Bearkats open season at home Friday in Domino’s Pizza Invitational

Ladies and gentlemen, turn off your engines. With the Lady Bearkats set to return to volleyball action this weekend, Johnson Coliseum is the only place to be as Sam Houston State hosts the Domino’s Pizza Volleyball Invitational Friday and Saturday.

Under head coach Brenda Gray, the Lady Bearkats return just one senior and three starters. Yet after finishing near the bottom of the Southland Conference in 2006, bringing a handful of new faces to the court this season could provide a fresh start for a team hungry to win a conference championship.

“Our goal is always to win the conference tournament,” Gray said.

The Bearkats were picked to finish sixth in the SLC West in a recent coaches poll and landed just one player, Cynthia Yarotsky, on the 2007 All-Southland Conference pre-season team.

Yarotsky, the only senior on the squad, has compiled 764 kills in her four years at Sam Houston State and has not missed a game in the squad’s past three seasons. Megan McNamara, the Lady Bearkats’ returning setter, enters her junior year with 1,773 assists in 58 matches over two seasons. Returning middle blocker Anna Ferguson had 245 kills and 78 blocks last season, second only to sophomore Katie Phillips, who led the team with 87.

To compensate for the players claimed by graduation, Gray has brought in a promising new group of freshmen she believes have the talent and enthusiasm to take the Bearkats back to the conference tournament for the first time since 2005.

“Our freshmen bring a lot to the court. I’m very pleased with them,” Gray said. “And the group is getting along great. The team chemistry is just, wow.”

With their first game just days one day away, the Lady Bearkats have been working since the summer to prepare the younger players for college play while reinvigorating the veterans for they hope will be a successful season.

“Well, you’re always working on something. We need to work on ball control, ball control, ball control. We’re continually working on ball control and timing between the setters and the hitters,” Gray said. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, however you look at it, volleyball in the Southland Conference is very strong, especially in the West. Our side is just strong. I think there are four or five teams who could win the championship. You’ve just gotta come prepared.”

Last season, the Lady Bearkats finished with a 5-11 conference record, 10-16 overall and ninth place in the conference. The last appearance by Sam Houston State in the SLC tournament came in 2005 when the Gray led the Lady Bearkats to the semi-finals and a second place in the SLC.

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