Cullowhee, N.C. - Western Carolina opens its 2014 volleyball season this weekend in tournament action at The Venue at UCF in the Radisson UCF Invitational in Orlando, Fla. The Catamounts will face Florida International at Noon on Friday before squaring off against the host Knights in the tournament nightcap at 7:30 pm. WCU concludes play at the event against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday afternoon.
Fans can follow each match online through live GameTracker with live video streaming of the WCU-UCF match on Friday evening through UCFKnights.com.
"I think it's going to be a really tough tournament especially to start off with. But I think it will give us a good sense of where we are as a team," said WCU fourth-year head coach Karen Glover. "With it being opening weekend, we're going to see some things that we need to work on. But I'm really excited to see how we compete against the other teams."
She added, "I think we've really come together as a team this preseason; we've got a lot of good things going on. I'm really excited for the first weekend."
The Catamounts and FIU Panthers meet for the fourth time on the volleyball court in the season-opener with WCU trailing in the all-time series, 1-2. WCU won the first meeting back in 2000 before FIU claimed the 2003 match. Most recently, the two met to open the 2009 campaign in tournament action in the Kentucky Invitational - a 3-0 victory for the Panthers.
In their second season in Conference-USA, FIU was picked ninth in the 13-team league. The Panthers return just five letterwinners and four starters from a 13-17 squad a year ago.
In the opening day night cap, WCU faces tournament host Central Florida. WCU trails in the all-time head-to-head series, 0-2, with meetings in 1994 and 2000. The Knights finished second in preseason voting in the American Athletic Conference, building on a 21-10 record in 2013. UCF returns 10 letterwinners from a year ago including their entire starting lineup.
Then on Saturday, the Catamounts wrap-up tournament play against the Colonels of Eastern Kentucky for the third all-time series meeting, both sides with one victory. EKU won the first match in 1995 with WCU winning the 2010 meeting in five in Cullowhee.
Returning five starters from last year's team, the Colonels were picked preseason No. 5 in the Ohio Valley Conference with one player named to the preseason all-conference team. EKU posted an 18-16 record in 2013 and went 9-7 in conference play. Despite entering the tournament as the No. 6 seed, the Colonels advanced to the semifinals.
Picked in the middle of a tight, mid-pack race in the new-look Southern Conference, Western Carolina returns also five starters and has a roster that features four seniors including preseason All-SoCon selections Addy George and Jordan Timmermann. George paced WCU's defense with a league-leading 1.28 blocks per set average (137 total) while Timmermann was the offensive catalyst with a team-best 374 kills, averaging 3.37 per set.
Those two are flanked by classmates Caitlin Piechota, who was second on the 2013 squad with 274 kills and is the top-returner in digs (323), and right side hitter Brandi Anderson, who finished with 145 kills a season ago. Also back among the returning starters is middle blocker Nicole Ford (178 kills, 93 blocks in 2013) and setter Cristina Nazario, who recorded 1,126 assists, 254 digs, 97 kills and 73 total blocks.
Following two additional road matches at Georgia State (Sept. 3) and High Point (Sept. 7), WCU returns home for the first home match of the season on Tuesday, Sept. 9 against in-state foe, Charlotte, at 7:00 pm in the Ramsey Center main arena.
Fans can keep track of Catamount Athletics through social media outlets on Facebook (fb.com/catamountsports), Twitter (@catamounts), YouTube (CatamountSports) and Instagram (wcu_catamounts).