Having landed just one player on the Sun Belt Preseason Volleyball All-Conference Team, Coastal Carolina volleyball coach Jozsef Forman joked that it must mean that he is the league’s best coach as a newcomer.
After all, one of his players who was not selected to the team – Annayka Legros – was No. 1 in the nation in hitting percentage as of Tuesday.
“She’s very exceptional. She didn’t receive any awards from Sun Belt and I was thinking, ‘If I don’t have any awards, it means we don’t have any good players. That means I am maybe the best coach,’ ” he quipped, before turning to a less playful tone. “Honestly, we really have really good players and I have a little bit easier job this year. I think definitely that they deserve to get some awards, but sooner or later they will get [them].”
The Chanticleers were voted as the favorite to win the Sun Belt’s East division in their first season there after leaving the Big South. Two-time defending Big South Player of the Year Leah Hardeman was the lone CCU player on the all-Sun Belt preseason squad and was voted a co-player of the year along with Arkansas State’s Carlisa May.
The Red Wolves – picked as the favorite in the West division – had three players on the squad.
I think this was a right pick with us first in the East conference. We’ll be able to win this if we don’t have any injuries.
Coastal Carolina coach Jozsef Forman on the Chants being voted to finish first in the Sun Belt’s East division
Nonetheless, Forman believes his team has plenty of talent to contend for the conference title.
The Chants have added a pair of transfers – setter Kate Federico, who started for Clemson last year, and Tahleia Bishop, a two-time all-Mid-American Conference first-team member while with Buffalo – who have allowed for a more potent offense as Coastal has incorporated a 4-2 scheme, which encompasses two setters.
Thus far, five Chanticleers – Hardeman (96 kills), Legros (84), Natasa Savovic (58), Bishop (53) and Dora Lulic (42) – have 40-plus kills, and both setters – Sara Booth (156 assists) and Federico (146) – are well over 100 assists.
“They give me more options to play 4-2 instead of the 5-1 system because we would have only one setter on the court,” said Forman, a native of Hungary. “But now we have two setters on the court and we have all these four attackers. This [gives] me more team players on the court and more opportunities. If we are out of system, we [have other options].”
Tahleia Bishop, Leah Hardeman, Natasa Savovic [as] hitters and Annayka Legros in the middle or Dora Lulic in the middle position – we have many options for offense.
However, Hardeman is still the focal point of the offense and Forman has even higher expectations for her junior season.
“I would like if she were a little bit more hungry and a little bit – maybe, if I can use this word – upset at the opponent and hit harder … because I think she is playing very well now, but still she has room to grow,” he said.
Coastal is off to a 7-2 start, with its only two losses coming to ranked teams Purdue (No. 14 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 as of Tuesday) and Michigan (No. 23).
The Chants boast wins over Miami, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh while playing in competitive early season tournaments.
“We schedule like a baseball team’s schedule,” said Forman, whose team has won the Big South tournament and made the NCAA tourney the last two seasons. “… If you would like to be ranked nationally, I have to put the highest competition for us.”
Coastal opens its home schedule Friday against Georgia Tech (7 p.m.) in the second game of the Coastal Carolina Classic at The HTC Center. The Yellow Jackets take on North Florida at 11 a.m. in the tournament’s first contest.
This comes after the Chants spent the first three weeks of the season playing in Florida, Indiana and Pennsylvania.
“Flying [to] Miami, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh definitely [is] not an easy trip,” Forman said. “And then playing against these tough teams … and we are very excited to be on the home court.”
The tournament will serve as Coastal’s final test before conference play begins a week later against Little Rock.
“This is definitely a tough schedule for us, but we are ready for that,” Forman said.
After Little Rock, the schedule gets real interesting quick as Arkansas State will visit Conway for a match Sept. 25.
“Arkansas State was undefeated last year in Sun Belt and we were undefeated in Big South,” Forman said. “Arkansas State [is] running very fast volleyball, [a] very fast offense. We will see what’s happening.”