Northwestern State opens season at Tulane

One year after Northwestern State volleyball had its fall season postponed, the Lady Demons return to the court this weekend to open the 2021 season.

NSU plays three matches in the Tulane Invitational beginning with a Friday pair against the Green Wave at 12:30 p.m. and ending with Cal at 4:30 p.m. The Lady Demons’ season-opening match with Tulane will be broadcast live on ESPN+.

“The focus hasn’t really changed from what we were looking for going into Lafayette. In my mind it’s about figuring out what we need to change, tweak or add to be more successful as the season goes.”

That’s what head coach Sean Kiracofe said about the first three-match weekend for his team in two years. Following a successful exhibition bout with UL Lafayette and 3-1 win against a team ranked as high as 15 in last season’s polls, the focus remains internal for the Lady Demons as they continue to put many of the new pieces together.

“We have still such a new group out there that we’re going to show up and play and some things are going to work, and some things aren’t,” Kiracofe said. “It’s about what we do when those things don’t work.”

Following a nerve-filled first set, plenty seemed to work for the Lady Demons who cruised to a win on the heels of a spread out and balanced offensive attack to compliment the steady and reliable defense.

Junior Addison McDermott led the team with 12 kills from her more comfortable role on the right side, after a spring season that saw her, along with most of the thin roster, play positions and roles that were a little out of their element.

“A lot of us are taking on different roles this year giving us more offensive threats,” McDermott said. “Just having new people and new faces gives us the opportunity to do better and we’re able to take the load off each other to allow it to be more spread out.”

No stranger to playing many roles on the court, Autumn Gentry moves from ultra-utility player to setter in the 2021 version of the team and has the exciting prospect of choice when it comes to the NSU offense.

Of the 43 total kills in against ULL, 28 came from hitters on the outside or right side and 13 from the middle blockers. Sophomore Audrey Quesnel and junior Jaylibeth Garcia-Rosa combined for 11 kills on 23 error-free swings in the match.

“I try to see what’s on the other side of the net and know which one of my hitters is available, who’s the hot hitter, who can score in certain situations whether I’m on the net or off it,” Gentry said. “Having that many options is great and allows me and us to do a lot of different things.”

The first of four non-conference and three-match weekends begins Friday in New Orleans as the Lady Demons continue to work towards conference play at the end of September. A tough opening day with Tulane and Cal on the schedule will set the tone for those next four weeks.

“This season we have a lot to prove,” Gentry said. “I think that keeps everyone motivated and humble knowing we’re likely going in as the underdog. It helps us go in with a sense of urgency to keep our side clean, take care of the ball like we need to and push through the match keeping our energy high.”

Photo Credit:  Chris Reich, NSU Photographic Services

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