The three Northwestern State volleyball seniors joked after Thursday’s five-set win against Incarnate Word they were trying to squeeze out just a little more time on the court.
Head coach Sean Kiracofe’s responded he was fine with that plan – as long as the team picked up a win.
It worked out fine, and Kiracofe would be OK with the same scenario playing out Saturday when NSU wraps up its 2015 season with a 2 p.m. matinee against Southland Conference foe Abliene Christian.
The match will mark the end of the careers of middle blockers Glynna Johnson and Amanda Kunz and outside hitter Caiti O’Connell, who helped lead Northwestern State (7-21, 5-10) to its first NCAA Tournament appearance a season ago.
“You always hear that college goes by faster than you believe, and it’s true,” said O’Connell, who delivered a season-high 18 kills Thursday against Incarnate Word.
“It’s been such a blessing to be here for five years. We worked really hard to build a team that is really driven and focused. If you see the upperclassmen working hard, it rolls down the line. The upperclassmen every year have shown that.”
O’Connell became the seventh member of Northwestern State’s 1,000-kill club on Oct. 15 at New Orleans.
The milestone was special anyway, but the sequence meant even more to O’Connell.
“It’s something you don’t hear often and something I didn’t realize I was close to,” said O’Connell, a member of the Southland Conference All-Tournament team in 2014 and the All-Louisiana Freshman of the Year in 2012. “To be the seventh one was cool, the coincidence of it all. Seven is my favorite number.”
Johnson will leave Northwestern State as the school’s single-season and career leader in block assists. She will leave in the top three in block solos as well, having been an imposing part of the NSU block for four seasons.
Offensively, Johnson has enjoyed her most productive offensive season as a senior. She enters Saturday’s match needing three kills to set a new personal single-season high. Her average of 1.84 kills per set is the highest of her career.
“It’s gone faster than I expected,” Johnson said. “I feel like I just moved in yesterday, like I was a freshman yesterday. Now, it’s my last game. It hasn’t really sunk in yet, because it’s gone by so fast.”
Kunz, Johnson’s fellow starting middle blocker, saved her most productive season for 2015.
Breaking into the starting lineup on a full-time basis, Kunz is tied for the team lead in block solos (23) and second in block assists (70). She also ranks fourth on the team in kills (176) and service aces (24).
“Going in a couple of matches the last couple of years helped me get ready for this year,” Kunz said. “I’m so blessed and so grateful to have been able to play this year and do what I’ve done.”
Like her teammates, Kunz’ mind goes back to this past November when NSU captured its first Southland Conference Tournament title and the resulting NCAA Tournament bid.
“That probably is one of the top moments of my career here,” she said. “Just being able to see the focus, the determination and the drive to do that was really cool to be a part of.”
Despite having coached them for only one season, Kiracofe knows what the trio has meant to the program.
“They’ve had great careers,” Kiracofe said. “I feel very lucky to have had that talent coming in. We’re going to miss them, and hopefully we can go out with a win and send them off in style.”