College volleyball teams eyeing championships venue

Photo | Courtesy of University of South Alabama

It was a memorable year for women’s college volleyball in 2021. Several teams not only had winning records, but also advanced to the national playoffs.

What will 2022 reveal for Spring Hill College, the University of South Alabama and the University of Mobile? Here is a look at three local teams.

SPRING HILL COLLEGE

The Badgers finished the season with a 30-6 overall record, which included a 17-0 run through the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). This marked the fifth consecutive undefeated season in league play.

As the SIAC regular season and tournament champions, the Badgers earned an automatic bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s (NCAA) Division II South Regionals. SHC also advanced in 2018 and 2019, while the 2020 season was canceled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are trying to build on the success of last year with several returning starters,” head coach Peggy Martin told Lagniappe. “We have grad student middle blocker Kassandra Fairly from Fort Walton Beach; all-league libero Taylor Fontenelle from Spanish Fort High; outside hitter/libero Mikayla Boyer from Covington, Louisiana; all-conference tournament team selection and middle blocker/outside hitter Airyonna Weaver from Mary G. Montgomery High; and returning setter Jessie Fairly, who is Kassandra’s little sister.”

Kassandra Fairley was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-America honorable mention team. She was also the SIAC Player of the Year for a second time.

Fairly, the two-time SHC Female Athlete of the Year, has 1,126 career kills in 2,302 attempts for a .388 career attack percentage. Fontenelle recorded 4.15 digs per set despite sharing time at libero.

Martin also achieved a milestone in 2021 — she surpassed 1,400 career wins in her 45th season as a collegiate coach.

She became the all-time college wins leader for women’s volleyball in 2019. Now with 1,405 wins in her ledger, the next record in her sights is the 1,448 wins compiled by Larry Bock, who coached both men and women during his long career.

“We did lose two starters off of last year’s squad and will need someone to step up to fill those spots [middle and outside],” Martin said. “We will be facing the toughest schedule of my tenure here at Spring Hill, which hopefully, will challenge us to get better each time we take the court.”

Other local players on the SHC roster are sophomore Kristen Mitternight (Faith Academy) and freshman Cassidy Granger (Bayshore Christian). The Badgers will start their season with a scrimmage at home against Central Missouri on Aug. 24.

UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH ALABAMA

The University of South Alabama (USA) won both the Sun Belt Conference (SBC) regular season and tournament championship in 2021. This earned the Jaguars the program’s first-ever league title and an NCAA Division I postseason appearance.

USA went 25-7 overall and 15-1 in SBC play. This set a program record for conference wins. The 25 victories were the most by a Jaguar squad since the 1987 team won 26 games.

“We are extremely excited about the upcoming season,” said head coach Jesse Ortiz, who, in his first year at the helm, was named the SBC Coach of the Year and the AVCA Southeast Region Coach of the Year. “Last year was a tremendous year of firsts for us. We held ourselves to a high standard and almost accomplished all of our goals.

“We see this year as a new adventure. We are purposely not trying to repeat what happened in 2021. We are looking to be the best we can each and every day in the pursuit of winning one game at a time. I am excited for the possibilities, and we are all looking forward to the upcoming competitions.”

USA returns 13 letter winners, along with four redshirt freshmen. The Jaguars also welcome four newcomers to their roster.

Kailey Keeble, the 2021 SBC Championship Most Outstanding Player and first-team all-league selection, returns at setter. Joining her are outside hitters Hannah Maddux and Maddie Sobolaski, who both earned second-team all-SBC honors last year.

In a preseason coaches’ poll, USA is chosen to win the SBC’s West Division. Middle blocker Niki Capizzi was voted as the Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, while Rachel Hickey was selected as the Preseason Libero of the Year. Capizzi, Soboleski and Keeble were also voted preseason all-SBC.

The Jaguars start the season Aug. 26 against William & Mary in Tampa, Fla. USA will open their home schedule Sept. 15 when they host Ole Miss at 7 pm at Jaguar Gym.

UNIVERSITY OF MOBILE

After winning the 2020 Southern States Athletic Conference (SSAC) championship, the University of Mobile (UM) looked to defend their title last season. The Rams would finish 24-6 overall and 10-4 in the conference, but were upset in the SSAC tournament by the eventual winner, Blue Mountain College.

“We have a well-rounded team this year,” said head coach Jon Campbell, who started the UM program in 2005 with his wife, Amber. “Second-team all-conference players Abby Andrews, an outside hitter from Baker High School, and Aleah Kennedy, a middle blocker from St. Paul’s, will bring us consistent play.”

Andrews led UM in kills this season, tallying 290 total kills while averaging just fewer than three per set. Andrews also mixed in 323 defensive digs. Kennedy tallied a total of 152 kills while hitting .272 in the year, and was second on the team in total blocks with 72.

“Two Faith Academy players, Jordan Wood and Brinkley Hearn, will make a huge impact in the front row for us,” Campbell told Lagniappe. “Tatum Beech from Spanish Fort will be our starting setter running our offense. Lexi Gillette, a freshman from Saraland High School, has looked good as our libero to lead in our defensive efforts.”

UM’s first home match is Sept. 9 against Stillman College. The Rams will have a rematch the next day with Blue Mountain College.

“We have been picked fourth in SSAC coaches’ preseason poll,” Campbell said. “I have seen huge gains in many of our younger players from last year and hoping to surprise everyone.”

Other UM players with local connections are junior Amy Jernigan (Satsuma High), plus sophomores Bre McDonald (Satsuma High), Kendel Lee Frazer (Fairhope High) and Dazsha Dean (Saraland High).

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: