A new era is beginning in 2007 for the Winthrop volleyball team. While the five straight conference championships will forever be in the minds of the players and fans, this year is about "success today."
Five returning Eagles, led by the 2007 Big South Preseason Player of the Year, junior middle hitter, Shannon Sitzmann, welcome new coach Sally Polhamus and seven new players including six freshmen.
Polhamus is entering her first year as a head coach, but is coming from Georgia Tech, where she was the primary recruiter for five years and helped sign five of the top recruiting classes in the ACC.
"Our motto is success today, perseverance and resilience," Polhamus said. "We want to find success in the journey, everyday, every practice and every point."
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Part of finding that success this year, according to Sitzmann, is not dwelling on the past, which includes the five consecutive conference titles under former coach Joel McCartney, who left the team following the 2006 season to take the head coaching position at Georgia.
"We are all very excited about the team we have this year and are looking forward to achieving our own success," Sitzmann said.
Early recognition has already shown itself this season, which stems from past success. Even with the loss of three key components from last year's team, and six freshmen athletes, the Eagles were again voted the preseason favorite for this season, receiving seven of 14 first-place votes. Also receiving first-place votes were Liberty with four and UNC Asheville with three.
"Although the honors and respect we have gained throughout the conference are appreciated, they are not the focus of our team," Sitzmann said. "We look at this season as an opportunity to achieve goals we have set for ourselves."
Sitzmann, a junior after being a medical redshirt her sophomore year, will be expected to take a leadership role on this predominantly young squad.
"Shannon has been an excellent leader for us, both on and off the volleyball court," Polhamus said. "She has trained hard this summer and has brought great passion and intensity to her game this preseason."
Sitzmann, who was named one of three captains for the 2007 season, is coming off a 2006 campaign where she ranked second on the team in both kills per game and attack percentage. She trailed only Taryn Surbaugh in both categories. With the graduation of Surbaugh, Sitzmann is expected to take the offensive lead for the Eagles.
"I am really working hard to become a consistent player for our team," Sitzmann said. "Hopefully, this consistency can contribute to the leadership of the team, which we hope will lead us to success."
Sitzmann's leadership will be welcomed on the young.
"Since we have added seven newcomers to the team this year, we are working toward building our foundation," Polhamus said. "We are looking forward to the impact that our incoming players will have on our team. They have trained hard over the summer and have responded well to our level of expectations for this program. They have welcomed our incoming players and set an excellent example of how we train on a consistent basis."
The newcomers will get a chance to make an immediate impact as the Eagles will begin their season with four straight tournaments. Each tournament includes three matches in two days for the Eagles. They will face opponents from the Big Ten, ACC and Atlantic 10, among other conferences.
"We are excited about the challenge that this schedule presents us with and we are looking forward to seeing how we measure up to these teams," Sitzmann said. "We feel that the outcome of our first few tournaments will give us a good idea of how we measure up on the national level."
The Eagles will start their conference season and march towards their sixth straight Big South title on Sept. 21, when they host High Point. The conference tournament will run from Nov. 15-17.
"We aspire to be great for the next moment," Polhamus said. "We work to consistently achieve the small things that will eventually lead us to great things."
• Volleyball roster, schedule • 7B