SAN ANTONIO, Texas – The Roadrunners ended the 2017 season with a 9-5 record in Conference USA play, good enough for a third place finish in the conference standings.
They're hoping 2018 is even better.
"I have really high hopes for us," says senior defensive specialist Ashley Dominguez. "I think we could finish close to the top of our conference, and really have a shot of making the NCAA Tournament."
This year's roster features a new wrinkle: a young core. The Roadrunners only return three seniors and four juniors from 2017, meaning it will be up to the underclassmen to step up and contribute. That includes eight freshmen, and after the first team practice of the season, early reviews of the young guns have been positive.
"They're so athletic. Their ball-handling skills and just their energy for the game have been great," head coach Laura Neugebauer-Groff said. "From that standpoint, that's just going to make us better because, when you have good ball control, you can take advantage of your athleticism and your hitting."
"We don't want to treat freshmen like freshmen," said senior setter Amanda Gonzales, "I think they're great competition and bring up the level in our gym, so it's really great."
Five of the freshmen are from the San Antonio area, and the transition to competing at the college level in their hometown is going smoothly so far.
"All of us hang out, and we're all super close, our entire team is super close," freshman Madeline McKay explained, "We come together a lot, so that's really nice to have. We've been working so hard to be prepared for these first three days of practice."
"We're learning a lot from the upperclassmen, they're helping out a lot," said fellow freshman Hannah Lopez. "It's definitely a lot more disciplined, more focused on being on time. I still have to learn that this is college and I need to stay here, even though I'm only 15 minutes away from home."
Dominguez said that offseason workouts galvanized the team prior to the season's start, "We were lifting and conditioning, whether it was on sand or in water. We ran, pushed sleds, climbed hills, and then we would come in and practice. We definitely had time for fun at the end and played, but at the beginning it was more focused on drills and trying to learn some skills. Whether it was workouts or eating together, it was great for getting to know people one-on-one."
The upperclassmen believe they've established a strong culture and team philosophy over the past couple years. But they're also aware that new teammates bring a new team identity, so they're more than willing to build upon their solid foundation and embrace positive changes moving forward.
"We don't want to focus on the past, but of course it's always there to fuel you," Gonzales said, "We want to make this season better than last season of course, but we also want to treat this season as a new one and go at it with a clean slate."
The Roadrunners will open up their season Thursday, Aug. 16th with an exhibition match against the University of Incarnate Word at the Convocation Center at 7 p.m.