Originally published Monday, August 12, 2019 at 11:00p.m.

PRESCOTT — A California Pacific Conference three-peat is on the line this season for Embry-Riddle volleyball and, while the team is ready for another crack at the title, a deep run in the succeeding NAIA National Tournament still remains elusive.

Head coach Jill Blasczyk returns with a reloaded roster that is very young being that it has only one senior. Despite the alleged lack of experience, the team is still teeming with talent as Blasczyk said she fancies the Eagles’ chances to defend their Cal Pac titles from the prior couple seasons.

Leading the charge will be All-American and reigning Cal Pac Conference Player of the Year Caylee Robalin, whose intensity on the court sets the tone for the rest of her teammates. While the junior outside hitter usually plays on the left side, Blasczyk plans to transition her to the right side this season in hopes of parlaying the Eagle’s strongest lineup.

Other key returners include All-Cal Pac first-team setter Audrey Baldwin, All-American honorable mention Outside Hitter Erin Clark, All-Cal Pac second team Middle Blocker Sharik Joseph and Defensive Specialist/Libero Kat Yung.

Blasczyk also brought on new recruits that will each have something to bring to the table. Elisa Pauzer, a 6-foot-1 transfer from Brazil, tops the list of newer players who will make an impact simply because of the fact that she’s left handed, which is a unique dynamic that will bolster her already impressive blocking prowess. Fellow new recruits like middle blocker Amanda Smith, defensive specialist Erika Herr and setter Katie Rolle are also poised to make a significant impact.

“The team looks great so far. From my perspective, we have the strongest group that we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Blasczyk said. “Our returning players are very strong and they are very comfortable playing next to one another and they’ve got a great dynamic between them. We’ve added a couple newer players to our lineup who really just add more offensive options. In short, I’m pretty much looking forward to starting our season and seeing what we look like against other competitive teams, ranked teams.”

Baldwin, who is the team’s lone senior, said she had a fruitful offseason and is excited to potentially finish her college career with a bang. Reliably setting up her teammates for the next kill has always been Baldwin’s strong suit, but this season, she also aims to be one of the team’s main vocal leaders, something the Eagles will need to further their crusade of capturing a third straight conference title.

“I am super excited and this is my last season so I’m hoping it will be our best one,” Baldwin said. “I think that we’re a very good team and I think we’re starting to show that chemistry together and that’s super important moving forward. And I’m excited, I think everyone is working really hard.”

In 54 conference games played since 2015, ERAU has lost only three of those matches and has finished atop the Cal Pac standings every year since then. More impressively, the Eagles went 14-0 and 16-0 in 2017 and 2018, respectively. However, the Eagles struggled to advance past pool play in the national tournament during both those seasons.

Embry-Riddle will have their work cut out for them during this season’s 31-game schedule, especially in the early stages. As Blasczyk alluded to earlier, the Eagles will face off against four opponents that are ranked within the top 25, including No. 17 The Master’s University, No. 15 Westmont, No. 7 Dordt College and No. 18 University of Jamestown.

“We purposely selected a couple tournaments in particular that we will see ranked opponents — one being on the West Coast and one tournament being in the Midwest — so that we could played ranked teams from different regions,” Blascyzk said. “A lot of it is just putting ourselves out there and the more ranked opponents we play, the better idea we’re going to have on where we stack up and also heading into postseason, we can bring in that confidence of already having competed against those same teams.”

After playing in a 13-game nonconference slate that includes the Hope International University Tournament and the Bellevue University Tournament, the Eagles will open up conference play on the road against Marymount California on Friday, Sept. 20.

Once October hits, the Eagles will dive right into the meat of conference action as they will have a three-game homestead sandwiched between two road trips also of three games each. Senior night will land on Saturday, Nov. 2, with a match-up against Providence Christian at 2 p.m.

With a target on their backs, the defending champion Eagles must remain vigilant for opponents to come at them full force every time they step on the court. Baldwin, however, is adamant this well help the team stay sharp and prepare for what’s to come in the later stages of the season.

