Coast Guard Academy returns senior co-captain Kelsey DePorto, a three-time first team all-conference selection, as the Bears look to return to postseason play. Coast Guard has earned either an ECAC or NCAA postseason tournament berth in 10 of the last 12 seasons.
First-year coach Aylene Ilkson, who was an assistant at NEWMAC rival Springfield for the past three seasons, takes over a team that was 18-14 overall and 6-3 in the NEWMAC last season.
The Bears must replace all-conference selections Keriann Mason and Karen Matic along with Catherine Walker led the Bears to a pair of ECAC championships, NEWMAC regular season and tournament championships and a second-round appearance in the NCAA tournament in 2010 during their distinguished careers.
"We are young but talented and opening up with back-to-back tournaments will certainly give our team time to increase its chemistry on the floor heading into a challenging conference schedule," Ilkson said.
The Bears open at home with the Bear Invitational on Friday and Saturday before travelling to the Brandeis Invitational the following weekend.
"I am counting on the leadership of senior co-captains Kelsey DePorto and Sam Marmolejo to bring this team together in order to be playing our best volleyball by the beginning of November," Ilkson said.
The Bears' defense will be led by Marmolejo, the libero, who led the way with 518 digs a year ago.
Sophomore Maggie Hine will be expected to run the offense as the setter replacing Matic.
"Coming to the Coast Guard Academy, I knew these players would be hard workers," Ilkson said. "Seeing their day-to-day military and academic responsibilities, I'm amazed with the effort they give in practice each and every day."
Coast Guard is coming off its fourth Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference New England championship in the last 18 years. After the Bears lost just one starter from their 2012 squad, optimism surrounds the 2013 season.
The team will be led by 12th-year head coach Chris Parsons, the 2012 NEWMAC Coach of the Year. Experience will be a key for Coast Guard, as the returners have a combined 332 starts between them. Last year's team went 13-6-2, 4-1-1 in the NEWMAC.
Senior Joseph Bodzewski is the leading returning scorer, finishing with five goals and an assist as a junior. Classmate Matt Epperly has seven career goals. Those two, as well as senior Bobby Copeland and sophomore Lukas Benedetto will be expected to anchor the offense.
The midfield is deep this year. Two NEWMAC All Conference players, senior John Rendon (3 goals, 3 assists) and junior Matt Bogdan (1 goal, 6 assists) are joined by senior Walter Heaney, junior Robert Chamberlain and sophomore Alex Lane.
On defense, returners junior John Tarzian (4 goals, 1 assist), junior John Ray and senior Kyle Grell will be difficult to break down. Senior Andrew Jaeger and sophomore Jason Kingsley will look to win the fourth spot at the back.
First team All-NEWMAC selection junior Richie Burns will return in goal for the Bears after posting impressive numbers in his sophomore season, including a 12-4-2 record, eight shutouts, and a 0.76 goals against average.
Epperly and Rendon will serve as captains.
Coast Guard will begin its season Friday when it hosts Southern Maine at 6 p.m.
After a trying 2012 season that saw Coast Guard finish 3-13-0 (1-8 NEWMAC), the Bears seem primed to reach their primary goal and qualify for the NEWMAC tournament for the first time since the 2003 season.
The optimism stems from the fact the Bears lost just two starters from a season ago with the loss of Jill Kelly and graduation of Kelsey Freeman.
In addition to returning the vast majority of their starting lineup, Coast Guard also welcomes a strong freshman class.
The Bears will be led by seventh-year head coach Susan Grant and captained by seniors Devin Fellman, Judy Hooymans and Emily Marks.
Fellman returns in goal after a strong season a year ago that saw her post an .812 save percentage (125 saves). Additionally, the Bears bring back three starting defenders in Hooymans, Marks and junior Avery Ayers. Those three started all 16 games a season ago as the Bears recorded three shutout victories and held opponents to just 1.82 goals per game.
Coast Guard also has returning back Andrea Saldana and will also be adding two newcomers to the backfield depth chart with the additions of freshmen Emily Matthews and Kat Beasley, a Norwich Free Academy graduate.
The Bears also return 85.7 percent of their scoring from last season, led by Marks (4 goals) and sophomore forwards Caroline Eastman (3 goals) and Sheila Dutt (2 goals). Returning, as well, are a pair of forwards in junior Liz Runci and sophomore Sarah Hills who recorded two assists apiece last year.
The Bears will also return starters Kristen Euchler (senior, midfielder), Lindsay Duplessis (junior, forward), and Hanna Jansson (sophomore, midfielder/defender).
The season gets underway at 4 p.m. Friday at the Seahawk Invitational hosted by St. Mary's (Md.) against Randolph-Macon.