FAIRFIELD, CONN. (August 26, 2013)—The Sacred Heart Women's Volleyball team begins the hunt for their third Northeast Conference Championship on August 30 when they open the season at Holy Cross at 7:00 p.m. in the Crusader Classic.
Sacred Heart returns seven players for the 2013 season. Senior Dianis Mercado (Vega Baja, Puerto Rico), former Northeast Conference Rookie of the Year, will return as an outside hitter after spending last season primarily as the libero. Mercado led the team in 2012 averaging 3.77 digs per set. The Pioneers also bring back juniors Alissa Young (La Verne, Calif.), Sarah Fernandez (Guaynabo, Puerto Rico), and Alisa Mesa (Long Beach, Calif.), who owns the program's all-time assist record. Allison Riggs (Anaheim, Calif.), Katie Direnzo (Shelton, Conn.) and Karly Shockey (Chino Hills, Calif.), who was named Molten/NEC Rookie of the Week once in 2012, return in 2013 for their sophomore campaign.
The Pioneers bring in the program's largest class, adding 10 players to the squad in 2013 (nine freshmen and one sophomore). A handful of champions join SHU this year. Jene Lee (San Dimas, Calif.), a 5' 11'' middle blocker, helped lead San Dimas High School to four consecutive Valle Vista League Championships, while Kiki Robinson (Bakersfield, Calif.) led the Liberty Patriots to three Clovis Tournament Championships and earned herself a spot on the All-Tournament Team each time. Sarah Krufka (Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif.) helped lead Tesoro High School to their first league title in school history in 2011. Marie Zimmerman's (Denver, Colo.) Lakewood High School squad capture the league, district and regional championships her sophomore, junior and senior season.
Tori Kemper (Banks, Ore.) comes to SHU as a sophomore after one year at Mt. Hood Community College she was named the NWAACC Southern Region Player of the Week three times (twice offensive and once defensive), MVP of the Southern Region, First Team ALl-NWAACC Tournament and was the only freshman named to the first team All-American.
"2012 was a struggle for us," said Head Coach Rob Machan. "We battled a storm of injuries all season long and just could not put it together in time to finish as we hoped. Adding these players should help us bounce back and continue our program's climb in national prominence."
SHU will play in four tournaments to open the season before opening Northeast Conference play on September 28 when they host Saint Francis University. The Pioneers will host Manhattan, American and UMES in the annual SHU Hampton Inn Invitational on September 6 and 7. As part of the Delaware Invitation, Sacred Heart will challenge Furman on September 13. Furman, who finished 2012 ranked 84th in the country, is the only Top 100 team the Pioneers will play in 2013. Sacred Heart will face its toughest competition in conference play when they take on perennial threat, and 2013 favorite LIU Brooklyn on October 12 and 27. The Pioneers are 4-9 against the 2012 Northeast Conference champs since Rob Machan took over the program in 2007.
"The NEC continues to be a very competitive conference and is continuing to establish itself as a volleyball power in the East," said Machan. "It has become a conference where any team on any night can come out on top. We are young, but should be very competitive by the time the conference tournament rolls around. I am very excited to see how the season develops."
The Pioneers were picked to finish fourth in the Northeast Conference in the 2013 preseason coaches' poll. Sacred Heart is looking to bounce back from their 10-20, 8-8 NEC season, which saw them miss the postseason for the first time in six years.