Charles Nailen/The Hoya Senior Jen Ward sets up a shot for one of her teammates. Ward is serving as team captain for the 2003 season.

The Georgetown women’s volleyball team ventures across the river to play in the George Mason University Tournament this Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the Linn Gymnasium in Fairfax, Va. The first of a series of tournaments before conference play begins, the weekend’s worth of matches will test out the team’s solidarity and will offer some freshmen their first taste of collegiate volleyball.

This will stand as a departure from last year, in which the team traveled all the way to East Lansing, Mich., to participate in the ichigan State University Volleyball Classic. The team struggled there against nationally ranked competition, heading back to D.C. with a 2-1 record. Although the teams and the setting may have changed, Georgetown’s desire to win and ability to play hard will not have diminished despite the demanding opposition.

The Hoyas finished last season tied for sixth in the Big East (7-6) with a 17-13 record overall. Picked to finish fifth overall this year in the coach’s preseason poll, the team, according to head coach Li Liu, is in transition with young players filling the starting rolls. Two sophomores and two freshmen are expected to end up on the starting rotation of six players.

“The kids are working really hard. They’re really excited, but we know that we’re young and that we have to be patient,” Liu said. “I want them to work hard and get better every game.”

The competition during the tournament will test the limited experience of the Hoyas. Liu also said that she hopes the younger players will mature as the season progresses.

“When they play under pressure, they’re going to learn quickly how to deal so that by next year we’ll be more on the mature side.”

Fairfield University finished tied for first in the coach’s preseason poll for the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference, tied with Manhattan College. The Stags pulled off a season championship last year led by senior Kristin Anderson and sophomore Casey Machon, last year’s MAAC Rookie of the Year. Fairfield ended the season with a 19-15 overall record and an 8-1 conference record, but fell to Loyola College 3-2 in the championship’s conference postseason tournament.

George Mason won the Colonial Athletic Association last year and was unanimously voted to do so again in the preseason coach’s poll. The team dominated the conference in the mid-’90s and has reemerged as the CAA’s hegemon. Last year they claimed a berth in the NCAA tournament. The team went 22-8 overall last year (14-2 in conference play) and sports the country’s leader in kills per game, senior Aline Pereira. She recorded 724 kills in 110 games and garnered the CAA’s Player of the Year award. They promise to be strong opponents, having downed the Hoyas last October in three closely contested games.

Southwest Missouri State, a member of the Missouri Valley Conference, has had two excellent seasons in a row, ending with a 15-3 record both years and finishing second in their conference both years. They finished the season with a 21-9 record and placed three players on the All-Conference First Team. The coach’s preseason poll placed the team in the same spot again, as perennial conference rival Northern Iowa promises to have yet another strong team. The team will still have Chenille Bayless, a senior setter, and the school’s all-time leader in assists, to spur the team on.

The team will face out of conference opponents all weekend, with Fairfield University at 3 p.m. on Friday and George Mason and Southwest Missouri State University on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m., respectively.

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