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ABILENE, Texas – Coming off a 28-5 season, their best since 2004, the McMurry University volleyball program will look to continue its success against the tougher competition in division II and the tough Heartland Conference.

Head coach Cammie Petree, who is in her 16th overall season at the helm of the War Hawks (1984-85; 1996-2005; 2008-present), is confident that the team is ready for the challenge of stiffer competition.

“We believe that we have built a winning tradition and a winning attitude here at McMurry,” said coach Petree. “The special thing about this team is that they are a tenacious group who has an incredible spirit. They just flat out want to win, which is something that can translate at any level.”

Two standout performers from last season will look to help the War Hawks make a grand entrance into NCAA Division II, as senior M.J. Vickers and junior Kasi Conners, both first-team all-conference selections last season, are back for another year.

A three-time all-conference first-team selection, Vickers had another standout season last year as she collected 387 kills to lead the team, and also ranked second on the War Hawks in digs with 394. MJ recorded 15 double-doubles on the season and reached the 20-dig plateau four times over the course of the year on route to All-American Honorable Mention status.

“MJ leads this team by example,” said Coach Petree of her starting right side. “She has an amazing attitude and is willing to do whatever it takes to make sure the team succeeds. Although she is not the vocal leader of the team, I believe that she lets her performance on and off the floor set a great example for the younger players on the team, which will only strengthen us further for the future.”

Joining Vickers is Conners, who busted onto the scene during her sophomore campaign to the tune of 185 total blocks, which set a War Hawks all-time single-season record by over 30 blocks. Not only was Conners the top-blocker in the conference, but also led the nation in total blocks and ranked fourth on the team in total kills with 232 on her way to her first all-conference first-team selection.

“Kasi may be one of the most dynamic players that I have ever coached,” said Petree. “She really has that spark and her intensity on defense is what drives us. She has great athletic ability and can play with the best of them. You cannot teach the kind of intensity that Kasi brings night in and night out.”

Joining the two all-conference performers are eight other returning letterwinners, including co-captain Lauren Hartdige, Kayla Hines, Megan Mirau, Bethany Johnstone, Demi Holladay, Jenna Fahrney, Bailey Wilson, and Stephanie Henry.

“We are very excited about the group of players that we have returning to the floor this season,” remarked Coach Petree. “The returning players know what its like to win a lot of games, and they are hungry to continue to chase that feeling.”

Along with the 10 returning players, the War Hawks will see 11 new faces in maroon, black and white, including three transfers and eight freshmen. Although she said each player coming in is capable of doing great things for the program, coach Petree said that junior transfer Peyton Evans and freshman libero Ayssa Garcia are poised to strengthen the starting lineup.

“Ayssa and Peyton bring a lot to the table and will really solidify our team,” remarked Petree of her new players. “Ayssa has a don’t quit attitude on the floor and her ability to get to difficult balls is going to really strengthen us on defense. Also, Peyton’s decision making skills as a setter are going to give us more options on the offensive side.”

The War Hawks will open their season on Friday and Saturday; August 31 and September 1 at the Texas A&M-Kingsville Tournament before starting Heartland Conference play on the road at last year’s tournament champion University of Arkansas – Fort Smith.

“In this new conference, and in Division II, we are going to have to be consistent on a nightly basis,” claimed Petree. “We have the physical ability to compete with everyone on this level and if we step-up mentally and compete, we will have a successful season.”