The University Athletic Association is widely considered one of the most competitive conferences in Division III. In more than one sport, the UAA dominates the competition and consistently puts three or four teams in the national top-25 polls. It is no exception in volleyball. In this year’s preseason poll, the No. 2 and 3 spots in the nation are held by Washington University in St. Louis and Emory University, respectively, according to the American Volleyball Coaches Association.

The ‘Jackets will look to join this elite group atop the UAA this fall. UR returns the majority of its key players from last year, most notably junior outside hitter Emily Hunter and senior outside hitter Jess Rasmussen. Hunter led the team in kills last year with 344 and earned Honorable Mention All-UAA at the conference championships. Rasmussen was solid on all bases last season the veteran led the team in digs with 571 and in aces with 48 and was second on the team in kills.

UR also returns sophomore setter Rachel Bender. As a newcomer last year, Bender took control of the offense, amounting 1,177 assists and also finishing fourth on the team in kills with 158. In addition to Bender, the ‘Jackets bring back sophomores middle blocker Sarah Kauper and defensive specialist Katie Drinkwater, each of whom contributed significantly in her freshman season. The returning sophomores, in addition to a promising freshmen class, will catalyze UR’s success this season.

The Yellowjackets will need to be tough from the start if they are looking to be strong going into UAA competition. UR opens its season this Friday in Cortland, NY, where they will compete in the Red Dragon Invitational. Two weeks later, the ‘Jackets play in one of the more competitive area contests the Rochester Institute of Technology Tournament.

Conference play begins in early October for the Yellowjackets, when they will travel to Pittsburgh to take on Wash U and Case Western Reserve University.

In addition to new players, UR also welcomes new head coach Ladi Iya to its program. Iya’s experience on the court she played as a member of the Nigerian National Volleyball team and competed professionally in the U.S. Professional Volleyball League and prior coaching experience will hopefully lead the ‘Jackets to an excess of success this season.

UR finished 1-10 in conference and 17-21 overall last season.

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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