When Alabama volleyball takes the floor in Charleston, South Carolina, the front line will look different than it has in the last four years.
Leah Lawrence, who started 119 of the possible 121 games, graduated in May. The former middle blocker finished her career with 435 blocks, the most in program history.
“I think any time you’re losing a player that set a school record that’s a significant loss,” coach Ed Allen said.
Filling that defensive void isn’t going to be easy, since junior Hayley McSparin is the only returning player that finished with more than 100 blocks (105) last season. Allen said Cidavia Hall will be Lawrence’s replacement at middle blocker.
The Crimson Tide also lost former outside hitter Christine Jarman, who transferred to Virginia. In her lone year at Alabama, Jarman finished with 249 kills and 186 digs, which were fourth and fifth, respectively, on the team.
Offensively, Lawrence also led the team in kills, but Alabama has three returning players that finished with more than 200 kills, led by junior Ginger Perinar.
“It’s good that we have a diverse offense, so that way the other team isn’t just looking on one player,” senior Quincy Gary said. “We have multiple players who will step up when their time is called.”
Alabama starts its season against Western Kentucky on Friday. The Hilltoppers finished 31-4 last year in route to their fourth-consecutive Conference USA championship, and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
“They are used to having a high degree of success,” Allen said. “They are used to being in the NCAA Tournament. They are used to advancing in the NCAA Tournament, so I would expect that is going to be as challenging of a first match that you can have in a season.”
Rachel Anderson, who won the Conference USA Volleyball Championship MVP for two-straight years, returns for Western Kentucky for her senior season. She finished with 420 kills, which was second on the team, but she is the only returning Hilltopper that finished with over 100 kills last year.
Western Kentucky finished with 1,705 kills last year, but 1,102 kills are no longer on the roster, including Alyssa Cavanaugh who led the team with 489 kills. Jessica Lucas, who led the team with 1,323 assists also graduated.
Alabama also faces Missouri State and College of Charleston in the Hampton Inn Charleston/West Ashley COFC Classic. Missouri State finished 28-6 last year, while Charleston finished 27-6. Both teams failed to make it past the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
“We use every match (as a measuring stick for the upcoming season,)” Allen said “…Opening weekend isn’t any different than any other match that we play. All those matches are used as measuring sticks, but clearly yeah it will be a measuring stick. It’s not unique to any other of the 32 matches we play.