A new season with heightened expectations, and equally large excitement, begins for Northwestern State volleyball this weekend in the StarkVegas Classic at Mississippi State.
“The excitement level for me is pretty close to the same as it has been the past few years,” Breanna Burrell, NSU’s fourth-year power-swinging outside hitter said. “I think there may be a little more though with this group. When we were going through camp, the way we were playing got me very excited and just really looking forward to getting started.”
The Demons will be the second Southland Conference school to take the floor on opening day of the 2023 regular season with a 10 a.m. match against Eastern Kentucky. They close the first day with a 3 p.m. battle against in-state foe UL Lafayette.
There will be no live video of either Friday match but live stats will be available at www.nsudemons.com with regular updates found on X (formerly Twitter) at @NSUDemonsVB.
NSU’s StarkVegas final match against host Mississippi State, that begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, will be available on SEC Network+ via the ESPN app on your streaming devices.
Opening weekend is the first in a series of tough non-conference weekends that ninth-year head coach Sean Kiracofe hopes prepares his still young but more experienced team for another grueling Southland schedule.
With six returning starters, nine players back that played over 60 sets for the Demons a year ago and the addition of two Division I transfers that each played more than 75 sets a year ago, the experience and overall competitive nature of the schedule is something they’ve already experienced entering the first week.
“It’s been really competitive in the gym and everyone has been loving it and playing super hard,” junior libero Ashlyn Svoboda said. “We have a bunch of returners and the people that have come in have really helped in practice and filling their roles. I think we’re all ready for this season to begin.”
An exhibition match at Louisiana Tech this past weekend provided the opportunity to clean off any lingering rust from the offseason for the Demons against an opponent other than themselves.
“There are always those first game nerves so I’m glad we had the chance to get some of those out last week,” Svoboda said. “I think there were some timid moments where we weren’t all quite sure what to think but I think we got all that out of our system as we take on some really good teams this weekend.”
The teams split the four sets that were played on the day with the Demons controlling things most of the match tallying 10 total blocks and finishing with a team hitting percentage of .264 and two sets scoring at a rate of .360 or better.
“We’ve been working hard in practice since that game,” Burrell said. “Those early matches always show you the things you need to work on right away. This weekend we just need to play hard and remember that feeling when we let things slip late against Tech and just have fun. It’s going to be a tough tournament, but anybody is beatable.”