Sept. 8, 2009
Cleveland, Tenn. – A startling trend has surfaced over the past half decade when analyzing the phenomenon that is volleyball in the Southern States Athletic Conference – it appears that the road to an SSAC championship almost always passes through Lee University.
The 2009 preseason favorites to win the SSAC have claimed four of the past five regular season league championships and have backed up their annual season-long success by capturing four of the past five SSAC Tournament crowns.
Few conference teams have mounted a challenge to the blossoming dynasty – Shorter College, however, has been more than happy to oblige.
The Lady Hawks (7-1, 1-0 SSAC), who possess the only SSAC Tournament championship not won by Lee since 2004, will invade Cleveland, Tenn. at 7 p.m. on Thursday night riding a seven match winning streak and their best start to a season since 2006.
Shorter won the 2007 SSAC title – Lee took the regular season crown that season – and appear to have the weapons in place to once again challenge the Lady Flames for conference supremacy.
“Everyone considers Lee the team to beat in our conference, so it will be a good test for us,” said Shorter head coach Jon Moseley, who has gone 70-41 in his career as Lady Hawks’ head coach. “We have a lot of momentum and we really want to go up there and play well to continue to build confidence.”
Confidence is something Moseley’s charges lacked at this juncture last season, when the Lady Hawks sputtered out of the gates and dropped their first nine matches.
Among those early losses was a grueling four-setter at home at the hands of the Lady Flames, one which saw Shorter surrender three straight sets after winning the first.
This season, on the heels of a historic streak and with arguably the most depth in program history, Moseley feels good about his team’s chances in this early showdown.
“We have been getting contributions from everybody,” Moseley said about his squad’s recent run, one in which his ladies have lost just two sets in seven matches. “The great thing about this team is that any of them could be the one who steps up and has a big night.
“I am confident that they will all do their part.”
Opposing teams have had a hard time defending the Lady Hawks in 2009, in large part because of the incredible balance in attacking options at Moseley’s disposal.
Runion, whose 61 kills lead the team, needs just 103 more kills to unseat Puckett at the top of the list.
“When Kasi gets going it lifts the whole team,” Moseley said of his ace, who got off to relatively slow start to 2009 while battling minor back spasms. “She can be so dominant hitting and blocking that it gives everyone on our team greater confidence.
“At the same time, Lee knows how good she is, so they will try to make our other players beat them.”
In solid support of Runion has been a quartet of outside hitters; juniors Maggie Parker (58 kills), Ashley Walton (57) and Ashlie Stewartson (43) as well as freshman Loren Olive (43) have kept opposing blockers’ heads on a swivel.
The Hazel Green, Ala. native’s 9.3 assists-per-game average is one of the best in the nation and she has posted 30 or more assists on four separate occasions.
“Jordan has stepped in and done a great job,” Moseley said. “With Kristy graduating it was imperative that we bring in a good setter, and we were fortunate to get the one at the top of our list. We feel very confident with our offense in her hands.”
It is safe to say that Shorter has been the biggest thorn in the side of the Lady Flames (4-3, 1-0 SSAC) over the last several years.
After winning the 2007 conference championship, the Lady Hawks advanced to last season’s tournament final against Lee, but fell in three tight sets.
The fact that Lee has won four straight in the series and eight of the last ten is not an accurate assessment of just how competitive the rivalry has been, and Moseley is well aware of what a victory would mean for his program.
“A win would mean a leg up in the conference race and a big confidence builder,” the coach said. “Lee has a great team, so if we can beat them it will be confirmation that we do have a team that can challenge for our first national tournament berth.
“It should be a great match.”
For Game Notes previewing the contest, please click here.