By Zach Gilleland
With many returning faces from a year ago, the Salisbury Sea Gulls’ Volleyball team is poised to make another run at a Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) championship.
The Sea Gulls look to build off a 24-8 record from a year ago which included a trip to its fifth-straight CAC Tournament Final. The Sea Gulls, however, lost to three-time defending champion Christopher Newport.
The Sea Gulls return with most of its core players from last season; six of the team’s top leaders in kills return this season.
However, Salisbury University did lose one senior from last year’s team to graduation—defensive specialist Kacey Franz.
Among those returning this year is senior outside hitter Katie Stouffer. Stouffer, a three time All-CAC first team player, led the team with 538 kills and finished third in the nation with 4.98 kills per set.
This season looks to be another big one for the standout senior.
“Each year I can see our team getting better, stronger and faster,” Stouffer said. “This year I think we are braver too, that we’re not afraid to take chances, take risks and do what needs to be done to get the job done.”
Junior setters Rachel Pierson and Alexis Howatt return to Salisbury alongside sophomore outside hitter Nicole Venturelli. Last season Howatt and Pierson combined for 1,146 of the Sea Gulls’ 1,278 assists, and Venturelli was second on the team in kills as a freshman last year.
Another returning player for the Sea Gulls is junior middle hitter Sydney Davis. Davis was a force last year finishing third on the team with 118 kills while leading the team with 61 total blocks.
The Sea Gulls welcome three freshmen this year: opposite hitter Carley Cleland, defensive specialist Hailey Dougherty and setter Rachel Dubbs have now joined the team.
“They’ve been a great addition to the team,” Davis said. “It’s been nothing but love, and we love it.”
Justin Turco returns to the Sea Gulls for his fourth season as head coach. Turco (75-24), has led Salisbury to three-straight CAC finals appearances.
Turco said he’s excited for the upcoming season.
“We have a lot of good people on the roster that are returning,” Turco said. “They’ve done a really good job so far of being great leaders and showing our rookies and our transfer what it is to be a Salisbury Sea Gull.”
After another CAC finals appearance, Turco said the team isn’t looking too far ahead this season.
“Our goal this year is to take things one game at a time,” Turco said. “Obviously we wanted to win the conference, but it’s a new year, every year is a new year, so I coach players that this year.”
“Christopher Newport has a new roster, Mary Washington, everybody else in the conference, they all have new rosters, so we don’t dwell on last year too much. We just want to win the next game ahead of us,” Turco explained.
Turco noted that the veteran leadership of the team has helped in preparation of the season.
“It’s helped a lot because the veterans know what I expect, so they know how to translate that to our rookies and our transfer,” Turco said. “They know the system well, they know each other really well, so there’s not a lot of miscommunication [on the court].”
“The communication is awesome and leadership overall is great.”
Before some practices the team holds a book group and reads “The Winner Within,” a book written by basketball Hall of Fame coach Pat Riley. Davis notes that the reading helps the team focus and brings them closer to each other.
“It really brings us together,” Davis said. “We talk about our needs, how we feel, and just doing that before practices helps us become in sync.”
The Sea Gulls opened up its season in Gettysburg, Pa., for Gettysburg College’s annual tournament. The Sea Gulls finished the tournament with two wins and two losses.
However, Salisbury rebounded this past weekend at their home tournament, the Sea Gull Classic, where the team went undefeated (4-0) and moved to an overall record of 6-2 with wins over McDaniel, Virginia Wesleyan, Marywood and Elizabethtown.
Conference games begin Sept. 30 against York College. The Sea Gulls host its first CAC home game of the season Oct. 14 against Marymount University.
The CAC tournament begins Nov. 1 and hopefully will mark another CAC championship for the Sea Gulls.