SPRINGFIELD, Mo. -- The Evangel volleyball teams begin the 2019 season Thursday hosting the Crusader Preseason Classic Thursday and Friday at the Fieldhouse in Springfield.
The Preseason Classic will again feature several top teams including nationally-ranked No. 4 Missouri Baptist, No. 17 Central Methodist, and Oklahoma City, all teams that advanced to the national tournament last season. Tournament action tips off Thursday at 1 p.m. when Central Methodist takes on the University of Mobile (Ala.). Multiple courts will see games at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. followed by games at 9:30 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Friday.
Evangel is coming off an 18-18 season after finishing fifth in the Heart of America Athletic Conference. The Crusaders lost just two seniors off last year's team, all-conference standout Heather Gahm and Lisabella Lemusu.
Returning on the offensive attack for Evangel will be Bridget Petersen who finished with 358 kills and a team-best .300 hitting percentage. Tori Lowry added 284 kills last season, while Petersen led Evangel on the defensive side of the net with 71 blocks.
Other seniors that return for Evangel will be Makayla Stephen and Jorden Stacey. Stacey led Evangel defensively a year ago with 653 digs and averaged 4.8 per set. Stephen also added 253 digs and finished with a .945 serving percentage.
Victoria Fishback returns for her junior season at setter after averaging 8.71 assists per set. Fishback joined the top 10 all-time in Evangel history in total assists with more than 2,400 as she also ranked in the top 40 nationally in assists last season.
Sophomore Eryn Russell will also add depth on the defensive end after averaging 2.32 digs per set last season.
Several newcomers will help add to the Crusader lineup including NCAA Division I transfer Daisy Eklund. Eklund will be a sophomore in her first season at Evangel after spending last season at Hartford where she played in 11 matches averaging 1.56 kills per set and 1.66 digs per set.
A number of underclassmen will join Eklund including fellow transfer McKenna Miller from College of the Ozarks and Regan Ansley from Lindenwood. Both local standouts return after Miller played her prep career at Logan-Rogersville and Ansley at Nixa.
First-year players will also help add depth for Evangel with several battling for starting time in the lineup. Among those include, Ashlyn McCanless from Mt. Vernon, Mo., Ashton Huffman from Willard, Mo., Sydney Dunavant from Rogersville, Mo., Shannon Collins from Fair Grove, Mo., Paiton Acord from Springfield Parkview, Gabby Massengale from Rogersville, Mo., Ciera Reyes from Nixa, Mo., and Sidney Hill from Fair Grove, Mo.
Evangel will host the 2019 Evangel Classic at the Ashcroft Center on September 6-7 before starting conference play Sept. 10 against Missouri Valley at home.