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Youthful volleyball squad opens Friday at St. Joe's

LEWISTON, Maine -- The Bates College volleyball team opens the 2012 season this weekend at the St. Joseph's College Invitational, following a week's worth of productive and enthusiastic preseason practice.

"Practices have been competitive, and we're deeper in pretty much every position," said second-year head coach Margo Linton, noting that on Sunday the Bobcats had a full 6-on-6 scrimmage "with everyone in position, which was pretty neat."

Bates travels to nearby Standish, Maine, on Friday to take on the host Monks at 6pm (Live Stats / Video), followed by an 8pm match against Lyndon State. On Saturday at 10am, the Bobcats will face in-state rival Husson, and they'll aim to wrap up the round-robin tournament in its championship match at noon.

Headline returners to the 2011 squad include senior co-captains Eliza Pyne (Atherton, Calif.) and Nicole Russell (Boca Raton, Fla.). Pyne enters her fourth year as a starting middle blocker for Bates, and is coming off her best season thus far, having led the team in 2011 in kills per set (2.33), blocks per set (0.79) and attack percentage (.187). Russell, who was also a team captain in 2011, led Bates' back-row defense with 5.41 digs per set, ranking third in the NESCAC in that category, and also served up 28 aces on the year.

Sophomore Tess Walther (Santa Monica, Calif.) returns into the team's starting setter role, with a valuable year's experience under her belt: Walther was one of only two freshmen starting setters in the NESCAC. She ranked ninth in the conference in assists per set in 2011, with 7.54, and led the club in aces (29). Sophomore middle blocker Hannah McGrath (Longmeadow, Mass.) is another returning player who will continue to contribute on the floor.

Returners constitute only a fraction of the team's prospects this season. There are seven first-years on Bates' 15-member roster, including two who stand over 6 feet tall in middle blockers Katie Kaplan (Sudbury, Mass.) and Brynn Wendel (Boxford, Mass.). Others expected to contribute right away include two players from New Hampshire: the state's Gatorade Player of the Year, outside hitter Kelsey Berry (Hollis, N.H.), and outside hitter Abby Leberman (Concord, N.H.), the younger sister of Liz Leberman '10, a former Bates standout who won CoSIDA Academic All-Region honors in 2009.

Bates hosts its first two home matches next week, beginning with Tuesday's home opener against Husson at 7pm (Video). On Friday, Sept. 14, Hamilton visits Alumni Gym for the Bobcats' NESCAC opener at 8pm (Video).