Volleyball: Veteran team gears up for first home tournament

The Fresno State volleyball team lost one key piece this offseason, but finds comfort in a roster headlined by veterans and established hitters as nears the looming start of the season.

Korrin Wild, the Bulldogs’ selfless outside hitter, returns with a healthy Marissa Brand starting at outside spot opposite of her. Middle blockers Maci Murdock and Lauren Albertson return in the frontcourt, as well.

In all, the Bulldogs bring back six of its seven starters from last year in a veteranladen roster featuring 10 upperclassmen. And they return five seniors – all of whom saw significant playing time last season.

“Three of them are fifth-year seniors,” Fresno State coach Lauren Netherby-Sewell said, “so there’s a lot of maturity on this team and a lot of determination. So I expect us to get better every day and I think it’ll be a terrific final year for our five.”

Fresno State kicked off the season on Saturday with its annual Alumnae Match – a dress rehearsal in which Fresno State examined its different lineups heading into the Bulldog Invitational, running Saturday and Sunday at the Save Mart Center.

The Bulldogs open the season against Rice (5 p.m.) on Saturday and Santa Clara (12 p.m.) and Cal State Northridge (7:30 p.m.) on Sunday. Fresno State opens Mountain West Conference play on Sept. 26 at home against Utah State.

“We’ve got our videos on the way for a couple of the teams from last year,” Netherby-Sewell said of the upcoming tournament. “One of them we haven’t seen before, so we’re just going to be working on us getting better and see what comes at us we’ll deal with. They’re all tough teams, they’ve done well in their conferences and they’re relatively strong nationally. It’s going to be a really tough opening tournament.”

Though the Bulldogs return marquee players that served as the driving force behind their production on offense and attacking, one key position – setter – was left vacated when all-conference senior Barbara Alcantara graduated in the spring.

Alcantara led the Mountain West in assists per set (11.2) last season and her performance in games – such as Fresno State’s home stand against Wyoming, when she tabbed a career-high 65 assists – proved to be the difference maker for the Bulldogs last season.

Newcomers Cori Ehmen, a junior-college transfer from Iowa Western Community College, will start at setter this season and freshman Brooker Legaux is receiving looks at the position, as well.

Fresno State proved it could find success going the junior college route. Alcantara played two years at the College of Southern Idaho before starring for the Bulldogs for her final two years of eligibility.

“Cori has a really fast release,” Netherby-Sewell said. “She’s really talented. She’s working on keeping the hitters in tempo. She wants to perfect that. Once she does that, I think her leadership skills will come out. Right now she’s the starting setter for us and she’s pretty good.”

The Bulldogs enter their second season in the Mountain West and were tabbed to finish sixth in a preseason coaches’ poll.

Fresno State was battling for first place in the conference standings at one point in the middle of the season last year, but lost its last five of seven games and finished with a 19-13 record.