BELLEVILLE — The Belleville East Lancers begin the 2014 season with the anticipation of being a better team and contending for the Southwestern Conference championship.
Just like the O'Fallon Panthers and Edwardsville Tigers.
"O'Fallon graduated Luke (Terhaar) but they have everybody else back and I don't think Edwardsville graduated anybody. Both will be very strong once again,'' Lancers coach Stefanie Gaubatz said. "We lost a couple of players who played big roles for us last year, but we've got good size up front and good athletes who have the ability to put the ball away.
"Like every year we've set some goals and the guys will work hard to try and reach them. Right now, we're just anxious to get out there, play and see what we can do.''
After finishing 18-10-2 a year ago, the Lancers will open their season on Monday at Althoff at 5 p.m. An early season showdown with Edwardsville in its home opener will follow on Tuesday.
Offense should be a strength for East where it returns one of the premier outside hitters in senior Josiah Bergt to lead the way.
But the player who will make East go on offense is senior John Mathews. One of the SWC's top setters a year ago, Mathews should be one of the state's best this Spring.
"He's a very smart player with good hands and has the ability to pass the ball very well,'' Gaubatz said of Mathews. "John makes good decisions with the ball.''
Mathews will have plenty of offensive weapons to utilize. Bergt and senior Deion Buckels are a dynamic duo at the outside hitter spots while junior Os Moore is a quick athlete with good jumping ability who will also help on the outside.
Seniors Austin Cox and Cameron Hunter are the Lancers middle blockers while juniors Cody Patterson and Veljko Ristic are listed as rightside hitters.
"We have a lot of options and we're still moving players around to see what they can do at different spots on the floor,'' Gaubatz said. "I would say that we're probably a little ahead of schedule on offense and maybe a little behind on defense.
"We just started going six-on-six in practice and like I said, we're anxious to play a match.''
Senior Cole Cruikshank, junior Josh Muckensturm and freshman Logan Williams are all in the running for the Lancers starting libero.
Contact reporter Dean Criddle at 239-2661 or email@example.com