NATCHITOCHES – After a longer than normal, much longer than normal, offseason Northwestern State volleyball begins the 2021 spring schedule on Tuesday night.
The beginning of the 14-match schedule in the first spring volleyball season pits the Lady Demons against in-state foe Louisiana Tech.
First serve is set for 6:30 p.m. inside Prather Coliseum. Live streaming video will be available at http://www.nsudemons.comor on the NSU Athletics Mobile App, a free download in either the Apple or Google stores.
There is no admission cost for any home NSU volleyball matches this season. Fans are encouraged to wear their masks and practice social distancing while inside the arena.
“All through these last few months it’s been crazy,” sixth-year head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “It was a frantic lead up to things being canceled and a lot of just hurry up and wait at times. It’s hard to sum out all the things that happened and didn’t happen that have us playing now. It definitely feels different.”
Playing matches in the first three months of the year rather than the last three will certainly look different and the same can be said for the Lady Demons. A senior and experience-laden squad from 2019 is now one filled with nine freshmen and sophomores.
The most notable non-senior departure is Hannah Brister. The 2019 Southland Conference Player of the Year completed her undergraduate work in three and a half years and moved into a master’s program elsewhere.
“She had an amazing career and that was something that we thought was going to be possible when we were recruiting her,” Kiracofe said. “To see and talk about the potential in that process and for it to actually play out that way is a great story.”
The task for Kiracofe is finding a way to replace over 500 kills and the killer instinct Brister possesses. With undoubtedly big shoes to fill, senior Darria Williams and freshman Breanna Burrell are the top candidates to get the lion’s share of the work on the outside this season.
“Everyone is just kind of moving up in terms of what they have to produce,” Kiracofe said. “Darria is going to be a big part of our offense and a lot of it is going to go through her. Reagan Lee is going to see a lot more through her, even more than what we saw at the end of last year.”
Among the handful or returners for the Lady Demons to go along with Williams and Lee is sophomore defensive specialist Haley Hoang. All three played over 90 sets a year ago and will be cornerstones for this year’s team.
Hoang moves from a defensive specialist role into the libero spot, continuing the line of excellence in that position Lady Demon fans have come to expect. The Plano, Texas, native tallied 241 digs in 2019 and led the team in reception percentage, fielding 97 percent of the almost 300 serves sent her way.
“She’s going to be fantastic and in my opinion be great from day one,” Kiracofe said. “There are a lot of different people around her defensively and some new people that are having to figure out how to fit within our defensive scheme.
“She’s going to put up great numbers but she’s also going to be asked to cover more of the court than we would normally hope. As we get into the season though and people grow into their roles, we’ll be able to refine what she has to do.”
The first test in a shortened non-conference schedule comes on Tuesday. The timeline is short for a new group to begin to gel with a pair of non-conference matches before facing three of the top five Southland Conference preseason favorites to begin league play.
The Lady Techsters (0-4) played a pair of matches in October, two 3-1 losses at Southern Miss, and went 0-2 this past weekend at the SFA Invitational losing to Tarleton State and Stephen F. Austin both in straight sets.
They return five starters from a 2019 team that went 13-15 but lost the top two offensive threats from that team who each averaged more than 2.4 kills per set.
For Kiracofe the main thing is seeing his young team start to come together under a philosophy and mentality that has brought NSU success over the past several years.
“Being able to compete and fight is something that we’ve fostered for the last three or four years,” Kiracofe said. “Going out there and having that determination on every single point. We’ve shifted to, in my time here, a ball-control, defensive team and adding the pieces offensively to put things away when we have those opportunities.
“While that’s what we expect to see on the floor it’s a brand-new group and a lot of new people standing next to each other. It’s not going to be perfect from day one but to see them go out and fight for every point and have that intensity that we’ve come to expect is something we’re looking forward to this week.”
Photo credit: Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services