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Volleyball looks to ‘cook’

MURFREESBORO – Hear that sizzle? That means it’s hot.

And as Chowan University opens its third season of NCAA Division-II volleyball play on the heels of an Olympics where the USA women won gold in beach and silver in the team game, what better time than the hottest month of the year and a hot sport to get things, well, cooking.

Chowan opens its 2008 campaign this weekend hosting the 2nd annual Janet Collins Tournament at the Helms Center on Friday and Saturday featuring the host Hawks, Peace College of Raleigh, Allen University of Columbia, South Carolina, Roanoke (Va.) Bible College, and CIAA-member, St. Paul’s College, also from Virginia.

The event is part of a 33-match season for a team coming off its most successful year ever as a four-year school. The Hawks were 26-11 in 2007, reaching the title game of the National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association regional championship.

They also welcome a new coach in former Randolph-Macon assistant, Peter Green, who takes over for Marci Jenkins. Jenkins left after two seasons in Murfreesboro to run the program at Division-I Radford last spring.

Green inherits a team with nine returning players and four freshmen, featuring sophomore middleback Antoinette McCullough, the ICAA Freshman of the Year in ’07 and Nichole Shoup, who led the NCAA DII ranks in aces per game last season from her Libero defensive position.

“We’ve got a great group that’s competitive,” said Green at Chowan’s Fall Sports Media Day last Thursday. “They really want to build on what they began last year.”

One of the things Green made use of in pre-season drills were Chowan’s outdoor courts used for volleyball by the students. While the players weren’t thrilled about romping around in the sand, Green saw several advantages.

“There’s wondrous conditioning involved in this (beach volleyball),” added Green. “It’s good for agility, for strengthening to prevent injuries and it helps build lateral control, so when we get on the floor it helps them get a little more confident in what they’re doing so they’re more able to go after it which makes for a more exciting game.”

“Pre-season has been sore,” said McCullough with a grin, “but I’ve seen advances on the court from being in the sand.”

“I dive a lot on the floor to dig out balls,” chimed in Shoup, “so I feel faster and I can feel my muscles growing and getting bigger and better.”

One of the ways the Hawks hope to improve on is offense with six hitters and two setters in a system which will take advantage of the Hawks added height on the outside and on the right side. They’re also doing a lot of work on jump serving – where the server uses a toss, takeoff and serves the ball with a spiking motion while the ball is in the air.

“Antoinette will continue to do a great job in the middle,” said Green, “and now maybe the other teams can’t predict what we’re doing which will force them to play better defense to be ready for our offense.”

In pre-season the Hawks have had the usual 6-on-6 drills as well as three-on-three with one offensive line versus the other and likewise on defense.

“There is a competition involved,” Green stresses, “and it’s built by each other for pushing each other. That’s great for a team because it not only brings them together but it pushes them farther than they could’ve done on their own.”

Another of Green’s innovative quirks is the use of his cell-phone at practice to record plays and then show them to the player for instant video feedback.

“It allows a player to see what they’re doing because it’s one thing to tell ’em but another when you pull out the video and let them see what they actually did,” the coach said. “You have a lot of visual players in volleyball and having something right there, right then, for them to see is great.”

“We’re going to be a very close-knit team,” says McCullough, “and if we have that off the court, we can have that on the court.”

Chowan has also beefed up its schedule from a season ago. Part of their 26 playing dates is an eight-game stretch of away games from mid-September to the end of October followed by six of their next nine at home.

“There’re a lot of Division-II conferences right around our area,” says Green, “and that gives us a ton of opportunity and quite a flavor for wherever we’re going to compete.”

We’re looking to win championships,” he added. “And that means really being well-prepared.”

Chowan will scrimmage Virginia Wesleyan tonight (Tuesday) at 7 p.m. at the Helms Center, and on the road at Mt. Olive on Wednesday before opening the season on Friday.