NORTH ADAMS -- The fall college sports season begins this weekend for the MCLA Trailblazers.
The volleyball team looks to improve off its 10-19 season, which ended with a loss to Bridgewater State in the MASCAC quarterfinals.
The women's soccer team also looks to build off a return to the postseason for the third time in three years, reaching the MASCAC quarterfinals.
For the men's soccer team, confidence is high despite finishing in last place in its conference last season. The team believes it has the pieces in place for a worst-to-first turnaround.
Here's a closer look at the teams as the season approaches.
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Trailblazers head volleyball coach Amanda Beckwith said the influx of newcomers (13 in all) has increased the level of competition at practice, in addition to improving the overall depth of the squad.
"It's about building for the future," Beckwith said when asked about the roles of her incoming freshmen. "It's nice to have inter-squad competition. In the past we haven't had much of a second squad. ... And now we have that opportunity."
Two freshmen in particular, Tayler Wise from Las Vegas and Chanielle Enomoto from Wailuku, Hawaii, traveled thousands of miles to be a part of the team.
Team leaders Amanda Fleming, Darien Quick, Alexandra Chang and Jacqueline Paluilis have taken in upon themselves to help integrate their new teammates into the program.
"We've done a really good job of making everyone feel included," Paluilis said, "and letting everyone know they can be contributing, and that they have a part on the team."
Overall, the team hopes its strong chemistry will lead to improvement on the court.
"We want to host a MASCAC tournament game and we truly believe that is obtainable," Beckwith said.
The team's season opens Saturday against Green Mountain College at Castleton State at noon.
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The women's soccer team returns 17 letterwinners to a team picked to finish sixth in the conference.
Even with a large number of returnees, the team will look to its newcomers for a boost as well.
"The newcomers have done a tremendous job of doing their best to learn our system and to learn how we do things here," Trailblazers head coach Deb Raber said.
Raber added that several newcomers have been pushing for starting positions, such as Hoosac Valley graduate Courtney Hayer on defense, and Cayla Mole from Ludlow High School at forward. Mole looks to complement MASCAC rookie of the year Natalie Caney up front.
Increasing the offensive output is a priority for the team heading into the season, but Raber said she wants her defense to play with more intensity.
A strong defense will alleviate the pressure on new goalkeeper sophomore Katy Daly. She steps in for the injured Danielle Heinsohn as the team's main keeper. Heinsohn will be out for the season with a knee injury. Daly appeared in seven games last season, starting five.
The team kicks off its season at 1 p.m. Saturday at home against Regis College.
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Men's soccer coach Adam Hildabrand said his team has a quiet confidence about it heading into the 2014 season.
Despite finishing last in the conference in 2013 (5-9-1, 1-5-1), and being picked to finish seventh of eight teams in the preseason poll, Hildabrand said the talent is in place for a strong turnaround season.
"I believe whole-heartedly that we could really do well," he said. "I think we can win the league. I honestly believe it."
Hildabrand points to his deep group of returning players as the main reason for his optimism.
All-MASCAC selection Edward Boateng returns in the midfield for the Trailblazers. MASCAC rookie of the year Dylan Pereira returns at forward, and All-MASCAC defender Tyler Russell along with senior goalkeeper Matt Robinson anchor the defense.
Defense has been one of the team's main focuses during the offseason.
"Defense wins games. Everyone has to play defense," defender Mitch Candelet, from Pittsfield, said.
"We're trying to work our front line so they defend just as well as our back players," added Hildabrand.
The Trailblazers open their season Friday at 4:30 p.m. on the road against Green Mountain College as part of the Norwich Cadet Classic.