CHARLESTON, S.C. - Head Coach Al Givens begins his first season at Charleston Southern University, chasing several career coaching milestones as the Buccaneers prepare to open the 2012 season this weekend at the Georgia Tech Courtyard Invitational.
With a team featuring two seniors in Michaela Luna and Wynter Davis and just seven upperclassmen, youth will play a major impact on the 2012 roster and season as five freshmen join the roster and will challenge immediately for playing time after a 5-25 2011 season, in which the Buccaneers went 1-13 in Big South Conference play.
The program turnaround will begin with new leadership up top as Givens and Assistant Coach Kim Lissinna begin their first year in the program. Givens brings 28 years of Division I Coaching experience along with 392 career victories, having coached at various schools around the Southeast, including Ole Miss and Texas A&M and looks for the team to continue to build on the progress it has made in the preseason.
"The players have embraced the coaching change and are hungry for success," commented Givens on the team's preseason work. "We are focusing on the process knowing that if we get the process correct, the outcome will take care of itself."
Lissinna, a former student-athlete of Givens and recent graduate of Weber State University where she was a four year starter and captain of the squad, is entering her second season in collegiate volleyball coaching, coming to CSU from Minot State University in Minot, N.D. and is also looking forward to the upcoming season.
"I am grateful for the opportunity to coach at CSU alongside my mentor, Al Givens," said Lissinna. "I am inspired by the players' attitude and effort every day in practice and look forward to the season."
Sophomore captain Ashley Higginbothem, junior Maggie Murphy and senior Luna return to man the libero position for the Buccaneers in the 2012 season as the duo look to provide steady leadership and passing from the backline for Coach Givens as the team adjusts to playing with each other early in the season.
Higginbothem led the team with 422 digs on the season, averaging 3.98 digs per game to finish seventh in the Big South rankings for the 2011 season. She also added 3.79 digs per game during conference matches and was one of only four players on roster to see action in all 30 matches on the season. Murphy also saw action in 20 matches on the year, contributing 37 digs to the team's totals as Charleston Southern averaged 13.93 digs per set as a team throughout the season. Luna will also provide experience and depth at the position as well as helping assume leadership in the CSU defensive efforts.
Sophomore Kirsten Struksnes, junior captain Laura Grace Swindler and freshman Cassidy Greer will help set up the Buccaneers offense in the 2012 season as CSU looks to replace departed senior Amy Nokes' production in the offense.
Struksnes returns after seeing action in 26 matches and 78 sets, recording three starts as the rising sophomore finished second on the team with 319 set assists and added 114 digs in seeing action on the court. Swindler also returns to provide experience and depth at the position, while Greer was a standout at Mary G. Montgomery High School, playing under Coach Leslie Gates.
The middle returns the most battle-tested depth on the roster as Davis, Erin LaVenice and freshman Meredith Parrott will all see playing time for a group that finished fifth in the Big South rankings at 1.93 blocks per game.
Davis and LaVenice led all CSU hitters last season as the duo combined for over 350 kills in the 2011 season. Davis led the way, hitting .231 from the floor and added 92 blocks. LaVenice added 153 kills and 82 total blocks at the net and her height at the net has been impressive in the preseason as the Buccaneers defense has currently outshone their offensive efforts.
Parrott comes to Charleston Southern by way of Mobile, Ala. and Cottage Hill Christian Academy where she currently holds the record for most kills in a match at College Hill. She was also a member of the CHCA 2011 State Championship team and earned State MVP honors and will challenge for playing time immediately up front.
2011 CSU kills leader Kayla Klinger, redshirt junior Ashley Johnston and sophomore Sydney Tracy return to pace the Buccaneers on the outside, while a trio of freshmen will jump into the mix and look to start right away.
Klinger led all Buccaneers with 219 kills on the season, playing in all 30 matches as a sophomore. The Cary, Ill. native is joined by Johnston, who played one of the best matches on the team last season, recording 14 kills and 20 digs against East Carolina on September 10th and looks to provide consistency on the outside for the team. Tracy added 203 kills and 140 digs in providing a good balance for the team all over the court.
Siraya Windsor, Catie Hurt and Katrina Houston are all poised to make an impact on the outside in their first year wearing the blue and gold. Windsor comes to CSU after a decorated career at White Knoll High School in Lexington, S.C. where she was named the 4A Player of the Year after a season which saw her record 262 kills, hitting .328 percent from the floor. Hurt adds Club Team success to the roster as her team made it to Nationals in her junior season at Wando High School, while Houston was an All-Area and All-District Player of the Year for North Stafford High School. The trio will all look to provide youthful energy on the outside as the Buccaneers battle their way through the regular season.
Charleston Southern's schedule features four tournaments over the first four weekends of play, as well as home-and-home series against Big South opponents Presbyterian, Campbell, High Point, Coastal Carolina and Winthrop.
The Buccaneers will feature home tournaments with Canisius, USC Upstate, Mercer and Furman on August 31-September 1, as well as Wofford, Stetson and The Citadel from September 14-15. CSU will also take part of the Georgia Tech Courtyard Invitational, taking on Southern Methodist, Georgia Tech and Cal State Fullerton, as well as the Loyola University Tournament, featuring matches against Morgan State, Loyola and Rider.
Charleston Southern opens up the 2012 season on the road at the Georgia Tech Courtyard Invitational on Friday, August 24th, as the Buccaneers take on Southern Methodist University at 4:30 p.m. CSU continues the season opening tournament on Saturday, August 25th with matches against host Georgia Tech (10 a.m.) and Cal State Fullerton (4:30 p.m.), with all action taking place inside O'Keefe Gymnasium.
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