Sixth-year head coach Justin Gibert and his Lady Cardinal Volleyball team will begin preparing for the 2010 season as Lamar University will practice for the first time at 3:30 p.m., Monday in McDonald Gym.

Lamar, who is coming off a 15-14 overall record last season, will be very young this season. There are no seniors on the team, and only one junior. However, eight letter winners do return from a team that reached the semifinals of the Southland Conference Tournament one year ago.

“We’ll work on getting good, quality touches and get back to being used to playing,” said Gibert. “We’ll be evaluating where we are physically, and what the next step in our progression will be as a team.

“It will also be important to determine what our strengths and weaknesses are as a team. Generally, you know this going in, but we are so young that we will need to determine that early on.”

Gibert will look to junior Bailey Smith and redshirt sophomore Cynthia McCollum to provide leadership and talent on the floor. Smith is coming off a solid sophomore campaign that saw the 5-4 athlete lead the team with 347 digs, while McCollum will build on a promising first season of play after sitting out a year.

“It is important for us to show a championship mentality and a championship work ethic,” noted Smith. “Obviously our team goal is to win a conference championship, and I would like to lead us in digs. I’m very excited for this upcoming season.”

McCollum knows that with the departure of All-SLC players Lauren Holdorff and Kaci Brewer that she will be looked upon to provide more offense. The 6-0 outside hitter will also work on her passing skills to become a better all-around player.

“I’m very excited about this season because I feel like it’s my year to show what I can really do,” said McCollum. “We really want to win conference, and we know that now is the time to put in the hard work to get ready for the season.”

Early season practice will involve ball control work and working on the chemistry between players. Lamar will have a new starting setter this season, and it will be important to work on the timing between the setter and the different hitters.

The Lady Cardinals will also welcome two true freshmen in Megan McStravick and Megan Schwartz who have never participated at the college level. While this opening week of practice will certainly be new to the pair of 5-11 outside hitters, they are both eager to get on the floor.

“I’m definitely scared and nervous, but more about running than playing volleyball,” noted McStravick. “I expect things to be a lot faster at this level than in high school or club play, but I expect it to be fun to take volleyball to a new level. I’m excited.”

“I’m a little nervous, but more excited about starting practice,” added Schwartz. “At this level, everybody is good and there will not be big differences in talent like there was in high school.

“I’ve asked my roommate Ali (Gonzales) about practice, and she said it’s hard but you can do it.