Longtime Eastern New Mexico University volleyball coach Mike Maguire is pretty sure the Zias will be better than they were a year ago.
"I think we're better," he said, "but we're not playing (well) together yet."
The Zias, 6-24 (1-19 Lone Star Conference) last season, jump into things with four matches this weekend in a tournament hosted by West Texas A&M — today against Texas-Permian Basin and Adams State, and Saturday against Western State and North Alabama.
Maguire, who is 411-310 in 22 seasons as ENMU's coach (1987-2006 and 2010-present), said the Zias have the talent in place to move up in the LSC.
"I think we can make it to the conference tournament (top eight of 11 teams), and then make a good showing," he said. "It's a matter of working out the bugs."
Among the top returnees are senior outside hitter Amber Durand of Onalaska, Wash.; senior defensive specialist Dallas Russell of Portales, and senior outside hitter Evelyn Escobar of Calexico, Calif. Durand earned honorable mention All-LSC honors last season.
Maguire is hoping junior Lindsey Barron of Mandeville, La., a transfer from Division I Central Arkansas, can provide a potent 1-2 punch with Durand.
"If everything goes right, she'll definitely be an impact player," Maguire said of Barron, who collected 233 kills in 38 matches in 2010 at UCA before sitting out last year with an injury. "I think we have players to go around her, but she's still trying to find her way."
In the middle, top candidates include senior Bree Lucero of Fort Sumner and juco transfers Kaitlyn Maddams of Gresham, Ore., and Courtney Bolton of El Cajon, Calif.
Russell is moving from libero to make way for junior Haley Couch of Santa Fe, Texas, who helped San Jacinto (Texas) finish second in 2010 and fourth last year in the National Junior College Athletic Association finals.
The Zias expect to play their four September home matches — all LSC clashes — at Portales High with Greyhound Arena being refurbished. The first home match is Sept. 15 against Abilene Christian, ranked 15th in NCAA Division II in preseason.
August: 31 — at West Texas A&M tournament (vs. Texas-Permian Basin, 8 a.m., and vs. Adams State, 3:30 p.m.
September: 1 — at West Texas A&M tournament (vs. Western State, 8 a.m., and vs. North Alabama, 2:30 p.m.; 7-8 — at Colorado State-Pueblo tournament (7 vs. Adams State, 9 a.m., and vs. Wayland Baptist, 1 p.m.; 8 vs. Montana State-Billings, 9 a.m. and vs. Colorado State-Pueblo, 7 p.m.); 15 — Abilene Christian, 2 p.m.-x; 18 — at New Mexico Highlands, 7 p.m.; 21 — at Texas Woman's, 6 p.m.-x; 22 — at Texas A&M-Commerce, 1 p.m.-x; 25 — Cameron, 7 p.m.-x; 28 — Angelo State, 7 p.m.-x; 29 — Tarleton State, 7 p.m.-x.
October: 5 — at Texas A&M-Kingsville, 6 p.m.-x; 6 — at Incarnate Word, 1 p.m.-x; 9 — New Mexico Highlands, 7 p.m.; 12 — at Abilene Christian, 6 p.m.-x; 16 — at West Texas A&M, 6 p.m.-x; 19 — Texas A&M-Commerce, 7 p.m.-x; 20 — Texas Woman's, 2 p.m.-x; 23 — Midwestern State, 7 p.m.-x; 26 — at Tarleton State, 6 p.m.-x; 27 — at Angelo State, 2 p.m.-x.
November: 2 — at Midwestern State, 4:30 p.m.-x; 3 — at Cameron, 1 p.m.-x; 6 — West Texas A&M, 7 p.m.-x; 9 — Incarnate Word, 7 p.m.-x; 10 — Texas A&M-Kingsville, 2 p.m.-x.
All times Mountain. x-Denotes Lone Star Conference matches.