The North­eastern vol­ley­ball team earned 21 vic­to­ries last season, the club’s most since joining the Colo­nial Ath­letic Asso­ci­a­tion con­fer­ence. But its aspi­ra­tions for a con­fer­ence title were dashed after a crushing loss to Vir­ginia Com­mon­wealth Uni­ver­sity in the semifinals.

Head coach Ken Nichols described the defeat as a “very sobering” expe­ri­ence for his players, nearly all of whom have returned for the 2012 season. He hopes last year’s season-​​ending defeat has taught them how to suc­ceed in pressure-​​filled moments.

We need to find a way to win the big matches,” Nichols said. “We’ve built some­thing very spe­cial here, and our expec­ta­tions are high.”

The Huskies, he said, should con­tinue building on their strengths: a phys­ical defense and an increas­ingly com­plex offense.

Among the returning players are out­side hit­ters Kelly Bacon and Janelle Tucker, who anchored last season’s North­eastern attack. Last year’s CAA Rookie of the Year Jil­lian Briner and middle hitter Nicole Bishop, who Nichols said has a com­manding pres­ence and boasts a tremen­dous work ethic, will also return.

Bishop, Nichols said, “will be the real dri­ving voice for us.”

Nichols expects the Huskies to remain one of the conference’s best defen­sive teams, fea­turing stal­wart Natalia Skiba who last year was named the CAA Defen­sive Spe­cialist of the Year and the Amer­ican Vol­ley­ball Coaches of America East Region Freshman of the Year.

With an eye toward con­tin­uing to improve, the Huskies have sched­uled a series of tough oppo­nents for the upcoming cam­paign. Per­haps the greatest example of the schedule’s strength is the team’s Aug. 31 matchup with defending national cham­pion UCLA as part of the UCSB Invi­ta­tional in California.

We should be mea­suring our­selves against teams that con­sis­tently make the tour­na­ment,” Nichols said.

The Huskies will open the season on Aug. 24 against first-​​time oppo­nent Alabama. The matchup is part of the Beanpot Classic tour­na­ment co-​​hosted by North­eastern and Holy Cross.