QUINCY -- Jarrod Kelso's senior season might be his most difficult yet with the Quincy University men's volleyball team.
As a junior, Kelso was part of the Hawks' three-headed attack with Jack Gamache and Ian Lawson. Gamache and Lawson have graduated and both had more than 1,000 kills in their careers.
Opposing defenses will be focusing in on Kelso this season. He was fifth in the Midwestern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association with 328 kills last season.
"His job becomes a lot harder," said QU coach Hadley Foster, who enters his 11th season with the Hawks. "He doesn't have those two guys pulling blockers away from him."
Finding more hitters who can do that, while making sure Kelso also gets his kills, will be vital for the Hawks this season.
"Losing those two guys are big," Kelso said. "But we've got some guys who have stepped up. We've got some pretty good height. It's going to be tougher, but I think in the end we're going to be all right."
QU opens its season Friday at the Asics Invitational in Santa Barbara, Calif., where it will play three matches in two days against Cal State-Northridge, No. 9-ranked Stanford and No. 4-ranked Long Beach State.
It will give the Hawks their first opportunity to see what other hitters can produce. That also will come down to senior setter Thane Fanfulik getting different players in the flow of the offense.
"We just have to be quicker to beating the blocks," Fanfulik said. "We have to control the free balls, get three passes the whole time so we can get the ball to the middle."
It could also decide how QU finishes in MIVA play.
QU was picked to finish last in the conference after coming off an 18-23 campaign and going 4-12 in league games. Defending national champion Ohio State was picked to repeat as conference champions, while Lewis, Loyola Chicago and Ball State were selected to round out the top four in the MIVA.
Ohio State and Loyola have claimed the last three national championships.
"Loyola has two 7-footers. They're huge," Foster said. "Ohio State is the defending champions. Ball State is little compared to Loyola and Ohio State, but they look bigger than us. We're bigger than we've been in awhile, and we're still smaller because the conference has gotten so much better."
QU's key returning pieces are Kelso and Fanfulik, who was fifth in the MIVA with 9.33 assists a season ago. Junior libero Collin Merk also returns after recording 131 digs last season.
Outside of that trio, Foster will tinker with the starting lineup in the first weekend's matches.
He's confident QU can have success in its first weekend. QU went 0-3 in the same tournament last year but had a pair of five-set losses and a four-set loss to Long Beach State, who lost in the national semifinals to runner-up BYU.
It can be a tone setter for the rest of the season.
"Losing the three matches last year was really hard," Kelso said. "We want to come back with a couple wins because that's a real confidence booster knowing we can compete with title contenders."