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2013 Xavier University of Louisiana Women's Volleyball Preview
New coach, new facility for experienced defending champ

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     Xavier University of Louisiana women's volleyball, still one of America's newest programs, is receiving more new touches in 2013.
     One is the Hannah Lawing, promoted from assistant coach to head coach in December to succeed Christabell Hamilton, who led the Gold Nuggets to Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament championships and to berths in the NAIA National Championship in both her XU seasons. Another new feature is the Nuggets' move from The Barn to the Convocation Center, a $25 million facility with seats nearly 4,000 for volleyball.
About the Gold Nuggets

Head Coach:  Hannah Lawing (South Carolina 2011), first season
Assistant Coach:  Kenneth Marroccoli, first season
2012 Record:  22-8 overall, 10-0 Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (first place)
2012 Postseason:  GCAC Tournament champion; first round of NAIA National Championship
Returning Players:  11
Newcomers:  2

     This will be the sixth intercollegiate season of the sport at Xavier, and Lawing is the fourth head coach. She's also one of the youngest collegiate head coaches in the universe; the former University of South Carolina standout will not turn 25 until the day after Christmas.
     "I may not be the most experienced coach," Lawing said, "but I think I can offer a modern outlook on volleyball."
     Lawing will present her philosophies to a team which returns virtually all the key contributors — 11 of 13 letterwomen, including all starters and the top libero — from a 22-8 season. The Nuggets in 2012 won a school-record 11 consecutive road matches, extended their win streak against GCAC opponents to 28 and took Georgetown (Ky.) to four sets on the road in the opening round at nationals. They became the first HBCU (historically black college or university) to qualify for the NAIA National Championship in consecutive seasons.
     "Last year was another notch on our belt," Lawing said. "We had a lot of our players in strength training and getting better nutrition during the spring and summer. We have the same core as a year ago, and I don't see our team having any problems in meshing. Our relationship this year can only grow on and off the court."
     Returnees include junior Taylor Reuther and Moira Kirk, both two-time first-team All-GCAC selections. Junior Chinedu Echebelem was first-team All-GCAC as a freshman, made the second team a year ago and was the 2012 GCAC Tournament MVP. Sophomores Franziska Pirkl (All-GCAC first team), Jodi Chatters (All-GCAC second team) and CeCe Williams (All-GCAC second team) also return.
     "I don't want to make this season about me," Lawing said. "We have some really good and experienced players in the program, and they'll deserve the most credit for whatever we accomplish."
     Reuther, an outside hitter, is the most decorated of the Nuggets. She was GCAC Tournament Co-MVP and second-team All-Louisiana as a freshman. A year ago she led the NAIA with 0.77 aces set and was GCAC Player of the Year, first-team All-Louisiana and Xavier's first female to be named Capital One Academic All-America. Her 2012 totals included 356 kills, a .241 hitting percentage — 31 points higher than the previous season — 79 aces, 303 digs and 20 blocks.
     "Taylor will start pharmacy school this year, and it will bring challenges," Lawing said. "But she will do a great job handling any frustrations or stress in the classroom. She can take them out on the volleyball court."
     Kirk, a middle blocker and the 2011 GCAC Freshman of the Year, hit a team-best .293 in 2012 and led the Nuggets with 89 blocks. She had 243 kills, 28 aces and 77 digs. "Moira will lead us again on the front row," Lawing said. "She worked really hard over the summer. If anyone is going to give us an advantage at putting balls away, it will come from Moira. She's always hungry to block balls and get kills."
     Echebelem, an outside hitter, is healthy against after battling knee injuries which limited her effectiveness. She had 244 kills, 238 digs and 26 blocks last season. "It's easy to get lazy with back-row passing and defense, but Chinedu always works hard at it," Lawing said. "I hope our newcomers will follow her lead. She will do a good job shwoing our new back-row players how to play the position."
     Pirkl, a setter, earned the starting job after transferring from NCAA Division II Alaska Anchorage, where she redshirted. She led the Nuggets with 849 assists, was second with 44 aces and also had 159 digs, 28 blocks and a .264 hitting percentage. She had four assist-dig double-doubles, the last at nationals.
     "Fran adapted very well in the spring when he worked on a new offense with quick sets," Lawing said. "Her confidence improved tremendously from the start of last season to the end. Her native language of German caused some miscommunications, but they started to minimize during the spring."
     Chatters, a libero/defensive specialist, led the Nuggets with 3.06 digs per set — 4.06 per set in the final 13 matches — and reached double figures in digs in 12 of the final 13 matches. Williams, an outside hitter, had 86 kills and 163 digs.
     Also returning are middle blockers Kerris Crier, Claudia Haywood and Jodi Hill, libero/defensive specialist Darian Harris and setter Alexandria Rencher.
     Crier, the team's only senior, will become the first four-year player in the program. She has 277 kills and 123 blocks in her career and hit .267 the past two seasons. Haywood, a sophomore, hit .243 and was fourth on the Nuggets with 120 kills and second with 48 blocks. Hill, a sophomore, was limited to 18 of a possible 103 sets because of injuries and hit .220 with 20 kills and six blocks. Hill is healthy now, and Lawing expects her to contibute on the front line.
     Harris, a sophomore, had 158 digs and 11 aces and produced eight matches with 10 or more digs. Twice in road matches she produced 20 digs. Rencher, a junior and and backup to Pirkl, has 382 career assists.
     Xavier's 31-match regular-season schedule will open Aug. 23 with Spring Hill — a national tournament qualifier in 2012 and 2012 — and Asbury in the UMobile/Spring Hill Tournament at Mobile, Ala. The Nuggets will play their first 13 matches on the road, then play their home opener at 1 p.m. on Sept. 14 against GCAC newcomer Voorhees. It will be the conference opener for both. The GCAC Tournament will be Nov. 7-9, and Philander Smith's Mims Gym in Little Rock, Ark., will be the venue for the second consecutive year.
     All home matches will be played in the Convocation Center. Xavier said goodbye last November to The Barn, built in 1937, with a come-from-behind five-set victory against SUNO which clinched the Nuggets' second straight GCAC regular-season championship.
     "We love being in the new building," Lawing said. "It's big. The lighting is perfect, and we don't have the loud buzz from lights at The Barn to yell over. We don't feel confined by having the seating on top of us. We won't have to worry about running into bleachers while going after balls. And the building is aesthetically pleasing."


Gulf Coast Athletic Conference

National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics
The Xavier Gold Rush and Gold Nuggets compete in Division I of the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) as a member of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference (GCAC). Xavier fields men's teams in basketball, cross country, tennis and track and field and women's teams in basketball, cross country, tennis, track and field and volleyball.

Department of Intercollegiate Athletics
Xavier University of Louisiana
1 Drexel Drive
Campus Box 92
New Orleans, LA 70125
(504) 520-7329 phone
(504) 520-7934 fax

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