When coach Kelly Hartley Hutton began working on the IPFW women's volleyball team's schedule for the upcoming season, one of the things she made sure about was starting the season at home.
After having to start last season on a 10-match road trip because of renovations to the Gates Center, it's easy to understand why the 14-year head coach wanted to open this year in Fort Wayne.
IPFW will play its season opener against Murray State at 7 p.m. Friday at the Gates Center as part of the two-day, four-team Hyatt Place Fort Wayne/IPFW Invitational.
"It's awesome to be at home," Hutton said. "If you look at our record at the Gates Center, it's pretty good. We like our fans, and we like this facility a lot."
IPFW since 2008 is 39-12 at the Gates Center, including going 9-2 at home last season as it finished the season in second place in the Summit League. In addition, last time the Mastodons opened their season at home with the IPFW Invitational, they went 2-1 in the 2010 home tournament.
Hutton also said being able to play at home during the opening week of a new semester provides an additional advantage for her team this weekend. IPFW began its fall semester Monday.
"First week of class there is a lot of distractions. It's important they get to class and feel good about their schedule," she said. "We're not getting on a bus and all the stress that goes with travel. We're not facing that this week. It's nice."
Along with its season-opening match against Murray State, IPFW will conclude its home tournament Saturday against Cleveland State at 1 p.m. and Kent State at 7 p.m.
Hutton said Thursday that she feels good about entering this weekend's tournament after the team's three-week preseason camp.
"We have practiced a lot the last couple of weeks, and we are excited to have us all on the same side of the net," Hutton said. "Though we feel very good about where we are right now, you just never know. I've been doing this for a long time, and you just never know until you are actually match test."
The Mastodons have five returning starters from last year's team that was upset in the Summit League Tournament semifinals and missed an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Of the five starters returning, three players -- outside Emily Spencer, setter Megan Steenhuysen and libero Tessa McGill -- earned all-conference honors last season.
In the Summit League preseason coaches poll, IPFW was projected to finish the conference in second place -- finishing behind the defending Summit League champion and preseason favorite North Dakota State.
Despite the high preseason expectations, Hutton said the team isn't feeling pressure to open the season undefeated at its home tournament.
"We're not talking 3-0 right now. We are talking 1-0," she said. "A lot of people have asked me lately if you think you'll be Summit League champions. I don't know. It's too early. It's a goal of ours. But right now our goal is to play our best volleyball."