HUNTINGDON, PA- For 33 straight years, the Juniata women's volleyball team has qualified for the NCAA Tournament. Last season, the Eagles finished 31-5 and 5-0 in the Landmark Conference on their way to their seventh crown. The team advanced to the NCAA regional finals where they fell to Stevenson in five games. The Eagles boast a roster of 20 players in 2014 that represent the largest squad in head coach Heather Pavlik's four years at the helm of the program.
Three seniors on this year's team, Amelia Kepler (Kane, PA/Kane Area), Brittani Young (Columbia, PA/Hempfield Area), and Christine Sumner (Dublin, OH/Bishop Waterson), have significant starting experience with Kepler and Young starting all four years. Kepler is last year's Landmark Player of the Year. She had an outstanding season for the Eagles in 2013 with an average of 2.95 kills per set overall and 3.50 kills per set in conference play. She is considered one of the best blockers for Juniata and finished with 0.52 blocks per set in the regular season. Young has led the Eagles in digs the last two years and was a second team All-Landmark Conference player in 2013.
Juniors Taylor Miles (Mapleton Depot, PA/Mount Union), Bryce Arnold (Shippensburg, PA/Shippensburg Area), Kristen Collins (Freedom, PA/Ambridge), and Karley Christian (Laguna Niguel, CA/Aliso Niguel) all have gained experience playing in top matches and look to elevate their play. Three sophomores, Kelly Reynolds (Upper Saint Clair, PA/Upper Saint Clair), Nakita Gearhart (Waynesboro, PA/Greencastle-Antrim), and Mar-Jana Phillips (Carson, CA/Rolling Hills Prep) all gained significant experience as freshmen and are expected to make big strides this season.
Seven freshmen join the team this year. "I do see some of them contributing whether as a starter or coming off the bench," said Pavlik. "Some of them will contribute pretty quickly and in the end, they will all be extremely important in making this team good."
The Eagles have one of the most daunting schedules with a total of 10 non-conference teams on the slate that made the NCAA Tournament last year including last year's runner-up Cal-Lutheran (9/13), and the team that knocked Juniata out, Stevenson (10/25). "We probably play one of the toughest schedules in the country, Pavlik stated. "When it comes to playoff time, we want to be prepared."
Juniata has gotten off to a strong start to the year as they went 4-0 last weekend at the Red Dragon Volleyball Classic. The Eagles travel to Kentucky this coming Friday to participate in the Transylvania University Invitational where they will play Bethany, Milliken, and Ohio Northern.