson comes to Seward from Western Nebraska CC and Moreland from Neosho, Missouri. The combo gives 8th year Head Coach Bert Luallen some different offensive options and Seward will likely run both a 5-1 and 6-2 offense at different times in the year. Three new faces will take on the tough role of replacing All-Conference hitters Courtney Geesing and Daiane Souza for the Lady Saints this season. Hard hitting rookies Morgan Riley, Annelise Sanchez, and Thayna Silva will all battle for time at the outside while Riley could also see action in the middle in her first season in Liberal. Julia Frey, a 6’2 freshman from Germany gives the Lady Saints one of the tallest trio of middles in the conference and will try to break into the Seward lineup which has many different options to anchor it in the center of the court. Chloe Davis is the lone defensive specialist on the Seward roster this season and will begin the 2012 campaign as their libero after coming in from Scottsdale, Arizona. Rounding out the Lady Saints freshman class is Whitney Garinger who will miss the first week of action due to an injury but should climb into the fold at the outside hitter position soon after her return to the floor.
The Lady Saints open the year ranked #14 in the country and are the top ranked team in Region VI. They are joined in the rankings by rivals Barton and Hutchinson who both received votes for the poll but were not included in the rankings. The conference race will be an interesting one this season as just 4 of the leagues 17 All-Conference players from a year ago return for the 2012 season. Defending conference champions Barton will see nearly a complete overhaul this season as they will be without the reigning Conference Player of the Year and Coach of the Year in 2012 and a roster that is comprised of four foreign born players and completed with seven Kansas products. Colby, last year’s second place finishers in the West, return five players, including three starters, and should be in the fold in November. Hutchinson could be the surprise team in the conference this season and will look to bounce back from a 16-23 season from a year ago. They bring back seven players including 1st Team All-Conference middle Shayne Haley and also add two time defending conference champion coach Patrick Hall to their bench after he makes the move from Barton. Dodge City will have some rebuilding to do this season after losing their top five players from last year’s 5th place squad while Pratt Coach Brian Dickens feels like his young Lady Beavers team may have what it takes to move up from their 6th place finish in 2011. Although they finished 7th last season, Cloud County will bring back seven sophomores to the mix and hope to change their fortunes that have seen them at the bottom of the league since their return to the Division I level and Garden City knows it only has one way to go after a 1-32 season a year ago that saw them go without a set win in their final 10 matches of the season.
Seward’s 2012 schedule will not be an easy one. The Lady Saints kick things off at the New Mexico Military Classic where they will see some familiar faces as they battle #11 Seminole State, led by legendary Lady Saint Angie Byrd (McLeod), Odessa, led by former Seward Assistant Coach Alana Rowland, and New Mexico Military, led by another former Seward player Shelby Forchtner (Smith) before wrapping up the weekend with Yavapai. Conference play for the Lady Saints will begin August 29th with a battle against the defending Region Champion Barton Lady Cougars before they head South to play in the Vernon Labor Day Classic where they will matchup with #2 Tyler in their opening match. Seward opens their home schedule on September 5th against Colby and will host their annual Ozfest Invitational September 28th and 29th in the Greenhouse in the midst of a seven match home stand. The Lady Saints final home match of the season will come October 18th when they host Dodge City on Sophomore Recognition Night and open Region VI Tournament play on October 30th. If the Lady Saints could advance to the Region VI Final Four yet again, they would head to Wichita on the first weekend of November with a chance to go to the NJCAA National Tournament November 15-17 on the line.