Valdosta, GA - For the first time in four seasons, Valdosta State fans will not see the vaunted four of Irene Hannan, Ruthie King, Emelia Saulter and Arielle Parnell patrolling the net for VSU Volleyball.
“That group is a tough one to replace,” said Head Coach Sia Poyer. “But we have brought in another good group of girls and the returners looks strong so far.”
It will be a good group of new girls as Poyer welcomes in seven new freshmen: three hitters, two defensive specialists, a setter and a blocker.
“They have all improved quite a bit since we started preseason workouts, and some of the new girls are challenging for starting positions,” Poyer said.
The competition at positions, especially libero and setter, should serve the team well. At setter, newcomer Ashley Lala and returning sophomore Hope Ripsam are battling for the spot. Lala has done well to start the preseason and has proven to be a strong defender while Ripsam has the advantage of knowing the system. Poyer praises Ripsam’s hands, but, in the same breath, confirms it is very much a competition at setter.
Another spot VSU Volleyball is seeing competition at is libero. Senior Macy Markham has stepped up to challenge for a starting position at libero while returning starter Chelsea Luttfring and freshman Krista Bradford are also fighting for the spot with strong depth from Jennifer Bryant and Shardai Mundy.
“Macy is coming with it this season. She looks good on the court and as a leader,” Poyer said. “She is really starting to say the right things and do the right things.”
Poyer is actually finding quite a bit of talent at the libero position. Bradford may even get a chance to play some as a hitter in her first season at Valdosta State. Bradford can pass well and jump. According to Poyer, she was brought in as the libero of the future, but she is pushing for time already. The only asset she is missing this early in her career is experience.
Speaking of Bradford’s versatility, senior Chelsea Logan will be showing some versatility for the second season in a row. Spending most of her career as a middle blocker, Logan showed the ability to hit from the left side at times last season. She will most likely be asked to do so again.
On the other side will be power hitter Katie Onushko. In 2010, she was fourth on the team in kills and she is second among returners behind Logan.
“We’ll need to be creative with our offense, but Katie and Tania have stood out. They both look good,” said Poyer.
Look for the bulk of the offense to be run through Onushko and Tania Tauiliili in the middle. Of those players who played in 10 matcher or more, Tauiliili led the team in hitting percentage. Behind Tauiliili will be Destiny Berry and Anna Nichenko. Lelalelei Nomura may also see time in the middle, but she is being tested outside as well.
“Beatty, Smith and Nomura are all athletes at the hitter position,” said Poyer.
Nomura, Brittany Smith and Jennifer Beatty are all competing for time at the outside hitter position. While the trio are neck and neck in the competition, Poyer feels someone will step up to grab the spot.
“I have been pleased with our work effort in the early going of the preseason, and I’m very happy with our returners,” Poyer said. “We have improved, but we still have a long way to go. I’m excited for the season though.”
Valdosta State fans will get their first chance to see the volleyball team in action at the team’s alumni game to be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, August 27, at The Complex.
After that, the season starts in Valdosta at the Wingate by Wyndham Azalea Classic. The Blazers will take on Augusta State and Barry at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. on September 2. Fort Valley State and Adelphi will be the opponents at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. September 3 at The Complex.