by Brad Welborn, Assistant Director of Communications
The 2019 Northwestern State volleyball season does not officially begin until the end of the month, but Wednesday was filled with plenty of excitement as the Lady Demons returned to campus.
A day filled with photos, meetings, and interviews, nothing new for the 11 returners, but a hearty welcome to the family for the two first-year freshmen on the team.
The precedent of consistency has been set for fifth-year head coach Sean Kiracofe as he leads his first roster full of players recruited by him and his staff. The Lady Demons have won at least 12 matches each of the last three seasons and at least seven in league play.
Even on a smaller roster than in years past, the Lady Demons still return over 60 percent of their offensive production and all but one defender, something that Kiracofe is hanging his preseason hat on.
“I think we’re right up there as one of the top three or four teams in the conference,” Kiracofe said, “able to compete for conference regular season championship and a tournament championship.
“That’s because of what we have returning and what everybody else is losing. I think we’re in one of the best positions of returning talent to go out and compete with anyone.”
Seniors Megan Lohmiller, Alexis Warren, Cayman Sutton, and Kourtney Seaton highlight the list of returning players with loads of experience under their belts. Adding to that is all-conference outside hitter Hannah Brister and Brooke Wood, both juniors. That leaves very few question marks for Kiracofe and his staff as to who to look to for a quality lineup.
“The only question mark we have going in is our right side,” Kiracofe said. “Darria (Williams) was starting to do some great things on the court last year. She was steps away from having some breakout matches before an injury sidelined her for the rest of the year. For that to be our one question mark is a great feeling because we know she can step in and do the job at the highest level of our conference.”
Williams will be asked to carry some of the offensive load that Brister did last year before moving to her more natural outside position. The former Southland Freshman of the Year averaged better than 16 kills per match over the final 10 in route to All-Southland and All-Louisiana selections, while also putting her name at the top of every opponents list of players to try and stop.
“That doesn’t really scare me,” Brister said. “I’m just going to go in and work even harder and make sure they keep my name circled.”
Even with the experience that players like Lohmiller and Warren bring back to the table, they will find themselves in slightly different roles within the team entering the 2019 campaign.
“I played alongside Channing (Burleson) my three years so far and she brought a consistency and composure to the court and that is what I’m ready to do as well,” Lohmiller said. “I also want to add a little more energy to the court and leadership.
“Physically it’s a new thing for me to be the starting libero but mentally I want to maintain my experience and leadership on the court and I hope to pass that along to Haley (Hoang), Bryce (Potter), and Charli (Fouts) so they can look to me for advice or whatever they need.”
Fundamentals will be the early focus of practice for the Lady Demons, but quickly will transition to game play situations and 6-on-6 competition.
“I have a thought or philosophy that if I have not said it this year then they haven’t heard it,” Kiracofe said. “We touch on everything no matter how small or big it is or how experienced they are, we’re going to at least say it once.
“Just to make sure we’re all on the same page so we don’t get a couple matches in and I say what were you thinking or what were you doing. We approach it that way. That no one is too good to not touch on fundamentals.”
Northwestern State opens its preseason workouts and practices on Thursday morning at 9 a.m. The Lady Demons play an exhibition match against ULM on August 24 and open the regular season at Arkansas on August 30.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services