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Young, experienced Trinity Volleyball has high expectations

Tigers jump out to 4-0 start, eye 25th NCAA DIII Tournament berth

SAN ANTONIO – Thirty-five years. More than 900 wins. Twenty-four NCAA Division III Tournament berths.

Trinity head volleyball coach Julie Jenkins has experienced almost everything that the sport of volleyball has to offer in her time leading the Tigers, and as yet another season starts, her enthusiasm hasn't waned.

"It blows my mind," Jenkins said. "I'm just as excited this year as I was my first year here. It's been a wonderful journey and I want it to keep going. I feel lucky that I've had the energy to do it. It's a different group every year, and it's a lot of fun to have a whole different makeup of your team."

This year, Jenkins is molding a squad with a perfect blend of vibrant youth and veteran experience. Eleven players return from last year's team, and their presence and communication has helped the Tigers transition seamlessly from the offseason into intense early-season workouts. But it's the seven freshmen on the roster that have made arguably the biggest impact.

"They stand out as a group, which is incredible," said senior Maggi Linker. "It's always awesome to have a group come in and immediately gel right into the mix with your team. They're pushing older girls at their positions. The energy in here is just incredible. We have the best team chemistry we've had, and it just raises the level of play immediately."

"They already have a great idea on how we train, and they've slipped onto the team very nicely," Jenkins said. "There are no 'deer in the headlights' looks from the freshmen. I think they have a good level of confidence coming in."

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Trinity once again shoulders the weight of tradition and expectations. Entering the season ranked 17th in the nation, the Tigers have rolled trough the first part of their schedule, winning all four of their matches at their own national invitational this past weekend. That includes 3-1 decisions over ranked opponents No. 15 Mary Hardin-Bayor and No. 25 St. Benedict, a sure sign that early-season work is already paying dividends.

"We just manage our nerves really well with good mental toughness," said senior setter Katrina Lieberman. "That's one of our big team messages. Since we gel so well together, we're able to really move the ball well on the court."

"Mental toughness is what we're working on, big time," Linker explained. "Every drill that we're doing about being disciplined and maintaining the core fundamentals. From there the growth is just exponential."

"We have really stressed the importance of treating every team the same," Jenkins said. "It doesn't matter if you're playing an underdog or a tough opponent, we've got to have the same mindset."

Last season, the Tigers clinched a share of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season title with a 15-1 record in conference play. They took third in the SCAC Championship before bowing out of the DIII Tournament in the first round. This year, Jenkins has the team wanting more.

"The expectations are really high, and they wouldn't be here if we weren't nationally ranked every year. Volleyball is very important to them, but they have the right balance. I've really enjoyed that, and I think that's one of the reasons I've done this for so many years. It never becomes a job for them. They're pulling for each other. It's great energy. We're trying to get the most out of them effort-wise every day in practice. They're off to a great start."

Trinity will return to action this Friday in Richardson for the first of a four-game slate against UT-Dallas at 12:30 p.m. Conference play begins on Sept. 20 against Austin College. The Tigers will play their next home game on Sept. 26 against Schreiner.

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