After falling just short of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship last year, the Stetson sand volleyball team returns this season determined to achieve its goals.
"We all have the same goal in mind this season, which is to win the A-Sun," junior Taylor Kennedy said. "We want all of us to go to the national tournament."
"Our goal is to get to the conference tournament and just kill it with all of our seeds and end up winning that championship," junior Catherine Coston added.
Stetson enters the season with high expectations and for good reason. The Hatters are coming off a pair of highly successful campaigns over the program's first two seasons. In 2012, Stetson came in second in the Atlantic Sun Conference and sent Kaley Melville and Julie Bassett to the first-ever AVCA Collegiate Sand Volleyball Pairs Championship.
The Hatters followed that up last season with a record of 13-11 and advanced all the way to the A-Sun Tournament Championship match, but the narrowly missed the conference title and once again placed second.
For the players that experienced the heartbreak of coming one set short last year, there is a strong motivation to reach their goals and be at the top of the conference.
"We were so close in the championship last year," senior captain Katie DiGirolamo said. "We want to reach our goal and win the A-Sun so bad that we are all willing to work as hard as it takes to get there."
One of the main reasons optimism is so high for this season is the team's chemistry. Since Stetson lost only one senior last year, they benefit from a roster of seasoned veterans, which includes 14 returning players.
"I think we have all gotten closer from last year," Coston said. "We only brought in a couple girls, and they just kind of adapted to what our team is about."
"I think we have really good team chemistry this year as opposed to other years," added Kennedy. "We all get along really well, and we are all on the same page."
Coach Meghan Bryant also expects great success for the Hatters as they head into the program's third season of competition.
"You can expect to see a lot of big wins," Bryant said. "I think that because of the make-up of the team that we have a lot of potential and we have a lot of power."
Stetson has spent all year preparing for the long awaited start of the 2014 season, but they feel it has been well worth the wait. According to the Hatters, their training has been key in setting the foundation for the season.
"For preseason, we did a lot of drills with more game-like situations, which I think will really help us out later on in the year," Coston said.
Bryant also sees Stetson's preseason as a success in preparing the team for its first weekend of competition.
"Preseason has been great," Bryant said. "We were able to focus more on technical things and fine tune the girls' skills. I think it has really paid off because they are playing really well right now, which is perfect right before we start the season."
The Hatters will finally begin competition this weekend as they host the Stetson Spring Break tournament. On Friday, Stetson will take on Tulane at 11 a.m. and Warner at 1 p.m. Live stats will be available on GoHatters.com.
On Saturday, the Hatters will host a bracket-style pairs tournament and will compete against teams from Tulane, Warner, and Florida Gulf Coast.
For in-match updates all season long fans can follow @StetsonSVB on twitter or sign-up for the Hat-Alerts text messaging service.