Great expectations for Concordia

Dan Fisher is well aware that the performance of his women's volleyball team at Concordia University last season has raised expectations.

A 36-match winning streak and reaching the championship match in the NAIA national tournament have a funny way of doing that.

But whatever is expected of his team outside of their practice gym pales in comparison to the expectations inside that gym.

"The best thing about this year is we don't need to talk about what our goals are," Fisher said. "It's been pretty clear from the get-go the girls want to make a push to win it all. They're motivated, and they're better than last year at this point, so hopefully it'll be enough."

The Eagles had no seniors on last year's team and return everybody from a squad that won the Golden State Athletic Conference title with a perfect 18-0 mark and went 37-2 overall.

"It was a great year," said Fisher, who coached the team last year in his first year at the school. "We feel good about last year. But since the last game, we collectively are trying to work on our deficiencies. We've been in the gym in the three or four months of the off-season, trying to get better fundamentally, and a little bit stronger."

The team includes players like Brooke Marino, who was simply the best player in the nation last year in the NAIA. She was named the NAIA Player of the Year, the GSAC Player of the Year and first team NAIA All-American.

Fei Gao was second team NAIA All-American and All-GSAC; Madison Ekis was NAIA All-Tournament; Reanna Schelhaas was All-GSAC; and Kara Vincitorio, Elizabeth Younglove, Jenee Henderson and Briana Hughes made key contributions.

The Eagles were ranked No. 2 in the NAIA going into this season and so far have picked up where they left off. They are 8-0 with tournament victories at the Carroll College Holiday Inn Classic and the Biola Classic.

And though this year's team is virtually identical to last year's team, there has been a different vibe since the first day of practice.

"This group has a lot of confidence," Fisher said. "Last year was my first year coaching here and when we came into the season there was a lot of uncertainty. Halfway through the season the girls started believing, thinking, 'Hey, maybe we can make a run at this thing.'

"The difference this year in walking in the gym on day-one is knowing they can (win a national championship), and that's been the goal from the get-go."

The Eagles should be even better this season, considering that in addition to all the returning players, they've also added Le Mi, a 6-foot-3 middle blocker from China.

"She makes us a little bit stronger in the middle," Fisher said. "She's already doing a nice job, especially offensively."

And with another year of experience, the returning players should be that much better.

"They worked hard in the off-season, and some of them are stronger, jumping higher and hitting harder," Fisher said. "We feel good about where we're at."

Fisher himself is also feeling good about where he's at, now with a year under his belt at the school after coming to Southern California from Hawaii, where he was a coach at the University of Hawaii.

"I'm very comfortable, in terms of liking where I'm working and enjoying the team I'm coaching," he said. "But you can never get too comfortable when you read the rosters of some of the other teams, and see Texas-Brownsville (last year's NAIA champs) is bringing back everyone but one player and brought in four foreign players.

"Even as we get better we have to keep working because other teams in the NAIA are not resting, they're reloading."

Concordia doesn't begin conference play until Sept. 15, but will get a stiff test when the school hosts its own tournament – the Asics/Wyndam Hotel Labor Day Tournament – on Friday and Saturday. The five-team tournament will include Lee University (Tennessee), which is currently ranked No. 3 in the NAIA.

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