Volleyball Seeks To Break Through In SCAC Tournament - Southwestern University

Volleyball Seeks To Break Through In SCAC Tournament

Volleyball Seeks To Break Through In SCAC Tournament

Two years ago as sophomores, Southwestern University Pirates volleyball players Brandi Campos and Jamison Duck broke through for a few big postseason performances.

Campos put together three consecutive double-digit digs games against nationally ranked teams, posting 22, 11, and 32 against La Verne, Colorado College, and the University of Texas-Dallas. Duck had double-doubles in kills and digs in four of the last five matches to win the AVCA West Region MVP.

Now they're seniors, leading a young team with several near breakthrough performances against nationally ranked teams into the 2018 Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships. If the Pirates are to prosper, it will be because another younger player or two finds lightning in a bottle once more.

"One of the things we always look at is we need to have our athletes play above their potential," Head Coach Don Flora said. "They need to have that special weekend or special match where you get that extra littler pitter patter in your heartbeat and embrace the atmosphere and elite-level volleyball."

With an opening match against sixth-seeded Austin College on Friday, Nov. 2 at 6:00 p.m., the Pirates have several candidates.

Freshman Alyssa Dooley has shown the ability to produce some big matches, ending the regular season with the final SCAC Offensive Player of the Week after scoring 20 kills on a .349 hitting percentage; finishing second on the team in kills with 273, averaging 3.07 per set.

"She's just super athletic," Flora said. "She has a whip of an arm and she's way up in the air, so those two things together make her a threat all the time."

Of course, one of the keys to her late-season surge is the rapid development of fellow freshmen Ashley Whitlock and Makenzie Mendez.

Whitlock led the SCAC in blocks per set (0.89) and hitting percentage (.395) in conference play, earning All-SCAC Second Team; leading a group of young hitters in the middle.  

"When you have Ashley and Haven Cathey hitting for such a high percentage with Darby Stowers and Cassidy Nimtz, teams really have to honor our middles and that really opens up our pin hitters," Flora said. "If we can dig quality balls and transition through the middle, it puts a ton of pressure on the other team's block."

The extra options have fueled Mendez's rapid development as the Pirates' setter.

Mendez led the SCAC in assists during conference play with 607 (10.84 per set), and finished second for the entire season. Her in-season development helped the Pirates improve its hitting percentage, finishing third in conference at .187 and .222 in conference play.

"She's been the best setter in conference numbers-wise," Flora said. "Her ability to listen to what's happening in each rotation, understanding the blocking scheme for the other team.

"It's a tribute to how much her volleyball IQ has grown, knowing how to get our hitters in the right situations to be successful."

The Pirates ended the season taking Trinity to five sets after bowing out in three in September. It was the third time Southwestern took a nationally ranked team to five sets in October. To get another shot, they'll first have to get through Austin College.

"They always have three hitters in the front row," Flora said. "They're one of those teams that's very balanced. They have a lot of arms in a lot of different places and they can battle."

To defeat them and make a prolonged postseason run, the Pirates will need Campos and Duck to be steady leaders and establish their serve.

"If we can hit the zones and target the right people in the right places, that's key for us," Flora said. "If we continue to understand how to hit our zones, make people move to the right places, and pressure them in the right ways, we'll have a good weekend."

They'll also need a breakout performance from one of its young players.