As Travis Filar enters his third season heading the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga volleyball program, he is starting to feel he has the pieces in place to challenge for a championship.
"I love where this team is at," Filar said Tuesday after practice. "For the first time, everything we're trying to do -- from our offensive system to our blocking and defensive system -- every kid in the gym can do what we're asking them to do. And that hasn't always been the case.
"Teams in the past have worked like crazy and worked hard but at times couldn't do what we're trying to do. Now finally we have the personnel at every position to do what we want them to do. This group is more talented than groups we've had in the past but is still working just as hard as any of the teams we've had."
The Lady Mocs open the 2013 season today in Atlanta with matches against College of Charleston and Georgia Tech in the Georgia Tech Invitational tournament. They take on Florida A&M on Sunday. UTC finished 14-18 last year (8-9 in the Southern Conference) and earned a spot in the SoCon tournament for the first time since 2008 by finishing third in the North Division.
With the departure of College of Charleston from the league and the end of divisional play, UTC was picked to finish fifth in preseason voting by SoCon coaches. Filar appreciates the greater respect the program is generating, but he continues to set the bar high for his young team with no seniors and 11 players who are either freshmen or sophomores.
"Where we are is kind of where I expected we were going to be," he said. "I'm thankful that the league is starting to see us grow as a program and be a program to be reckoned with for a long time."
"From day one since we've gotten here, it's been about building our program into a championship level. Last year our biggest goal was to make it to the Southern Conference tournament. This year, the goal is not just to make it but to get there and make some noise and give ourselves a chance to compete for the conference championship."
Sophomore Briana Reid is one of the younger players that Reid will be counting on, and the outside hitter from Houston said she thinks this is a much more complete team this season.
"I think we have the ability to be strong all the way around," she said. "Last year we relied a lot on our defense, but this year we have a lot of really good attackers and a really good setter who can distribute the ball well so everyone should have chances to get kills.
"We just worked really, really hard [in preseason practices]. You can tell that we've had so much growth and so much potential, and it's going to be really exciting to see where we can go from here."
The Lady Mocs will open their home schedule next Thursday by hosting Tennessee in the Country Inns & Suites Invitational at Maclellan Gym. Reid is excited to to have a chance to take on an SEC team on her home court and has been telling as many people as possible to attract a big crowd.
"I want Tennessee to know that we are here," she said. "I'm not from here, but I know it's a big rivalry.
"I want to beat them because I know that they're going to come in here and think we're not that important because we're just UTC. But I want them to leave here saying, 'Man, we shouldn't have slept on them.'"
Contact Jim Tanner at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6478.