NSU volleyball reports to camp with increased expectations

Success breeds higher expectations. 

As Northwestern State volleyball reports to campus prior to the 2023 season, a small taste of the success at the end of this past season has created a new, higher level of excitement and expectation for this year’s Demons.   

“We got on a great run at the end of the year and felt like if the season was a little longer I think we would have continued to improve,” ninth-year head coach Sean Kiracofe said. “We were new last year with a lot of new players and had our ups and down along the way. So, when we look at this season its hopefully a continuation of that run we made at the end. And we’ve added some great pieces since then and can’t wait to see where that takes us.” 

The biggest factor in the increase in NSU’s goals entering the season is the return of six starters from the 19-win team from a year ago that challenged and broke several individual and team records along the way. 

For the first time in program history two players in the same season had 100 blocks (Jordan Gamble and Reaghan Thompson) and two players each had 500 digs (Ashlyn Svoboda and Symone Wesley). All four of those players made their return to Natchitoches in Monday’s report day embracing the notion of a potential special season ahead. 

“We’ve already talked as a team about getting on the court and working hard because we do have higher expectations this year,” Gamble said. “I really feel like we’re going to go out and do what needs to be done to meet them.” 

Gamble finished with 114 total blocks this past season, the seventh most in a single season in program history, and the second most ever by a freshman. The only freshman with more blocks in a single season, her fellow now sophomore teammate Reaghan Thompson who ended with 148, the second most ever in NSU history by any player. 

The 309 total team blocks NSU recorded in 2022 was the second most behind the 324.5 by the 2014 Southland Conference Tournament championship team. It was just the second time NSU has recorded 300 blocks in a single season. 

In addition, the 2,184 digs, more than half of which came from Svoboda and Wesley, were the third most in a single season in program history. 

Defense and ball control have long been a calling-card for the Kiracofe-coached Demons and serves as a pleasantly high starting point for the 2023 squad. 

“We have a couple of areas where we need to increase the production, even just marginally better, so we’re in a position to put matches away earlier,” Kiracofe said. “It’s amazing that we won 11 five-set matches but you don’t want to be in that many because you never know what can happen in that fifth set. As we are able to improve and keep consistent some other statistical categories, we’re going to be able put matches away and be happy with how we perform.” 

NSU’s leader in digs, blocks, aces and assists all return from a year ago along with the player that has led the team in kills the past two seasons in powerful outside hitter Breanna Burrell. 

Even with so many important and productive players back from a year ago, the Demons added five newcomers to the team that fill in pieces and add more depth to a talented team. 

“It’s been a bit of a change in mentality for me so far to come in and work hard every single time and that never give a ball up attitude,” Denton, Texas, native and ULM transfer Tessa Gerwig said. “Everyone is so good here and the real deal, so it’s like let’s get going, let’s get to work, everybody is here to do business. It’s a lot of fun.” 

Gerwig is one of two Division I transfers new to Natchitoches this season, along with Teresa Garza from Wyoming, and one of five newcomers that include three first-year freshmen. All of which will be working towards the same goal to improve on the final team results from a season ago. 

The Demons won four straight matches to finish the regular season and carried loads of momentum into the conference tournament where they reached the semifinals for the first time since 2019 with a pair of thrilling reverse sweeps of UIW and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. 

“We’re limitless on what we can accomplish,” Kiracofe said. “Something I’ll be preaching all year is that composure is not taught, it’s earned. They earned that last year, but it doesn’t just happen again by accident. They have to go out and put the work in.”