Southern Miss Volleyball looks to build on its 23-8 season after falling just one set short of making an appearance in the conference championship match last season.
The team returns several key starters to make another strong run in conference. Junior Kylie Grandy’s offensive presence returns from last season, in which she was second on the team with kills, totaling 320 and led the team in aces with 66.
Sophomore Catherine Repsher was Southern Miss’ first ever Conference Freshman of the Year. She finished third in kills last season with 253 and led the team in blocks with 133. Junior Sarah Bell is ranked No. 10 nationally with 11.43 assists per set. Her ability to move the ball around will keep the Golden Eagle offense active.
“We have had some really good freshmen come in and they are really stepping up this preseason,” Grandy said. “Our freshmen have proven that they are great and that they can play with us.”
Chandler Marshall has been the standout freshman, making an impact on the team early with her preseason play.
“Chandler Marshall has been playing really well this preseason so I see her stepping up,” Head Coach Amanda Berkley said. “She is just a good all-around player she jumps well and hits it hard.”
Despite only losing three seniors, the Golden Eagles look to replace the leadership of Stephany Purdue, Chanel Joyce and Makareta Rademakers. Last season, Purdue led the team in kills, totaling 427, but notably becoming the all- time kills leader in school history. Their leadership presence is mostly missed by the team and replacing that has been a difficult task for the team in the off season.
“It is very different,” Grandy said. “They were all three big leaders for us in different ways because some of them were leaders by action and by voice. We have to find some people to step in those positions and we have people doing that now.”
Facing a tougher non-conference schedule will be another tough obstacle as they face bigger division one schools such as Alabama, Oklahoma, Miami and Wisconsin, who was the third seed in the NCAA tournament last year.
“We want to play these teams just to prepare us for the conference,” Berkley said. “I’m excited about it because there are some challenging things for us. I think this nonconference schedule is really going to be good for us.”
The conference schedule will be no easier for the Golden Eagles as they were picked to finish fourth in the preseason poll. They will be trying to dethrone three-time defending conference champion Western Kentucky and trying to reach the NCAA tournament.
“I think it’s an attainable goal,” Berkley said. “Every year we talk about wanting to be the first team to make it to the NCAA tournament from Southern Miss and every year I think we have gotten a little bit closer. I think we just have be consistent and be playing our best volleyball at the end of the season.”
For the Golden Eagles, the biggest key is developing dependable leadership that will be able to help pull through the tougher games like they had last season. The Golden Eagles’ goals are easily attainable, as they have been the past two years. Winning the non-conference games will be just as important as winning the conference championship because if they cannot beat Western Kentucky their strength of schedule could help them obtain an at large bid for the NCAA tournament.