A year ago the Viterbo University volleyball team burst onto the national scene once again with a school record 39 wins and an appearance in the NAIA national semifinals.
The V-Hawks were relatively unknown, and not expected to compete at such a high level.
That can all be forgotten this season.
The V-Hawks are ranked 4th in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics preseason poll and are picked to win the North Star Athletic Association title in the school's first year of participation. Four of the team's top six attackers are back, led by sophomore middle hitter Natalie Geidel.
So far in the 2015 season, the V-Hawks are 5-0, picking up wins against No. 17 Indiana Wesleyan University and No. 20 College of Coastal Georgia. The task becomes more difficult this weekend however, with matches against No. 1 Park University and No. 3 Missouri Baptist University on Saturday.
Head coach Ryan DeLong is skeptical of such a high ranking this early in the season, but admitted his team will have a tough time sneaking up on anyone this season. His players believe they've earned that top-5 ranking.
"Obviously facing those numbers, you're like, 'Alright let's go' and you get a little bit of butterflies, but then again we're No. 4, we deserve to be on that court and we deserve to face this competition," junior Sara Biermaier said. "This is what's going to make us better so let's do it."
"Yeah it's definitely exciting but at the same time we just have to keep preparing really hard because we know they're going to come out full force," Geidel said. "Some of those teams have most of their returners. It's going to be a challenge but we're up to it."
After losing Alicia Olson to graduation, Viterbo's offensive firepower isn't the same, but the girls that are back offer a more diverse offensive style.
"We can attack from both pins, the middle - we've got one of the best middles probably in the country with Natalie - so we're just a little different than we have been in the past," DeLong said. "Teams will have a more difficult time to defend us, just because we have so many hitters to go to instead of just one or two kids that we've had in the past."
Geidel added the team has a mesh that prevents teams from going on long scoring runs.
Viterbo will play in the Hampton Inn Classic this weekend in Columbia, Missouri. The first home match of the season is Wednesday, September 16 against the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.