SILOAM SPRINGS, Ark. (September 1, 2015) -- After kicking off the 2015 campaign with seven matches away from Northwest Arkansas, the John Brown volleyball team (6-1) will welcome Williams Baptist (Ark.) to Bill George Arena in the home opener.
Williams Baptist (0-0) will also be making its season debut in the matchup between the two programs. The visiting Eagles will be without its top kill-producer from 2014 in Jameea Ward, who posted 289 terminations and threw up 128 blocks last season. However, WBC returners its second and third top kill-producers in Kaillie Ralston and Harley Strayhorn. Ralston launched 273 kills last year while Strayhorn added 228 kills at a .288 percent attack rate and contributed 92 blocks. Additionally, the Eagles welcome back Jordan Harvey, who runs the offense, and her 567 assists and 34 services aces from 2014.
The two squads have met only once since 2008, and the 2014 neutral-site matchup in Pt. Lookout, Mo., was captured by John Brown, 3-1. On Nov. 4, 2014, at Ozarks (Mo.), JBU used 13 Melissa Bakke kills and a .246 hitting percentage to take a 25-15, 25-17, 23-25, 25-15 decision over WBC.
Last Time Out
In the final contest of the St. Thomas (Texas) Invitational against Southwest (N.M.), the Golden Eagles used 17 kills from Dearien, which tied a season high, and another 10 terminations from Blaingame for a 25-14, 22-25, 25-13, 25-19 win over the Mustangs. The second-set loss ended a 16-set winning streak for John Brown.
JBU claimed the first set easily, running out to a 14-2 lead. The second set, however, saw the Mustangs (1-6) take an early lead it would never relinquish. The third set featured a narrow three-point advantage that JBU blew open into a 22-12 advantage while the fourth set included a narrow 19-18 lead that made way for a 6-1 match-ending rally.
A pair of seniors were recently named to the All-Tournament team at the St. Thomas (Texas) Invitational. Audrey Dearien and Libby Blasingame each contributed performances that vaulted JBU to a 3-0 weekend, including a pair of sweeps against Southwestern (Kan.) and Wiley (Texas). Dearien finished the weekend with 46 kills, 15 aces and 48 digs while Blasingame added 27 kills and 6.5 blocks.
Multiple Golden Eagles are nationally ranked. Dearien currently is ranked No. 1 in the nation in total aces (35), No. 2 in aces per game (1.40) and No. 5 in kills (4.48). Alyssa Arnold is also experiencing a breakout campaign, shattering her own career-highs. She now averages 35.3 assists per match and again set another career-high with 37 helpers in the victory over Southwest (N.M.). Arnold ranks No. 20 in the nation in total assists (247) and No. 29 in helpers per set (9.88).
The Golden Eagles are 5-0 in home openers, dating back to 2010, including victories over Ozarks (Mo.), Benedictine (Kan.), Texas Wesleyan and a pair of wins over Oklahoma Wesleyan.
SAC Preseason Rankings
The Golden Eagles were picked by SAC coaches to finish fourth in the final 2015 standings. JBU received one second-place vote, three third-place votes and three fourth-place votes. John Brown finished one point behind Texas Wesleyan (55) for a tie for third place.
The Golden Eagles return seven letterwinners from the 2014 campaign and welcome seven new faces this season. JBU returns All-Conference honorees in seniors Audrey Dearien (first team), Libby Blasingame (second team), Melissa Bakke (honorable mention) and junior Molli Pugh (honorable mention). Dearien became John Brown's first All-American in 2014 since Juliana Todescan was named to the NAIA's All-America third team in 2006. She also paced the Golden Eagles last season with 416 kills and contributed 370 digs, second-most on the squad. Blasingame and Bakke also return for their senior seasons as the front-row duo combined for 446 terminations, 176 and 270, respectively. Pugh tallied 186 kills last year but also threw up 62 total blocks, good enough for second-most on the team. JBU will have to work around three key losses in Shayna Daniels, Becca Young and Tiffany Hunnicutt. Daniels paced last year's team in assists (663) and aces (71) while Young racked up 487 digs, most of any player. Hunnicutt contributed 229 kills and 60 total blocks in 2014.
Live video and stats for tonight's contest will be provided by JBUathletics.com.