The 2012 North Carolina A&T volleyball team steps onto the court with something they didn't have at the beginning of last season-depth.
The Aggies started the 2011 season with the minimum of six players on the roster and added walk-ons as the season progressed. The lack of depth contributed to the team's 2-27 overall finish and a 2-8 record in the MEAC. Depth will not be a problem in 2012.
With a 15-player roster, comprised of seven strong returners and a talented recruiting class of eight, head coach Hal Clifton is eager to see his rebuilding efforts come to fruition.
The newcomers make their debut August 24 as the Aggies head to Cullowhee, N.C., to play in the Western Carolina Wildcat Classic. The first match occurs 4 p.m., Friday against St. Peter's College. The Peacocks were winless in 29 matches last season. The tournament concludes with Saturday matches against Northern Kentucky (2:30 p.m.) and Western Carolina (6:30 p.m.).
"I'm really looking forward to seeing our blueprint come to life. What we have on paper is very exciting and it is going to be fun trying to fit all the pieces of the puzzle together," Clifton said.
The Aggies look to get back to the MEAC Volleyball Championship Tournament for the first time in five years this season.
Having a full complement of student-athletes not only means having flexibility in substitutions but also a highly competitive environment in practice. The internal competition should lead to elevated play on the court this season.
"This year we will be competing six on six from day one," Clifton said. "We will have a competitive environment in the gym from day one. Everyone will be fighting for playing time. The atmosphere is a lot different when someone is breathing down your neck to take your spot."
Clifton, who will be beginning his second full season at the head of the A&T program, has high expectations of this year's team, beginning with seeing continued development by his seven returners-including one senior, four juniors and two sophomores.
"Our returners should be more confident after spending a year under me. They know the expectations of the program. They know the offenses and defenses a little better," Clifton said. "They will be able to draw from this past year's experiences and will be a little more seasoned. You can expect them to push harder because they are hungry to turn this program around. They want to look back and say, 'I was a part of that.'"
A major part Clifton's plan to turning the program around was bringing in a large recruiting class to fill the team's position needs. For the past few seasons, the Aggies have had to teach players new positions during the preseason in order to produce an effective lineup. The two positions the Aggies program had to work hard to fill were the libero and setter positions.
The Aggies filled those needs along with adding outside and middle hitters.
"Adding eight players does give us depth in each of the positions," Clifton said. "There will be immediate competition for every spot on the team with some players being able to compete for playing time at multiple positions. You can expect to see a high energy and very competitive spirit from them. These young ladies know how to compete at a high level and have come from winning programs. That's one of the reasons they choose A&T. They want to build a tradition of winning."