UMW News BureauA new era began for the University of Montana Western volleyball team when practice opened on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011 under new head coach Lisa Griffiths. By Lowell Peterson A new era began for the University of Montana Western volleyball team when practice opened on Monday, Aug. 8, 2011 under new head coach Lisa Griffiths. Griffiths will soon begin her first season as a college head coach after several successful years as an assistant volleyball coach at Idaho State University, where she also excelled as a player for the Bengals. "I've been anxious for this time to be here for months and it's great to be back in the gym,” Griffiths commented. “The whole team is looking forward to getting on the court this season and seeing what kind of a special season we can put together. We are working to be a physical team that can dominate the net with both blocking and attacking.” Thirteen young women opened practice, including four incoming freshman: Paige Latimer, Emily Erickson, Breanne Kelley and Sallie Sams. Montana Western also returns nine players: Shelby Mack, Kayla Schmid, Michaela Jeffs, Susanne Rehse, Bailey Branson, Ariel Johnson, Mariann Fretheim, Charelle Minor and Jessica Brunett. Griffiths noted her expectations for the upcoming season if the Bulldogs are to be a formidable challenger in the conference. "We have nine returners and return five of the starters from last season [Schmid, Mack, Rehse, Minor, and Branson], who have played a lot of volleyball for Montana Western and have a lot invested in this program,” Griffiths stated. “Their experience playing college volleyball and familiarity with the tough competition in the Frontier Conference will be vital to our success this season." The four new freshmen are the first recruits for Griffiths at Montana Western and she is pleased with their development. "The four incoming freshman (Latimer, Erickson, Kelley, and Sams) have come in and immediately raised the level of play and competition in the gym,” Griffiths added. “They will all be vying for playing time immediately." Griffiths is pleased with the work effort and attitude she saw from her players during the first week of practice. "It is exciting to have everyone in the gym competing and working hard,” Griffiths said. “It's obvious the returners as well as the incoming freshman worked hard this summer getting ready for this season and that dedication is going to pay off." Although new to the conference, Griffiths knows the quality of play and effort needed to be successful. "The Frontier Conference provides some great volleyball competition and this year will be no exception. We are looking forward to the challenges that will be presented and believe we will be prepared to tackle them as a team." Mikel Griffiths, Griffiths' husband, will serve as the Bulldogs’ assistant coach. Maykala Becker and Olivia Nagler will be the team managers. Montana Western begins the 2011 campaign at Carroll College in Helena, Mont. on Aug. 18 with matches against the University of Rio Grande and Viterbo University. The Bulldogs travel to Great Falls on Aug. 19 to face the University of Great Falls and return to Helena on Aug. 20 to play Carroll College in non-conference matches.