» By MARLON SCOTT – firstname.lastname@example.org
They are the champions.
That is the Lady Govs volleyball team’s biggest difference as they enter the 2011-12 season. A new head coach, losing talented seniors, not being picked to finish first in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason poll, these are all things the Lady Govs have done many times before.
However, they finished last season with a 26-8 (14-4 OVC) record, won the OVC Championship for only the second time in program history and played in the first round in the NCAA tournament for the first time in program history.
This means when the Lady Govs jumped above the net to smack a volleyball, turning it into a large white bullet ricocheting off the hard wood floor or dove on the same shiny surface and avoid the kill during the preseason, they did it with an extra confidence and conviction.
Instead of another season of hoping, they started with the belief last season was not a fluke.
They believe they will do it again.
They are the champions.
For the third year in a row, the Lady Govs hit the court with a new head coach. Bill Egbert, who served as an assistant coach at Ole Miss for the last two seasons, was named the new head coach in March. He replaced interim head coach Haley Janicek after she resigned to devote time to her family in December.
“Preseason practices have been awesome,” Egbert said. “The kids are really excited. They are doing very well. I think we are going to have a great season.”
The Lady Govs also lost seniors Jessica Mollman, Taylor Skinner and Sarah Alisaleh. In addition to their leadership and experience on the court, Mollman and Skinner were the top two blockers on the team. The two formed a formidable wall that combined for over 160 blocks last season.
Alisaleh was the team’s senior setter. Leading the team with 1094 assists last season, finishing her career as the second all-time in assists for the program.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
One of the reasons the Lady Govs were picked to finish second in the OVC preseason poll is the team has 10 players returning from last season’s championship squad. On the top of that list offensively is junior outside hitter Nikki Doyle. Doyle was named MVP of last season’s OVC tournament. She also received All-OVC honors as well. She led the team with 435 kills and 495 points. This season she was named to the OVC preseason team.
“I’m feeling a lot more pressure actually. I’m not able to catch opponents by surprise, but we are learning a lot with this new coach,” Doyle said.
“I’ve learned so much with him already and it hasn’t even been the season yet. I’ve learned more defensive moves, how to hit better angles, how to hit higher. I think the whole team is learning a lot from this new coach and we are real excited.”
Doyle is one of five upperclassmen who returned to the team this season. Senior outside hitter Ilyanna Hernandez was behind only Doyle in kills and points. She produced 393 kills and 455 points last season.
Fellow senior Paige Economos will continue to produce both offense and defense for the team. Economos led the team in both digs and ser
vice aces. She recorded over 600 digs and 51 aces last season.
Will it be harder for these players to earn their second championship? Egbert does not think so.
“I personally think its easier because they know what its like to win, how it feels to win. So they want it more and they will do almost anything they can to get that feeling back,” Egbert said.
“I’m very driven. The girls are very driven. So we mesh very well together. I love that they want to win again. I love that they are willing to put in the work and time to be good enough again.” TAS