Instead of prac­ticing last week, players on the vol­ley­ball team climbed a 13-​​foot wall at an off-​​campus venue.

The exer­cise was part of a team-​​building retreat held at the Warren Con­fer­ence Center & Inn in Ash­land, Mass., a pre­season drill devoid of spikes, digs, and ser­vice aces. Nonethe­less, each setter, hitter, and defen­sive spe­cialist was “tested under pres­sure,” according to team leader Kelly Bacon, the Colo­nial Ath­letic Association’s reigning player of the year.

It was fun,” she said, “and everyone brought some­thing to the table.”

The red and black will find out whether the bonding expe­ri­ence pays div­i­dends on the score sheet begin­ning with the season opener on Aug. 30 at the Dayton Invitational.

The Huskies have lofty expec­ta­tions fol­lowing a season in which they won 20 matches but lost in the first round of the con­fer­ence tournament.

We want to be com­pet­i­tive in every match and vie for a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship,” said head coach Ken Nichols, who has led the Huskies to 295 wins in 13 sea­sons. His expec­ta­tions align with those of the conference’s other coaches, who picked the Huskies to finish second in the CAA.

Depth, he said, is the team’s biggest strength, and having a bal­anced attack will be key to win­ning matches against a slate of dif­fi­cult oppo­nents. Starting with the season opener against Mis­souri State, the Huskies will square off against six pro­grams that ranked in the top 100 in 2012, including four in the top 50.

Two freshmen out­side hitters—the 5-​​foot-​​10 Jamie Bren­dahl and the 6-​​foot-​​3 Hannah Fry—will be counted on to con­tribute from the very first match. “Jamie is a remark­able ath­lete,” Nichols said, noting her 10-​​foot-​​2 ver­tical reach. “Her defense is so spec­tac­ular, and she can orches­trate the offense.” Fry, he said, is a “quick learner and can hit from incred­ible angles.”

Kelly Bacon led last season's team with 346 kills.

Kelly Bacon led last season’s team with 346 kills.

As a result of their pre­season play, Nichols is not con­cerned with the loss of two of last season’s top three players: Middle hitter Nicole Bishop set career highs in kills (201) and solo blocks (22), but has con­cluded her col­le­giate eli­gi­bility. Setter Jil­lian Briner racked up 218 kills and 204 digs, but trans­ferred to Eastern Michigan University.

I’m less con­cerned with making up their num­bers,” Nichols explained, “and more con­cerned with team chemistry.”

Bacon, the de-​​facto cap­tain who led last season’s team with 346 kills, will be charged with per­fecting the on-​​court equa­tion. “She rec­og­nizes the impor­tance of being able to carry us under pres­sure,” Nichols said of his star player, “and she accepts that role with a smile on her face.”

I have the con­fi­dence to direct my team, but having sup­port behind me makes my life easier,” Bacon added. “We’re all really deter­mined and refuse to give up in any situation.”