LOS ANGELES — The Occidental College women's volleyball team begins the 2012 season with the same mindset that they had last year: compete for a conference championship and make the NCAA Division III playoffs.
And if the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason ranking has the same foresight that it did in 2011, the Tigers should be in the hunt to accomplish their goals again in 2012.
Oxy ranked No. 23 in the AVCA preseason poll announced last week, the same spot they began their very successful 2011 season that included the team winning its first ever SCIAC Postseason Tournament Championship, and first NCAA Division III playoff game in at least 20 years.
Oxy defeated Cal Lutheran to claim the automatic bid in the tournament championship, then beat Pacific Lutheran in the first round of the NCAA playoffs before falling to Colorado College in the Round of 32. The Tigers were 22-9 and finished second in the SCIAC with an 11-3 record.
This year, Boyer-Hayse and Cassidy lead a veteran group that lost just two players from its 2011 roster.
But if they're to mimic or surpass last season's success head coach Heather Collins says they need to avoid the complacency that can come with a national ranking and focus on building on last year's momentum.
"As great as it is to be recognized as a top 25 team, it really comes down to all of us continuing to work hard so that we can put the best team out on the floor," Collins said. "We need to be a team that thrives on competition, is willing to put in the time and effort to improve every day, and pulls together even in the most adverse situations."
Senior outside hitter Kasey Rose (Los Olivos) played that role several times last year, often coming through for Oxy in clutch moments. In the conference championship game, Rose totaled 19 kills, 29 digs, hit .327 and had four kills in the fifth set to lead the Tigers past the Regals.
Setting her up, and calling the offense for Rose, Boyer-Hayse and the other Oxy hitters is returning junior Jessie Altman (La Jolla), who was second in the SCIAC in assists per set (10.04) in 2011.
"She definitely brings a team-player attitude to the table," Collins said, adding that Altman has been named one of the team's three captains along with Boyer-Hayse and Cassidy. "Her teammates trust her and she'll do anything for them."
Stephanie Gann (Tacoma, Wash.), an AVCA All-West Region performer in 2010, will play a utility role, trading off positions as an outside hitter, middle blocker and opposite, depending on Oxy's personnel needs.
Alyssa Mort (Tucson, Ariz.), another versatile player, could also find herself at different spots on the court throughout the season.
The Tigers soft spot could be the middle after losing both middle blockers, Gwynne Davis (Los Gatos) and Katie Wiese (Denver), from last year's squad. They add three freshmen; outside hitter Dana Michels (Kirkland, Wash.), setter Sarah Beene (Gilbert, Ariz.) and defensive specialist Kandace Korver (Redwood City).
Oxy begins the year in Portland facing four Northwest Conference teams, starting with George Fox at 1 p.m. on Saturday.
Collins says the key to building on a very successful 2011 season will be keeping it in perspective and concentrating on 2012.
"These players are hungry to continue their success, and they are determined to prove themselves," Collins said. "We enjoyed a great season last year, but now it's a new season. Now it's all about what we do with each day, looking forward."