HUNTSVILLE, Texas -- Bearkat volleyball starts their 2014 season with the 26th Sam Houston Invitational Friday and Saturday at Bernard G. Johnson Coliseum.
Western Athletic Conference members Texas-Pan American and Bakersfield, Southeastern Conference member Mississippi State and the Sun Belt’s University of Louisiana at Monroe join Sam Houston in the field.
Brenda Gray, who begins her 31st season as Sam Houston head volleyball coach, is ready to get the season started.
“We’ve had a good preseason camp and the team is ready to go,” Gray said.
Eight players return from last year’s Bearkat squad that finished third in the Southland Conference race. Two-time All-Southland Conference outside hitter Deveney Wells-Gibson is the Bearkats’ top returning offensive threat. The senior from San Antonio has totaled 949 kills and 111 blocks during her career.
In the 25-year history of the tournament, host Sam Houston was won the event 12 times. The Bearkats’ most record Sam Houston Invitational title came in 2011. Washington State won last season and Colorado was the champion in 2012.
Mississippi State is making its second appearance in the Invitational. The Bulldogs won the 1991 tournament in their only other visit. Mississippi State returns six letter winners including two starters from the Bulldogs’ 12-20 team last year.
Bakersfield is beginning its first season in the Western Athletic Conference. The Roadrunners look to compete for the WAC title coming off a 21-12 season last year. Molly O’Hagan is the team’s top returning threat at the net with 256 kills and 418 points in 2013.
UT-Pan American returns 10 players from its 13-20 squad in 2013. The number includes five returning starters including offensive leader Haley Durham who averaged 2.49 kills per set. The Broncs have added six new players as well.
The ULM Warhawks will be led by outside hitter Hadley Swartz who totaled 314 kills last season. ULM looks to bounce back from a 6-28 season in 2013.
Play in the tournament begins Friday at 11 a.m. when Sam Houston plays ULM. The Bearkats return to action at 6:30 p.m. against Mississippi State.
Saturday the Bearkats play Bakersfield at 2 p.m. and end the tournament with UTPA at 7 p.m.