The 2018 men's volleyball season holds plenty of potential for Eastern Mennonite University, as the Royals return a huge core of key players and welcome a new coaching staff to lead the way.
As she enters her first season at the helm of EMU volleyball men, Danielle Lickey is ready for the potential of her team to perform at a very high level in the conference, as well as on the national scale.
The Royals were picked to finish third in the loaded West Division of the Continental Volleyball Conference and also received votes in the preseason AVCA National Poll.
Joining Lickey is Jack Wilson, who, following his collegiate career at D-I George Mason, played professionally in Finland.
"I am so excited to welcome the knowledge and experience Jack has to offer on the court and amongst the coaching staff," said Lickey. "As a coach, I create a strong culture with high expectations as I strive to teach my knowledge of the game; Jack's expectations are much the same and he has the added advantage of playing at some of the highest levels available to men's volleyball."
A new coaching philosophy combined with the success after the last season, which includes the only CVC Tournament appearance for EMU, has the men primed for a noteworthy year.
"The team is training and preparing for a higher level game and we hope that will transfer into the strong competitive season we have planned," said Lickey.
The team returns ten players and five starters, including the All-Conference duo of Micah Buller (Richmond, Va./Douglas Freeman) and William Ragland (North Chesterfield, Va./Thomas Dale). Ragland finished with 286 kills last season while hitting .280 and leading the team with 41 service aces. Buller earned All-Conference honors as a libero, finishing with 225 digs.
Also back is senior Tim Callahan (Harrisburg, Pa./Central Dauphin), who finished second on the team with 292 kills, and setter Christian Taylor (Richmond, Va./Deep Run), who led the CVC with 1251 assists. Taylor was 6th in the nation last year with 10.51 assists per set, and No. 2 in total assists.
"His capacity and knowledge for the game, along with his work ethic and drive for excellence has benefited the team," Lickey said of Taylor. "We are looking forward to a lot of growth from him throughout the season."
Senior middle Dan Lutz (Greencastle, Pa./Greencastle-Antrim) proved the best blocker in the conference with 128 total stuffs. Lutz was second in the nation with 1.25 blocks per set. Junior middle R.J. Ocampo (Virginia Beach, Va./First Colonial) complemented him with 91 total blocks, 0.81 per set.
As a team, EMU was fifth in the nation with 2.35 blocks per set.
The men are also looking for increased contributions from hitters Travis Abele (Mechanicsville, Va./Lee-Davis) and Hunter Taylor (Ashland, Va./Patrick Henry). Abele averaged 2.47 kills two years ago before a shoulder injury limited him last spring. Taylor was on the U.S. national deaf team the past two summers, including playing at the Deaflympics in Turkey last July, but has not suited up for Eastern Mennonite since 2016 because of injuries.
Despite returning depth, the Royals will need to overcome the graduation of outside hitter Scott Brigham and the departure of 2017 CVC Freshman of the Year Josh Elmore.
"Although we are sad to see them go, we have confidence in our squad to present a solid replacement in both of those positions," Lickey said.
Lickey believes that the chances for the experienced team are promising, but will require a focused group effort in order to carry out the ultimate goal.
"The new culture is actively developing and is what is driving the teams' expectations for the upcoming season," she added. "Our obvious goal is to win the conference and make an NCAA appearance; however, our goal is to win the national championship."
Overall, Lickey is excited about the upcoming season to see what the men can do on the court under new leadership.
"I believe the team feels driven and determined to grow as much as possible, and I feel that I was blessed to inherit a group of hard workers who are committed to going as far as they can potentially go," said Lickey.
The Royals start their campaign on Wednesday, Jan. 17, against 2017 national runner-up SUNY New Paltz in Yoder Arena at 7:00pm.