BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history, the future looks bright for the Birmingham-Southern women's volleyball team. The Panthers ranked No. 25 in the country with a 25-6 overall, 11-3 in Southern Athletic Association play, and an appearance in the NCAA Regional Semifinal. Losing only two starters, they return 10 letterwinners and welcome seven newcomers.
Helping to lead the team back to the conference championship match will be senior captains Laura Van Peursem (Huntsville, Ala./Randolph School) and Caroline Hyde (Franklin, Tenn./Centennial HS). The pair started and appeared in every set of the Panthers matches last season, combining for 441 kills, 546.5 points, and 181 blocks. Van Peursem was named All-SAA Honorable Mention for performance on the court.
"Laura has been all-conference multiple times," said Head Coach Jeff White. "Caroline was top five in blocks. On the court, she's a spark plug, great leader, lots of energy."
American Volleyball Coaches Association South Region Freshman of the Year Jeneva Salter (Madison, Ala./Bob Jones HS) will look to build on her breakout performance from last season. She was named AVCA Honorable Mention All-America, AVCA All-South Region First Team, SAA Newcomer of the Year, and First-Team All-SAA after leading the league and the team in several categories including attacks per set, kills per set, and total kills. Fellow sophomore Marjorie Ward (Winter Park, Fla./Winter Park HS) is expected to have an impact at the net as well as defensively. She appeared in all but one set for the Panthers, finishing fourth in kills (184) behind Salter, Van Peursem, and Hyde. Ward was also second on the team in digs with 407.
Among the newcomers who will be contending for time on the court are Caroline Johnson (Lucas, Texas/Lovejoy HS), Rebecca Erwin (Duluth, Ga./Duluth HS), Stephanie Hochu (Memphis, Tenn./St. Agnes Academy) and Julia Denby (Gulf Breeze, Fla./Gulf Breeze HS). Johnson will battle for the libero spot. She comes in having qualified for the USA Volleyball Junior National Team seven times, earning two bronze medals. Erwin is an all-around athlete who also competitively swims. She and Denby, who won two district titles in high school, bring height to the front line. Hochu helped lead her high school squad to back-to-back state championships.
The Panthers begin the 2016 season on the road at the Emory Invitational September 2-3. They open their home season on Wednesday, Sept. 14 against Huntingdon College at 6 p.m. with conference play starting Saturday, Sept. 17 at Sewanee. One of the biggest tests of the year will be when the Panthers play host to both Hendrix and Emory in a tri-match on Saturday, Sept. 24. The two teams played in the regional semifinal with Hendrix advancing to the final four and finished ranked top 10 the country.
"It will be an opportunity to show what we have," said White of the matchup. "Hendrix has beaten us in the conference championship the past two years. We really want to win the conference championship this year. Goes through them. To have two top 10 teams in our gym will be awesome. To go to the Elite-8, you have to go through them. It should be interesting."
BSC will also be traveling to Texas for the first time since 2011. They will compete in the Texas Lutheran Bulldog Classic October 28-29 in Seguin, Texas.
"A couple of our volleyball alumni are from Seguin, so it will be great," added White.
The 2016 SAA tournament is set for November 4-6 and will be hosted by the No. 1 seed.