Fernanda Bartels, Staff Writer

The men’s volleyball team started their season last Saturday against Lees-McRae College. The Patriots finished last season with a 14-16 overall record and a 5-7 conference record. With new faces and a changed lineup, the team looks to be as strong as ever.

“We are going to be a more evenly balanced team than we were last year,” said Head Coach Fred Chao. “We won’t be necessarily as big, especially in our outside hitter’s slots, but I think the quality of the volleyball players that we are going to have in those positions is going to be very good.”

Senior outside hitter Luke Maloney and junior outside hitter and libero Eric Lucas are key players on the court.

“[Maloney and Lucas] are our best overall volleyball players,” said Chao. “We are going to need them on the court on whatever capacity” said Chao.

Lucas switched his position from libero to outside hitter for this season. He was the starting libero last season, leading the team with 309 digs, the highest single-season total in school history and the second-best total of all time.

After having a great season in 2009, Maloney enters his last season at Mason. He was ranked 21st in the nation in aces per set in 2009 and second on the team with 35 service aces.

Both players will play important roles this season with the absence of last year’s graduates, Kyle Gramit and Brandon McLaughlin. Senior opposite hitter Ben Nichols will have to fill the void for Gramit ,while senior opposite hitter Ryan Kwiatkowski will make the switch from the setting position.

Maloney and Lucas are the main defensive players of the team. Lucas had an average of 2.83 digs per set last season, while Maloney added 151 digs. In order to have a strong defense, the team has put up a consistent block.

“I’m still counting on our blocking to score some points,” said Chao. “We are a [well-disciplined] blocking team, and defensively we can dig a lot of balls around our block and just take more swings. I think we are going to have more chances to win points.”

As middle blockers, sophomore Shaun Sibley, freshman Piotr Dabrowski and sophomore Lance Rogers are the main responsible players for putting up a solid block. Sibley, Rogers and Dabrowski will be fighting for a middle blocker starting position on the team. Dabrowski, who recorded a school-record 108 blocks in his junior year at Glenbard East High School in Lombard, Ill., is one of the freshmen to watch.

Dabrowski, outside hitter Mark Jones and opposite hitter Robert Stoeckinger are three players from Volleyball Magazine’s Fab 50 List. Along with Dabrowski, freshman setter Javier Perez will be fighting for court time.

“[Perez] is just a fantastic volleyball player,” said Chao. “He is a great setter, from a variety [of] different views [and] he locates the ball well. He influences everybody in such a positive way that [it] doesn’t matter who is on the court with him; they are going to try to play the best for him.”

The Patriots open their conference events with a pair of matches on Feb. 5th and 6th at the RAC against the Springfield Pride and Princeton Tigers, respectively.