“We need to take that next step in the conference,” Burt said. “We have to make the conference final, that’s our goal. Obviously, we want to win it, but our goal is to make the conference finals. I think we can do that. To take the next step we are going to have step up and make the plays that we haven’t made in the past. We have to make them this year.”
The Lady Tornadoes, who finished last season with a 19-14 overall record, open the season at the Embry –Riddle tournament in Florida. Several of the top teams nationally will be participating in the tournament.
“They (Embry–Riddle) are perennially in the top 10 in the country,” Burt said. “They were No. 8 all year and they ended up at No. 11 in the final poll. Out of the 16 teams coming there, nine or 10 of them were ranked or received votes for rankings. It is going to be a real tough test for us off the shoot. Then we go to West Palm and play two matches there. Then we go across the state to Ave Maria and have a match there. We are going to be playing seven matches in a five or six-day swing. It is going to be a good test for us, because when we come back the first Saturday in September we go to Little Rock and we start our conference matches right away. It is going to be a real good test to see where we are.”
Earning wins in their first few matches will also earn the Lady Tornadoes respect in the rankings.
“The girls have worked hard this pre-season and I have worked them hard,” Burt said. “They have been doing such a good job I gave them a couple days off to rest because they were getting sore. They have really put out a lot of effort and doing everything that I ask them to do. I expect them to be right on task when we start playing. Other than that it is going to be a wait and see. I am expecting the first match to come out and play good volleyball. If we get a couple of wins against the couple teams we will be right in the hunt to get some votes for nationals.”
The Gulf Atlantic Coast Conference added their ninth team in Voorhees College in South Carolina. The addition has allowed the conference to split up into divisions
“We kind of realigned again this year,” Burt said. “We are doing east and west. This year, our division is Fisk, Voorhees and Edward Waters. The other side consists of the three New Orleans schools (Xavier, Dillard, Southern University in New Orleans) Philander Smith and Tougaloo. There are five on their side and four on our side. If we can get 10 teams we will be assured two bids in Nationals. So far, Xavier has been the team to beat. They won it both of the years that I have coached here. When you are on top of the pedestal everyone is trying to knock you off, so everyone is looking to knock Xavier off.”
The Lady Tornadoes return Sarina Thompson off a season-ending injury from last season season. The right side hitter was fourth in the conference with three kills per set. She had 200 kills on the season as a freshman. Thompson is one of the five returning players that he has high expectations for.
“Paris is going to be at the top of the list with digs,” Burt said. “That is just the type of player that she is. I made a change last year in our alignment, and I think it made her even better. She is a good volleyball player with good instincts. That change put her in a better position to make the plays and she wants to make every play if she can. Zia is coming back and I expect her to be a force offensively. Raven is coming back and I need to get her motivated to be a little more effective offensively. She has always been good defensively, but I need a little bit more from her offensive firepower from her. With Sarina (Thompson) coming back, I lost her for the whole second half of the season. So with Sarina coming back that is going to help out a lot. Shawna Ximines is coming back. I think her freshman year she wasn’t ready for the pace of the game. She got a year under her belt and I think she is going to do a lot better than she did. Taneria (Rounds) came back to practice in really good shape. She had some knee issues last season, but she had them taken care of during the spring and over the summer. She came in really good shape, so I am expecting a lot things from her too. Offensively, she did what I expected her too. I am going to need more defensively out of her. If I could mold both of the middle (blockers) together that will be a perfect match.”
TC also has two newcomers that will contribute right away.
“I have three newcomers: one is not eligible, but she is on campus. She is a JUCO transfer, but she needs more hours. She will redshirt this year and she will be ready to go next year. I have two other freshmen. I have Gabri Bailey from South Florida and Chelsey Zeiders from Cleburne County. Gabri is an outside hitter and Chelsey is a setter/DS. Both of them are good athletes, so they are going to add needed depth. It should take the pressure off Avrielle (Walker) who was my lone setter coming in. I am training Chelsey to be her back up.”
TC opens the season on Aug.31 at Embry-Riddle.