SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo University volleyball team is set to begin its 2014 campaign in the Alaskan frontier. The Lions will kick off their season in tournament fashion at the SpringHill Suites Invitational hosted by the University of Alaska-Anchorage, opening the brand new Alaska Airlines Center.
The Green and Gold will begin the tournament facing the host Seawolves at 1 p.m. (EST) before meeting Long Island University-Post for the second match of the doubleheader at 5 p.m.
"The competition will be challenging, LIU (Post) made it to the elite eight and won the East Region and Alaska-Anchorage played in its regional tournament. These teams are going to test us on the areas we have been working on," said Head Volleyball Coach Sam Cibrone. "We are hoping to see composure from the team and leadership from our seniors."
Cibrone's squad enters the tournament a season removed from a third-place Sunshine State Conference finish and a 23-11 season record (10-6 SSC). Entering his 11th year guiding the program, Cibrone sits at a 195-133 career record, five wins away from his 200th victory. The Lions return three starters and its libero, totaling nine letterwinners from the team that reached postseason play.
The offense is anchored by a senior core of Lauren Campbell, Tawni Warren and Alexa Griffith-Hardy. Campbell posted a team-leading 384 kills during her junior campaign and led all outside hitters with 296 digs. Fellow outside hitter Warren notched 314 kills, 254 digs, 65 total blocks and led the team with 38 service aces.
Team captain Griffith-Hardy boasted a .330 attack percentage in her first season as a Lion. The Windsor, Colo. native grounded 195 kills and amassed 38 blocks in the 2013 campaign. Outside hitter Hope Lemon will look to follow up an outstanding freshman year that saw her reach 172 kills at a torrid .310 clip.
The defense will look to a strong follow up campaign from senior captain Yaidimar Santiago as the libero set the single season dig record for the program with 549 last year.
The Seawolves finished the 2013 season with a 21-10 overall record, earning a regional bid. UAA returns outside hitter Katelynn Zanders, who led the team with 3.69 kills per set while attacking at a .237 clip. Junior Julia Mackey totaled 240 kills and 47 blocks as the right side hitter. Saint Leo met UAA in 2004 as the Seawolves defeated the Lions 3-1 in the only meeting between the squads.
LIU Post enters play as the East Coast Conference preseason favorite to capture the 2014 conference title. The Pioneers posted a 25-10 record last season and were the champions of the east regional tournament. Senior Rachel Ringor returns after a 605-dig season that also saw the libero amass a team- leading 61 service aces. The tournament represents the first meeting between the Pioneers and the Lions.
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