A fresh, new East Carolina University volleyball team will hope to build off of its promising 2016 campaign with yet another solid season in 2017. The Pirates had their best season since 2006 going .500 at 15-15.
The team won its first 10 games of the year beating Campbell, Navy and NC A&T. According to ECU volleyball Head Coach Julie Torbett, the success the Pirates enjoyed last season only fuels them to be greater this season.
“It was definitely exciting, but it keeps us coming back for more,“ Torbett said. “We want more, we want a winning season. We are really driven to turn the program around, so we can build off of it, but we definitely want more.”
While the team is coming off its best season in over a decade, the Pirates will need to replace four starters from their 2016 team.
It may be tough to replace any starters on a college team, but Coach Torbett says her incoming class of freshmen, as well as transfers, will be able to fill in just fine.
“We’re always trying to bring in new talent, and that’s a process that’s ongoing, all the time,” Torbett said. “So it’s really about how this group will mesh together, but we did lose four significant starters, so there are big shoes to fill, but I know they will be ready for that.”
One player that will look to help fill the void is junior setter Madison Clark, a transfer from the University at Buffalo. At 6’2, Clark is the tallest player on the Pirates roster giving them the height they desperately need. She also brings versatility to the Pirates, being able to play outside hitter as well.
While she has been around for only a short time at East Carolina, Clark says she already feels more at home here with the Pirates than she did at Buffalo.
“I’ve never seen a senior class that has such great leadership,” Clark said. “Clearly they care about the team, and the success of the team, which is really great. I’ve never really seen that.”
One of the seniors Clark praised is middle hitter Natalie Montini, who will look to build off of a solid junior year which saw her finish eighth among American Athletic Conference players in blocks per set. Montini has been around the Pirate program for the past three years, and believes this year’s team is closer than any team she has been a part of. Motini said the team is looking to build one big family by working on its chemistry together.
“There are five of us seniors, and we have all stepped up tremendously, we all have one common goal, and that’s just to continue to keep this program going, and improving in the right direction,” Montini said. “We all have been working together day in and day out, trying to get this team on the right path.”
Despite going undefeated in nonconference play last season at 10-0, the Pirates went just 5-15 in the AAC. This year, Coach Torbett says a tougher nonconference schedule will prepare them for its tough in-conference schedule, including the addition of a formidable Wichita State team that is preseason ranked number one.
“The conference is really strong, there’s no doubt,” Torbett said. “[The AAC] added Wichita State who we have to play twice, who preseason was picked as the favorite. I feel like the whole goal is for us to do well in the conference, and we try with the non-conference matches to prepare us, maybe give us some confidence going into those games. We are playing some better teams this year in the non-conference as well.”