After finishing 28-7 overall, placing second in the Gulf South Conference and playing in the NCCAA National Championship last year, the Lady Hawks volleyball team are in the conference standings as they start their last month of regular-season play with a record of 11-8.
The team lost five seniors from last season, two who started since their freshman year, with one being “a real emotional leader on the floor,” according to head coach Jon Moseley.
“In terms of talent and leadership, it was significant losing the players who graduated,” said Moseley. “It was a challenge to replace the talent and the emotional leadership that we had with that group.”
Moseley said that one of the team’s biggest struggles this year has been consistency with this loss of leadership.
“It’s frustrating at times because the talent level or the character of the team is not down, but just molding a team and consistently showing up and performing at the same level has been a challenge that we are still working on,” said Moseley.
Anna Graham, a junior psychology major, agreed that the team is younger and not quite as experienced as last year. She added, however, that Moseley did a good job of recruiting “quick, athletic players,” so now the challenge is to “grow more mentally tough so that we can win big games and difficult points.”
“This season is a little different because it has taken us a while to all get used to playing together,” said Graham. “We are making progress, though, and we are finally able to let our athleticism show.”
Moseley agreed that the Lady Hawks are building on what was lost from last year. The team recently had a five-game winning streak in conference play after having a slow start to the season, with a big win over the University of North Alabama at home.
“It was a good feel to see our team fight on and turn things around like that,” said Moseley.
Graham attributed much of the team’s success to various spots on the court. The Lady Hawk’s defense, led by Tanequa “T” Whitman, “has been impeccable this season,” according to Graham. She added that there are “solid, athletic hitters in every position,” including the “dynamic duo” of Jasmine Crook and Elizabeth Dowd.
“Our outside hitters, Jasmine Crook and Elizabeth Dowd, use their speed and athletic ability to make huge plays on both the front and the back row,” said Graham. “Our setters have done a good job taking advantage of the fact that we have six talented hitters that can make big plays for us. When our team is working together and everyone plays solid, we really are unstoppable.”
Sophomore undecided major Taylor Wilkerson added that this particular team is a fun-loving group of girls who have a lot of talent and potential when they do stay consistent.
“When everything falls into place, our team kills it on the court while really having fun and enjoying the game we all love,” Wilkerson exclaimed.
Moseley said the team’s goals are to have another strong finish in the Gulf South, to win the regional tournament and then make it to the national tournament again. He said their primary goal, however, is “to improve throughout the year and to peak at the end.”
“I think we have a great group. They work hard, they really care and they’re talented, so we have the building blocks to have a really good team again,” said Moseley. “I look forward to seeing where we are in a month or two compared to where we are now, because I feel like it’s going to be quite different.”
Wilkerson said her goal for this team is not only to win the national title, but for everyone to grow individually as well as together and to appreciate each player for their own particular strengths.
“I want each of us to continue to grow to love each individual and the part she plays on our team,” said Wilkerson. “I really aspire for us to play together to reach our full potential on the court.”
Graham believes they can win nationals if they “choose to never be satisfied and to always push for something greater.”
“The key will be to get the mentality where we refuse to lose and get to the point where we are working together like a machine,” said Graham. “If we get to that point then I have no doubt that if The Lord allows it, we will be playing in, and hopefully win, the 2013 NCCAA National Tournament.”