April 29, 2014
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall will open the 2014 volleyball schedule with a home weekend in the annual Thunder Invitational, and the Henderson Center schedule of 13 games includes an Oct. 1 "Battle for the Golden Ball" date against in-state rival West Virginia.
The Herd also plays in three road invitational events before starting its 16-match Conference USA schedule on Sept. 23 at Charlotte.
"This is a very challenging schedule, one that could propel us into the NCAA Tournament if we play to our potential," said Marshall Coach Mitch Jacobs, who is entering his 13th season guiding the Herd. "Certainly, it is one of our more challenging non-conference slates, but that's the only way I know how to try and prepare my team for Conference USA play."
Marshall opens Aug. 29-30 with three matches in the Thunder Invitational, against Eastern Michigan, UIC and Virginia, respectively, before playing seven straight on the road, including invitational events at Central Michigan CMU, Butler, Green Bay) and Southern Illinois (SIU, Kansas State, IPFW).
The Herd then returns home on Sept. 26 against neighboring Morehead State, before playing in the Hokie Invitational at Virginia Tech (VT, Radford, UNC-Wilmington).
"To open at our home tournament will hopefully give us a little boost," Jacobs said. "However, we are playing two teams that defeated us last season, plus bringing back a former Mid-American Conference rival in Eastern Michigan and I've been told they will be very solid this season with a lot of experience returning. Virginia will be one of the most athletic groups we will see the entire year."
After three conference dates, Marshall plays host to WVU in the "Golden Ball" series, in which the Herd has won 10 of the past 11 meetings.
In C-USA play, there are now 13 volleyball members, including newcomer Western Kentucky. In 16 league dates, the Herd plays Charlotte, WKU, Middle Tennessee and UAB home-and-home, and the other eight foes once.
"Conference USA is changing once again, and again for the better," Jacobs said. "We add Western Kentucky, and that will be a big boost. That's been a top 50 RPI team in almost every season in recent years. Plus, with our new schedule format in C-USA, you blind draw four teams to play twice and we have drawn Charlotte, UAB, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky. I would assume going in that the latter three will be picked in the league's top five.
"If our 2014 team can play inspired and to its potential, this schedule could propel our RPI high enough to get an (NCAA) bid whether we win the league or not."
Jacobs, 223-160 in 12 Marshall seasons, gained the 400th win of his 21-year career last season, when the Herd finished 16-16 and in a fourth-place tie (8-6) in 16-team C-USA.
With the loss of three seniors who started throughout their four seasons, Jacobs will have a young team in 2014. However, Marshall returns six players who played in at least 90 sets last season, led by senior setter (and Chad Pennington Leadership Award winner) Sammie Bane, who was an All-Conference USA second team selection as well as an All-Academic pick. Bane, the Herd's lone senior, ranks fourth in Marshall's career record book in assists (3,663).