On Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 9, Northwestern State head coach Sean Kiracofe equated the excitement he felt for the start of the 2022 volleyball season to that of a new season of “Stranger Things.”
There were no trips to “the Upside Down” during the first day of practice but with an influx of eight new players, the second most in one season in the past 20 years, the roster has been nearly turned upside down. The new blood however has led to a renewed energy to begin preseason practice.
With a slightly condensed preseason schedule due to a late NCAA rule change, the Lady Demons wasted no time with a full 6-on-6 session to close the opening practice.
“We jumped in and played right away,” Kiracofe said. “It’s not something that we normally do, we usually take it a little bit slower and make sure everyone is on the same page with how we do different systems, but with our time getting shortened it was let’s get out and see what we have.”
Even though the “summer rust” accompanies the first handful of practices, Kiracofe was beyond pleased with the early feel of the team.
“It looked fantastic,” he said. “The overall effort and drive throughout all three sets were great. I told them the errors I expected were there just because of the number of new players that don’t exactly know where to be, but there were so many more good things.
“On paper, it’s what we thought but it was great to see it in live action. Sometimes you never know how those things translate, but it was there and that was very reassuring. But as far as a start from day one this was everything we could have asked for.”
One of the eight new players that will see action from the very beginning is sophomore transfer Amina Attra. She joins fellow sophomore setter, Piper Boydstun, as the Lady Demons move back to a 6-2 formation to start the 2022 season.
Attra and Boydstun will benefit from the return of a pair of all-conference outsides in Breanna Burrell and Symone Wesley who both finished in the top 10 in the league a year ago in kills per set, carrying the NSU offense throughout the season.
“I’m already super close with them off the court, we’re already besties,” Attra said with a smile and laugh. “So, I think that bond there will translate to the court. Bre and I played on rival clubs (in the Houston area), so I already have a feel of how she plays. She and Symone are both studs. Just excited to play with them more and get an even better feel for what sets they need during matches.”
Wesley is just one year removed from her first day as a Demon prior to the 2021 season where the six-rotation player earned NSU’s first volleyball Southland Conference Newcomer of the Year honor.
She led the team with nearly 300 kills, a 2.68 per set average, and was second on the team with 308 digs, a 2.83 per set average, both averages ranked in the top 10 in the conference standings.
No longer an unknown to opponents in the conference and beyond, Wesley’s focus remains on the improvement of the team as a whole.
“There might be a little pressure but I’m definitely trying not to think about that much,” Wesley said. “I’m just excited and intrigued to see how the season goes. I’m ready to get back and go over those basics but focus on making sure that we work well together and are able to vibe well on the court. I think that’s the biggest thing for us early on.”
The Lady Demons have their Purple/White scrimmage set for Aug. 17 at 6 p.m. in Prather Coliseum and open the season against ULM on Aug. 26 at the Texan Invitational hosted by Tarleton State.