HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State volleyball, a six-time defending conference champion, opens the season Saturday with a roster that coach Randy Daniel believes may be his deepest yet.
"We have size, athleticism, talent, versatility and depth at every position. I can't think of a team we've had on paper that's as deep as this one," said Daniel, who's entering his ninth year with the Lions. "We'll see if it yields the same results in the end."
Conference championships have recently been the end results. Wallace State volleyball has won six consecutive Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC)/Region 22 titles in addition to earning seven straight ACCC regular-season crowns.
The Lions begin their quest for another memorable season on Saturday. They'll participate at the South Suburban Tournament in Wisconsin Dells, Wisc., for the second year in a row. After spending this weekend in Wisconsin, the Lions travel to Chicago for a pair of mid-week matches before wrapping up the road trip at the Owens Community College tournament in Toledo, Ohio, from Aug. 28-30.
"I'm excited about this season and the opportunity we have to keep our championship streak going. Even though it gets tougher and tougher each year and people are gunning for you, no one wants to be the team that breaks the streak," said Daniel, who has a 293-68 career record at Wallace State. "We'll find out a lot about ourselves on this road trip. It's good to get away as a team. It gives us a lot of time to be around each other, know each other and appreciate each other. We'll have the opportunity to play against some strong opponents."
Wallace State has six sophomores returning from last season's team, which compiled a 35-10 record, made its sixth straight NJCAA Division I national tournament appearance and didn't lose a single set to a conference foe all season.
Savanna Tidwell and Alexandra Gamble are among the top sophomore returners after both were named ACCC All-Tournament selections last season.
Tidwell, an outside hitter from Winston County, was third on the team last year with 293 digs. She also added 253 kills.
Gamble, a Guntersville grad, led the Lions with 738 assists and added 90 digs at setter.
CeCe Hall and Kheala Roberts both return at middle hitter for Wallace State. Hall collected 157 kills and 46 blocks as a freshman, while Roberts added 146 kills in her return from a knee injury. Hall is a 6-foot-1 graduate of Dothan. Roberts, who is also listed at 6-foot-1, is from Danville.
Outside hitter Sidney Cooper returns as one of Wallace State's most versatile and consistent performers. Cooper, a Walker graduate, finished last season with 146 kills and 156 digs.
Stephanie Eckerd, a Hazel Green native and team captain, also returns at outside hitter for the Lions.
Daniel believes Hall and Roberts are more than capable of repeating the front line production the Lions received last season from former NJCAA 1st-team All-American Syretha Pride and all-region performer BreAnna Thompson.
"All six of the sophomores have been doing a good job. They are all good leaders and have a good work ethic on the court. They understand the expectations of this program, and they've all improved since last year. They all seem much more comfortable and have more self-confidence," Daniel said.
Freshman outside hitters Kelsea Bivins, MaKenzie Bearden and Cierra Davis are all expected to be integral pieces this season. Bivins is a Thompson High graduate and Bearden earned multiple personal accolades at Geraldine. Davis is a Sparkman graduate.
"Kelsea Bivins and Cierra Davis were among the top recruits in the state last year and MaKenzie was right there with them," Daniel said. "They are super talented players."
Daniel also praised the recent preseason work of libero August Newberry, a Thompson grad, and Mallory Patterson, an outside hitter from Jacksonville.
Latresia Williams, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter from Florence, has also made strong strides.
Jamie Pittman (Geraldine), Beth Maples (Madison County) and Tara Miller (Thompson) round out the 2015 freshman class.
Wallace State will be tested on the road a lot during the season's first few weeks. After returning from Ohio, the Lions play five consecutive road games to begin conference play.
Wallace State's first home and conference match is Sept. 16 vs. Gadsden State.
Jamiee Freeman returns for her second season as an assistant coach.