The wait is finally over. All of the Blue Raider fall sports programs are about to begin the first season in Conference USA this month. Here is a look at the fall sports on campus – women’s soccer, volleyball and cross county – and the expectations for this season.
Blue Raider head coach Aston Rhoden returns for his 12th season at the helm. The 2012 team finished up its run in the Sun Belt Conference in style, going out with an impressive 14-5-1 (8-1-1 in the SBC) record and clinching a share of the regular season title.
Now, MTSU hopes to build on that success.
Rhoden said he knows the league is deep and talented from top to bottom.
“With the new league, all games will be more competitive especially on the road,” Rhoden said. “As such, we’ve had to increase the depth of our team to ensure we are still competitive during the second game of the weekend. C-USA soccer is very competitive. Many of the top teams are within eight to 10 points of each other in the RPI and the bottom teams have all improved over the last two to three years.”
The Blue Raiders are returning with a young but very experienced group. There are no seniors, but they do have four juniors and 11 sophomores.
One of those to watch this season is midfielder Kate Loye, who came to Murfreesboro from New Zealand. Last season, she was named 2012 SBC Freshman of the Year and earned All-SBC first team honors by scoring seven goals and six assists in only 17 games played. She missed some time last season because she was representing her home country in the U-20 Women’s World Cup. During the preseason, Loye was named a C-USA player to watch.
Other Blue Raiders to watch include sophomores midfielder Amalie Anderdal, sophomore forward Tori Hawkins, a former Siegel High School star, and sophomore goalkeeper Kelsey Brouwer.
Colorado College was picked first in the C-USA preseason poll, which is made up of 16 schools this season.
The Blue Raiders open the season at 2 p.m. Sunday at UT-Martin. Their first home match at the Dean A. Hayes Track and Soccer Stadium is Friday, Aug. 30, at 7 p.m. against Lipscomb University.
Just like their counterparts, head coach Matt Peck’s squad is young but experienced, and they are hoping to bounce back from a disappointing 10-23 (7-8) 2012 season.
It was a tough way to end their successful run inside the SBC, which included several conference titles and many appearances in the NCAA tournament. However, Peck said his team is ready to turn the page into a new era.
“We had two things happened last year: a very young team and four players out with season ending injuries,” Peck said. “We will be better, no question. We are still really young with no seniors, two juniors, and a lot of sophomores. So, it’s hard to tell this early, and we are very athletic and more experienced. I am cautiously optimistic, but I think we will be contention for the conference championship and play in the NCAA tournament.”
A trio of sophomores will look to lead the way for the Blue Raiders this season.
Middle Blocker Tyler Richardson had a .315 hitting percentage and 149 blocks last season, while setter Shelby Anderton returns after having 1,082 assists in 2013. Outside hitter and former Riverdale High School star Chelsea Ross returns after finishing last year with 499 kills, which led the team. Ross was also named to the C-USA Preseason All-Conference team.
As a whole, the Blue Raiders were picked to finished sixth out of 15 teams in the C-USA Preseason Volleyball Poll. Starting in November, the Alumni Memorial Gym will welcome the 12 top teams in the league for the 2013 C-USA Volleyball Championships.
MTSU’s season will begin Friday, Aug. 30, with the annual Blue Raider Bash at home. The two-day bash includes games against San Francisco, Notre Dame and North Carolina. The first match begins at 4:30 p.m. against San Francisco inside the Alumni Memorial Gym.
Men’s and women’s cross county
Longtime head coach Dean Hayes returns this year with a veteran and successful group of runners from 2012. Like all of the other teams on campus, Hayes said he is excited about their first season in a new conference.
“This year is an adventure, not just for us but for all of Conference USA,” Hayes said. “With eight new teams joining the conference, it’s exciting to see where we are and how we will finish.”
The Blue Raider men are coming back with junior Robinson Simatei, who finished third at the SBC championships last season. Senior and former Oakland High School star Keith Davis is another one to watch for.
As for the women, MTSU welcomes back its top distance runner in track, sophomore Lucy Kapkiai back from an injury, and sophomore runner Julia Kitevski, who finished sixth at the SBC championships last season.
Fans should also keep an eye on a freshman athlete from Kenya, Jackline Kiprono.
The Blue Raiders first cross country meet of the season is Friday, Aug. 30, at the Belmont Invitational in Nashville.