Winthrop volleyball’ second season under head coach Bruce Atkinson kicks off this weekend as the Eagles head to Colorado Springs, Colo., to participate in the Falcon Classic hosted by the Air Force Academy.
Winthrop will compete in four matches over two days against Rutgers, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, California, and the host Falcons.
Success was sporadic last year as Atkinson installed his up-tempo offense to a host of new players. This year, the Eagles return eight from Atkinson’s inaugural season who are prepared for the offensive attack.
“We run a very high-risk offense,” Atkinson said. “This year we hope to be able to run this tempo more often as our returners are much more familiar with the system.”
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Winthrop returns two of its top three hitters from last year in Alina Sopizhuk and Rachel Lenz, who combined for well over 600 kills last fall. The Eagles also welcome back setter Jessie Vicic, who set the Big South single-season assists record last year with 1,355.
Sophomore Emma Weakland played in only 31 sets last year, but Atkinson believes she is primed for a breakout season in 2014.
“Emma’s power has steadily increased over the last year,” he said. “She fits well with our offense, has a quick arm and gets off the ground quickly.”
Atkinson believes that newcomer Nikki Drost, an outside hitter from Henderson, Nev., will see quality playing time this season as a freshman as she was able to quickly take to the power offense due to her athleticism.
Defensively, the Eagles return sophomore libero Maria Volstad. Atkinson has been impressed with her improved skills on the court and her leadership abilities.
“Maria has become much more consistent in her serve-receive abilities,” Atkinson said. “She also become much more vocal on the court and has started taking control of the defense.”
Winthrop was voted to finish fifth in the Big South preseason poll after finishing sixth in the conference last season and Atkinson sees his 2014 squad with the ability to do much better.
“It wasn’t too surprising to see us predicted to finish fifth because until you prove your abilities on the court you won’t get additional respect,” Atkinson said.