Claflin is taking the ‘mental toughness’ approach to season

Claflin University's women's volleyball team. Photo courtesy of Claflin University

When the 2018 edition of the Claflin University volleyball team steps on the court, they will do so with a new frame of mind and a new conference. For the first time since joining the NCAA Division II ranks in 2008, Claflin will participate in the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association, better known as the CIAA, an NCAA Division II affiliate.

The Lady Panthers officially became the conference’s 13th member on July 1, 2018, thus ending a 10-year stint in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC), another NCAA Division II league. Before joining the NCAA Division II ranks, Claflin played on the NAIA level.

Second-year head coach Mary Rotimi will be charged with leading her team into the new era.

The team has adopted the theme “Mental Toughness” as its driving force of the season.

This year’s team will look to rebound from a disappointing 8-21 overall record in 2017, Claflin’s worst since joining the NCAA Division II ranks. In order for the Lady Panthers to show the improvement they are expecting, it will take the leadership and experience of their six seniors, one junior, and one sophomore, coupled with the talent of eight freshmen.

“We are expecting a lot from senior Gabrielle Williams,” said Rotimi. “We are looking for her leadership on and off the floor. She is a right-side hitter from Powder Spring, Ga. that can do great things if she only believes in herself as much the coaching staff does.”

Jhi Piper Murles in game action. Photo by Gene Breland

“The newcomer I think will adapt and standout early is Trinity Fierce,” continued Rotimi. “The 5-4 libero from Atlanta, Ga. has a high volleyball I.Q. and is very dedicated to the game. She has the willingness to win at all cost and is very vocal which is very important at the libero position.”

The Lady Panthers will play a 26-game schedule, including an 18-game league worksheet and battle for the CIAA Southern Division title with the likes of Chowan, Shaw University, Fayetteville State University, Winston-Salem State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Saint Augustine’s University and Livingstone College.

Shaw claimed the Southern Division title last season, posting a near-perfect record of 15-1 in the conference, but fell to Winston-Salem State in the CIAA Tournament Championship match (26-24, 25-23, 25-23). Winston-Salem State represented the conference in the 2017 NCAA Division II Atlantic Region Tournament Quarterfinals falling to top ranked Wheeling Jesuit.

Claflin is very familiar with the teams in the Southern Division of the CIAA as the Lady Panthers have faced every team in the division at least twice, with the exception of Livingstone who they have met only once since joining the NCAA in 2008. The Lady Panthers have faced the CIAA Southern Division opponents 29 times, posting a 17-12 record. Last season, the Lady Panthers faced both Shaw University and Fayetteville State University twice going 0-4 on the season.

Claflin will open its 2018 campaign at the Allen University Tournament on Monday, Sept. 3. The Lady Panthers will face a familiar foe from the SIAC, Paine College, in the opening game of the tournament before facing host Allen immediately after.

The Lady Panthers will be tested early in the CIAA when they travel to Petersburg, Va. Sept 8-9 to participate in the CIAA Roundup #1. During the roundup the Lady Panthers will take on Virginia State University, Elizabeth City University, and Chowan University, who play in the Northern Division of the conference.

It will be important for the Lady Panthers to play consistent throughout the year since only the top four teams from each division will compete in the 2018 CIAA post-season tournament.

“It will take hard work, focus and a will to want it. I just know we have some work to put in and believe we are ready,” said Rotimi.

The semi-finals and finals of the CIAA championships are scheduled for Friday-Saturday, Nov. 9-10 in Salem, Va. The quarterfinal round is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 6, at the location of the top two seeded teams in each division.

Source: Claflin University Athletics

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