The Bearkat volleyball team have remodeled their starting roster after a record season in 2012, but maintain playoff expectations.
The Bearkats shared the Southland Conference title with Central Arkansas in 2012, which was complemented by a 13-game winning streak to cap a 15-3 league season and set a conference record.
SHSU approaches the 2013 season with returning All-Southland Conference senior setter Tayler Gray and the 2012 Southland Conference Player of the Year, junior outside hitter Deveney Wells-Gibson. SHSU signed five promising freshmen during the offseason to reload the positions left from last season.
“These girls don’t quit, and they’re very coachable,” head coach Brenda Gray, also Tayler Gray’s mother, said. “There are times in pre-season where we look as good as we did last season.”
Graduated seniors Kendall Cleveland and Kim Black maintained a strong presence on the net with Black leading the conference in blocks in 2012. Kaylee Hawkins closed her senior season ranked ninth in the SLC for career digs.
Brenda Gray said the freshmen squad has adapted well in the pre-season with the absence of Cleveland, Black and Hawkins. Wells-Gibson said the pre-season has been competitive with the freshmen group fighting for starting spots.
“The girls just had to buy-in,” Brenda Gray said. “It has been a very structured preseason with very good leadership.”
With the freshmen talent, Brenda Gray believes anyone could have a breakout season.
The Bearkats are looking to fill Black’s void at the middle blocker position. Brenda Gray said Black was a force at the net in 2012 and played a pivotal role on the defensive approach. She added returning players Haley Neisler, Cherise Coleman, Carling Urben and freshman Shelby Genung can be expected to head the middle blocker role.
Tayler Gray said this pre-season has been hard because of how young the team is.
“We have to be mentally tough to get them to our level,” she said. “Everyone came in during summer session two, so we’ve been together for a month and a half.”
Despite the strong leadership returning to the court in Tayler Gray and Wells-Gibson, the SLC coach’s poll projects a third place finish for the Bearkats this season. Brenda Gray wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Third place doesn’t bother me,” she said. “I don’t want to be picked number one. What is that? The target just gets bigger.”
SHSU’s season kicks off with Norfolk State in the Appalachian State Classic in Boone, N.C., this weekend before returning to Huntsville for their home opener against Texas State University on Tuesday.
Tickets are available online at http://www.gobearkats.com.