“It’s definitely something that makes us more excited to go and compete again and try to defend that title once again,” Baldwin said. “So I think it definitely motivates us to try our best and compete as hard as we can in the gym and just keep building that team dynamic … And I think for us, playing those tough teams gives us the ability to see where we match up with them and ultimately makes us better.”

The Eagles saw their first action Monday night in a scrimmage against Yavapai College. They will open the season at the Hope International University Tournament in Fullerton, California, on Wednesday, Aug. 14. The first game of the tournament will feature a challenging match-up with No. 17 The Master’s University.

Aaron Valdez is a sports reporter for The Daily Courier of Prescott News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @Valaaron_94. Email avaldez@prescottaz.com or call 928-445-3333, ext. 2031.

photo

OH Lauren Davidian, center, goes for the spike as MB Sharik Joseph, left, and OPP Elisa Pauzer, right, go for the bock during a 6-on-6 drill at Embry-Riddle’s team practice on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at the ERAU Activity Center in Prescott. (Aaron Valdez/Courier)

2019 Embry-Riddle Volleyball

Affiliation: NAIA

Conference: California Pacific (Cal Pac)

2018 Record: 28-9 (16-0 Cal Pac)

2018 Playoffs: 2-3; Claimed Cal Pac title with 3-1 win over Benedictine-Mesa in finals; Lost three straight (Westmont/Park Univ./Morningside College) at nationals.

Coach: Jill Blasczyk (8th season)

2019 Returners to Watch: OH Caylee Robalin (Jr.); S Audrey Baldwin (Sr.); MB Veronica Norkus (Sr.); MB Sharik Joseph (Jr.), OH/OPP Erin Clark (Jr.); OPP Elisa Pauzer (Jr.)

2019 Schedule:

DATE / OPPONENT / TIME

8/14 / vs. #17 Master’s Univ.^ / 10 a.m.

8/14 / #15 Westmont^ / 6 p.m.

8/15 / vs. Saint Francis^ / 10 a.m.

8/15 / vs. Montana Tech^ / 6 p.m.

8/24 / vs. American Indian Univ.(#) / Noon

8/24 / vs. Arizona Christian(#) / 4 p.m.

8/29 / vs. Ottawa Univ.% / 5 p.m.

8/30 / vs. Baker Univ.% / 11 a.m.

8/30 / vs. #7 Dordt College% / 5 p.m.

8/31 / vs. #18 Univ. of Jamestown% / 9 a.m.

9/6 / at Park Univ.-Gilbert / 6 p.m.

9/11 / at Arizona Christian / 7 p.m.

9/13 / Park Univ.-Gilbert / 6 p.m.

9/20 / at UC-Marymount* / 5 p.m.

9/21 / at La Sierra* / TBA

9/26 / Simpson* / 7 p.m.

9/27 / UC-Merced* / 7 p.m.

9/28 / Pacific Union* / 7:30 p.m.

10/4 / at Providence Christian* / 7 p.m.

10/5 / at Antelope Valley* / TBA

10/9 / at Ottawa-Arizona / TBA

10/11 / Benedictine-Mesa* / 7 p.m.

10/18 / La Sierra* / 2 p.m.

10/19 / UC-Marymount* / TBA

10/24 / at Simpson* / 7 p.m.

10/25 / at Pacific Union* / 2 p.m.

10/26 / at UC-Merced* / 7 p.m.

11/1 / Antelope Valley* / 2 p.m.

11/2 / Providence Christian / 2 p.m.

11/9 / at Benedictine-Mesa* / 5 p.m.

11/14 / vs. TBA$ / TBA

11/16 / vs. TBA$ / TBA

11/23 / vs. TBA! / TBA

12/3-7 / vs. TBA! / TBA

^ Hope International Tournament (Fullerton, California)

(#) Embry-Riddle Invitational (Prescott)

% Bellevue Tournament (Omaha, Nebraska)

$ Cal Pac Championships (Prescott)

! NAIA National Championships

  • Cal Pac Match