The Shawnee State University volleyball program, under the direction of ninth-year head coach Susan Shelton, will play 33 contests over the course of the 2019 season, including 14 home bouts at the Frank and Janis Waller Gymnasium this coming fall, as announced by Shelton.

Shelton and the program are looking to make gains for the third consecutive season after improving to a 13-20 mark last season from a 5-25 overall showing two seasons prior in 2016. In addition to its gains, Shelton, along with the program's lone senior, Stacia Martin, are closing in on important milestones in their careers.

The former, who has won 110 contests, sets just 10 matches away from tying former SSU volleyball head coach and current Shawnee State Sport Studies Program Director Dr. Steven Rader for wins in a career with the Bears, and is only 24 wins away from tying Kristy Kamer's all-time career win total of 134 match victories. The latter -- who will be the volleyball program's lone senior in 2019 -- has posted 921 digs over the course of her three year career (134 at Indiana University-East as a freshman in 2016 and the remaining 787 with the Bears). Those numbers put Martin in an excellent position to eclipse the 1,000-dig milestone not only over her entire career, but in her three-year tenure with SSU as well.

However, talent and depth isn't an issue around Martin, either.

With the loss of Tyanna Smith to graduation, and the loss of Carson Roney, who will be squarely focusing on women's basketball this coming year, 614 of the Bears' 1,285 kills will depart just from the loss of the duo. That, however, will only open up more attack opportunities for Macie Rhoads, who put together a promising freshman campaign. Rhoads, who finished second on the unit in kills (306) and points (3.09), could enjoy an All-MSC caliber season along with Martin.

In addition to Martin and Rhoads, however, there are promising pieces around the pair. Nashail Shelby, who posted 162 kills during her freshman season, will take on a more prominent role, as will Isabella Gill, who posted 76 kills and 64 total blocks last season. Carson Isaac, Alexis Palazzo, and Maddie Payne also return for the 2019 season to give the frontline a great deal of length.

The seven returnees are joined by a strong recruiting class of seven that adds depth at every position on the floor.

With Shawnee State losing their two best passers from last season, Maddie Rann, who posted 765 assists last season alone and earned First-Team All-SVC and All-District Honorable Mention accolades as a member of Zane Trace's volleyball unit in a loaded Scioto Valley Conference, joins the program after leading Zane Trace to a 19-6 overall record in 2018 -- which was its best since 2012. Martin gets help from Alexa Ball, who was a standout defensive specialist on a standout Huntington (W. Va.) Spring Valley program that went 39-0-2 and won the West Virginia Secondary School Athletic Commission's (WVSSAC) Class AAA State Championship, and Emilee Cochran, who posted 821 digs over her final three seasons as a varsity player at Ontario High School.

Then, from a hitting perspective, the frontline gets big help from Allison Umbarger, a talent from Goshen High School that posted 647 kills, 114 aces, and a strong .344 attack percentage over her final two seasons of varsity competition, and Alissa Kefauver, who collected 785 kills, 114 aces, a serving percentage of 92, 610 service receptions, a .297 attack percentage, and, in her senior season alone, 344 assists while leading Hamilton Township High School to a 80-15 overall record during her four seasons of varsity competition. Junior transfers Maria Kolinoff and Miranda Hickey provide additional talent and depth to what looks to be a deep frontline.

The incoming influx of talent means that 10 of Shawnee State's 14 players will be of sophomore eligiblity or younger -- which means that the Bears have an excellent opportunity to continue their ascenion in the win category.

"We are looking forward to this season," Shelton said. "Although we lost some key players, the incoming players compliment our returners so well. We have transfers that have experience and freshman that we anticipate will step up. The mentality of our team this season is completely different. The girls have so much energy and are so positive. We expect big things from this team."

Going into the season, Shawnee State will be tested early and often as following a scrimmage against Kentucky Christian on Aug. 20 at 5:30 p.m., which will be at Waller Gymnasium, 13 of their first 15 regular season affairs will be away from home, including the Mid-South Conference Challenge, which will be held on Aug. 23 and Aug. 24 at Ephram White Park in Bowling Green, Ky., as well as a pair of tri-matches at Rio Grande on Aug. 30 and Aug. 31. Lastly, the Gray Wolf Invitational, which will take place in Sylvania, Ohio, occurs the following weekend on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7. Shawnee State's home and Mid-South Conference opener, which will take place on Aug. 28 against Thomas More (7 p.m.), along with a primo matchup against highly-ranked Lindsey Wilson (Sept. 4, 6 p.m.), are the lone home bouts over the opening 15 games.

Following the extended road trip, Shawnee State returns home with an opportunity to establish momentum for a late season run as four consecutive contests -- and seven of nine -- will be held at Waller Gymnasium. That includes three home matches over a four-day stretch, including Campbellsville (Monday, Sept. 9, 7 p.m.), Georgetown (Ky.) (Tuesday, Sept. 10, 6 p.m.) and Asbury (Thursday, Sept. 12, 7 p.m.), with a match against Ohio Christian following on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m. The Bears then make a quick road trip to Pikeville on Friday, Sept. 20 for a 7 p.m. match before returning home to host the Shawnee State Tri-Match, with the Bears playing Montreat College, and Shawnee State alum and former head coach Kristy Kamer, at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21. A match between SSU and Trinity International commences at 3 p.m. following the Montreat-Trinity International contest, which will be at 1 p.m., and following the tri-match, a Wednesday, Sept. 25 road bout at Cumberlands (Ky.), which starts at 7 p.m., is followed by a 2 p.m. home bout against Life (Ga.) on Saturday, Sept. 28.

In the month of October, SSU hits the road from Oct. 4 through Oct. 8 as the Bears play Cumberland (Tenn.), Lindsey Wilson, and Campbellsville over the stretch, then returns home for a bout against Mount Vernon Nazarene on Friday, Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. Two road bouts follow against Georgetown (Ky.) and Thomas More -- both at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 15 and Thursday, Oct. 17 -- and are followed by a three-game homestand against Rio Grande (Monday, Oct. 21, 6 p.m.), Pikeville (Wednesday, Oct. 23, 6 p.m.), and Cumberlands (Ky.) (Tuesday, Oct. 29, 6 p.m.). A road bout against Life (Ga.) on Saturday, Nov. 2 at 12 p.m., along with the final home game and regular season contest against Cumberland (Tenn.), cap off the regular season slate -- with the latter affair also serving as Senior Night for Martin. Festivities will commence at 5 p.m. on Thursday, Nov. 8.

As far as postseason play is concerned, the Mid-South Conference Tournament will take place from Thursday, Nov. 14 to Saturday, Nov. 16 in Bowling Green with the conference tournament champion -- and any at-large units -- participating in the NAIA Opening Round on Saturday, Nov. 23 at host sites. If SSU advances past that point, the NAIA National Tournament will be played from Dec. 3 to Dec. 7 at the Tyson Events Center in Sioux City, Ia.

Beyond the schedule slate and the overall roster outlook, however, Shelton is excited about where the game of volleyball is headed. A total of 85 campers from the fourth through ninth grades attended the Shawnee State University Volleyball Skills Camp from July 22 to July 24, which gives Shelton great pride as a coach and as a fan of the sport itself.

"We had 85 campers at our skills camp this year," Shelton said. "We worked with local student athletes from the fourth through ninth grades and had a camper from as far away as Virginia. Our camp attendance is rising. We are excited about the future of volleyball in Scioto County at all levels."

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