PEORIA, Ill. -- The Bradley volleyball team will visit the Tar Heel state for the first time in program history, opening the 2012 season at the North Carolina Central Invitational in Durham, N.C., Friday and Saturday. The Braves will face a trio of first-time opponents during the two-day tournament.
After opening each of the last three seasons at home, Bradley will open a season away from home for the first time since 2008 and will play eight of the first nine matches of the year at road or neutral sites. The Braves open tournament play Friday at 2:30 p.m. (CDT) against Elon, before facing tournament-host North Carolina Central Saturday at 10 a.m. (CDT) and concluding action against defending Big South regular-season co-champion Winthrop at 1:30 p.m. (CDT).
Bradley has won nine consecutive neutral site matches dating back to the 2008 campaign after going 4-0 in neutral site contests last fall and will play a total of five neutral site matches in 2012. Overall, BU has won three consecutive seasons openers and is looking to win four straight season openers for the first time since 1997-2000.
Returning a strong cast of players from last year's team which posted the most wins and best conference finish since 2005, Bradley also welcomes five freshmen to the squad in 2012. The Braves ended the 2011 season on a high note, winning five of the final nine matches, including three of the last four contests.
In addition to seniors Madelyn Ervin (Lewis Center, Ohio/Olentangy) and Jessica McNellis (Downers Grove, Ill./Downers Grove South), juniors Amy Angelos (Waukegan, Ill./Waukegan), Alise Tupuritis (Des Plaines, Ill./Maine West) and Lauren Zerante (Elmhurst, Ill./York) will help lead a group which includes eight underclassmen.
The team's active career leader in kills, Angelos is the ninth player in school history with 500 career kills before the end of their sophomore season and was the first player since Lindsay Stalzer in 2004 to lead the squad in attack percentage and aces in the same season.
Tupuritis led the Braves with a 2.97 kills-per-set average in 2011 and was one of four underclassmen to rank in the top 10 in the MVC in kills per set. After receiving a medical hardship in 2009 and battling injuries in 2010, Tupuritis' 276 kills were the most by a BU player since 2009 and was the highest total by a Bradley underclassman since Stalzer had 442 kills as a sophomore in 2003.
The sophomore duo of Madison Kamp (Orland Park, Ill./Chicago Christian) and Courtney Keefe (Lemont, Ill./Lemont) also return after strong rookie seasons, with the pair combining to win three MVC Freshman of the Week honors. The fourth player in school history with 1,000 assists as a freshman, Kamp had a team-best eight double-doubles in 2011.
Keefe helped highlight Bradley's late-season run, averaging 3.13 kills per set in the final nine contests and was the only player on the team with 150 kills and 200 digs. She earned two of the final five MVC Freshman of the Week honors last year.
Following the weekend trip to Durham, N.C., the Braves head to Milwaukee, Wis., for the Panther Invitational Aug 31 and Sept. 1.