The Colonels open the season ranked fourth in the preseason coaches poll and look to return to the OVC Tournament for a second year in a row. (Stephanie Smith)

By Stephen Hauser

After finishing last season on a hot streak, Eastern’s volleyball team has earned some respect from fellow coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference. Last fall was do-or-die time for Head Coach Lori Duncan’s squad, and the Colonels needed four wins to get into the OVC Tournament. They swept the final four games, losing in the first round of the tourney. The team was picked to place fourth this year in the OVC preseason coaches poll.

“I was surprised we were picked that high because usually you are picked the same place as you finished the season before,” Coach Lori Duncan said. “The poll also doesn’t mean anything because they don’t hand out the trophy in August.”

The Colonels have already begun to display their talent this year with the selection of seniors Abby O’Connor and Lauren Snyder to the preseason All-OVC team.

“It is a huge honor to be selected to the All-OVC team,” O’Connor said.

O’Connor is the libero, which is the player who wears the contrasting jersey from her teammates and can replace any back-row player.

O’Connor was selected to the second team All-OVC after she led the league in digs per set with an average of 5.56. She was also ranked eighth in the nation last year in digs per set.

O’Connor was a two-time OVC Defensive Player of the Week last season and is currently in sixth place on Eastern’s all-time dig list with a total of 1,332 career digs.

Snyder, an outside hitter, was named second team All-OVC last year and was selected to the OVC All-Newcomer team. She led the Colonels in kills (336) and points (379) and was sixth in the league with the average of 3.2 kills per set. Last season, Snyder was the OVC Offensive Player of the Week for Oct. 5.

“We want to win the OVC regular season title, host and win the OVC tournament, which will qualify us for nationals,” Snyder said.

The Colonels’ expectations are high this year because they believe this is the most talented team they’ve had in a few years.

“This is the best team that we have had since I’ve been down here at Eastern,” O’Connor said.

Snyder is excited and itching for the season to launch into full swing.

“I just want to get on the court and be able to play against other people,” she said.

The Colonels will open up their season playing in three non-conference tournaments: the VB Rags Western Carolina Invitational, Appalachian Invitational and the UNLV Invitational. Some of the teams the Colonels will face in the tournaments are North Carolina State University, Valparaiso University, UNLV and Pepperdine University.

“We want to win a couple of those tournaments, which will gain us confidence,” Duncan said. “I would like us to be above .500 as we head into conference play.”

The Colonel’s open up the season on Aug. 27 against North Carolina State University.