There was no panic in the Winthrop volleyball locker room when the Eagles opened the season 1-8.
Even in defeat, first-year coach Sally Polhamus saw encouraging signs.
"We were playing some of the top teams in the conference and taking a game from them and being in several others," Polhamus said. "We knew that were on the right track with what we wanted to do."
Now, the Eagles are on a roll, having won three straight and four of the last five matches. More importantly the team and coaching staff have taken giant strides in establishing their identity.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Herald
Polhamus said the team motto "Success Today" specifically deals with all the expectations placed on the five-time defending Big South Conference champion, that was 34-3 in 2006, ranked preseason No. 1 and that started the season having won 54 straight against conference foes.
"The ranking is based on what the team did last year," Polhamus said. "The other things are in the past. This team is trying to get better every day, in each match and establish our own identity. That's beginning to happen."
Polhamus should know a lot more about where the team is by Saturday night. The Eagles host Radford on Friday night, then take on always strong Liberty, ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll, on Saturday afternoon.
Several Eagles have put up some impressive numbers during the streak.
Junior Shannon Sitzmann, the Big South Conference preseason player of the year, reached the 1,000-kill mark with an impressive showing against Davidson. The 6-3 junior middle hitter has 213 kills on the season and 1,030 for her career.
Logan Pierce set the single-season school mark for kills with 700 in 2002. Mary Hock, a standout from 2002-2005, is the school's career leader with 2,067.
Freshman Kelsey Hall had 66 assists in a four-game win over High Point in the Big South Conference opener. Cristi Curtis had 72 in four games in 1999.
• READY TO GO: Men's soccer coach Rich Posipanko expects All-Big South goalie Patrick Mitrovich to start tonight's conference opener at High Point.
Mitrovich suffered a concussion in the 37th minute of Friday's 0-0 tie against Appalachian State.
"He ran (Sunday) and practiced (Monday)," Posipanko said. "He should be ready to go."
If not, Posipanko will look to redshirt freshman Mike McCullion, who came on to record five saves against the Mountaineers.
Starter Matthew Skonicki, who is suffering from a hip pointer is out indefinitely. Miguel Casajuana, who had four shots against App. State, will open at one of the midfield spots.
The Panthers are 2-5-1.
Posipanko's Eagles moved up one spot to seventh in this week's South Atlantic Regional Rankings, trailing only Virginia, Virginia Tech, Boston College, Virginia Commonwealth and Maryland.
• PLENTY OF COMPETITION: The men's and women's cross country teams will be running in one of the biggest meets in the country field-wise on Friday.
Winthrop will be one of 54 teams in the Paul Short Invitational at Lehigh University in Pennsylvania.
"This is largest meet any of the kids will have run in," coach Ben Paxton said. "We try to get up there every other year. It's a great course that has hosted two NCAA championships and a number of regional championships."
Both teams will run distances they're unaccustomed to. The men will run an 8K instead of a 10k, while the women will move up from the normal 5K to a 6K.
• SUCCESS AT THE NET: Tennis coach Cid Carvalho has been taking several players to fall tournaments, and even though none have won a title, the veteran coach has seen some encouraging signs for the spring.
"These are not team events," Carvalho said. "It's a chance for the kids to play against some top competition, improve their rankings and have some fun."
Carvalho took Vincius Bortolatto and Rodrigo Santos along with Patricia Coimbra and Larisa Betemetova to a tournament in Montgomery, Ala.
"That was a select field and we were honored to be invited," Carvalho said.
Alejandro Portugal and Arthur Takahashi joined Bortollato and Santos at the Southern Collegiate in Georgia.
• CHINA OR BUST: Softball coach Mark Cooke is planning to attend the Summer Olympics in China to watch former Lady Eagles' standout Janiva Willis.
Willis, who played for Cooke from 2002-2005 and is currently working out at Winthrop, is a member of the Canadian National team and is expected to make an appearance in the Summer Games.
"This might be the only chance I get to see one of my kids play in the Olympics," Cooke said.
Cooke and the rest of the team are sporting some new jewelry these days. The team was presented their 2007 Big South Conference championship rings during a ceremony at Dr. Anthony DiGiorgio's home early this month.
• MISTAKES COSTLY: The women's soccer team returns home Friday after six straight road games and coach Melissa Heinz hopes some community love and a home-field advantage can help cut down on the little mistakes that have produced an 0-3-3 record.
"We're a good team and we've played some good soccer," Heinz said. "We're disappointed that we're not getting positive results, but it seems every mistake we make costs us. We correct one and then something else happens."
The defense has been pretty solid except for a five-goal explosion by nationally ranked South Carolina. Offensively, the Lady Eagles have suffered.
Winthrop has been shutout three times, scored one goal in two games and two in the other. The Lady Eagles have converted on just four of 61 shots.
The Lady Eagles host Georgia Southern at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Winthrop at High Point, men's soccer, streaming video
Radford at Winthrop volleyball, 7 p.m., streaming video
Georgia Southern at Winthrop, women's soccer, 7:30 p.m.
Men's and women's cross country in Paul Short Invitational in Lehigh, Pa.
Women's golf team in Great Smokies Intercollegiate, Waynesville (N.C.) Country Club.
Liberty at Winthrop, volleyball, 2 p.m., streaming video
Note: To access streaming video, go to bigsouthsports.com, click on THE EDGE and follow instructions for prices.