By Todd Purvis/Sports editor

Inside of its final week of practice, the Colonel Volleyball team has been preparing diligently for what they hope to be a championship season. “We definitely want to win the conference,” head coach Lori Duncan said. “Our No. 1 goal is to qualify for the NCAA tournament, and our best way to do that is to win the conference.”

Last year’s team finished third in the conference with an overall record of 21-13 and a conference record of 10-6. Eastern’s season ended when the Governors of Austin Peay knocked them out of the conference tournament.

“We’re coming off of our most successful season in 12 years and, I think we should be every bit as successful as we were last season; we’ve got everybody returning except for two defensive players,” Duncan said. “Bringing back so many returning players from last year, it would be really disappointing to not finish in the top one or two.”

Coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference have projected Eastern will finish third in league play, but the Colonels are looking to finish at the top of the conference.

“The way coaches generally pick you is where you finish the last year, and we finished third last season,” Duncan said. “The pre-season picks don’t mean anything to us; they’re just something that we can hang in our locker room and use to motivate our players.”

Eastern will be led by co-captains Lesley Aldridge and Liz Guard, who were both named preseason All-OVC.

“Our captain leaders will rally the team around adversity,” Duncan said.

Aldridge, the lone senior on the team, is on pace to do what only five other Eastern players have done in school history: reaching the milestone of 1,000 digs and 1,000 kills in her career.

Guard will also be a main contributor on the Colonel attack, as she comes into her junior year just 355 kills shy of 1,000. Guard is a two time all-OVC selection and she led Eastern last season in kills, kills per game, block solos, block assists, blocks per game and hitting percentage.

Including Aldridge and Guard, the Colonels will be returning six starters from last year’s team, five of whom are sophomores.

“The sophomore class is going to be the core of our group,” Duncan said. “We’re not as young as we were last year, but it’s going to be an interesting continued transition for our team. We’re getting better every time that we compete, and as our team starts to work well together, we should be more and more exciting as the year unfolds.”

Since falling to Austin Peay in last year’s conference tournament, Eastern has added four freshmen to the team, giving them a much deeper team than last season.

“The exciting thing about this year’s team is that at any point in time any one of our 12 kids could be on the floor, I’ve been very impressed with our four freshman,” Duncan said. “I think that all of our freshman have done very well in the preseason and if they continue to learn our system pretty quickly, I can’t imagine that they wouldn’t get some good quality playing time early in the year.”

Eastern’s season opener will be Sept. 1, when the Colonels will travel to Lexington to take on the University of Kentucky at 7 p.m.

“Playing UK is going to be a win-win situation for us because it’s going to get us ready for our first tournament,” Duncan said.

The Colonels return home Sept. 7 when they host the Thundering Herd of Marshall.

Duncan is very optimistic about the team’s success this season.

“It’s going to be a fun experience,” Duncan said. “I think it’s going to be the best year that we’ve had in a long time.”

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