When the Sun Belt Conference announced last week that Anett Nemeth was the player of the year, it probably was of little consolation to the Coastal Carolina star.
For that matter, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion even before the Sun Belt Championship that Nemeth would be the league MVP.
What no one expected, however, was the way her junior season ended.
A week ago Sunday in Foley, Alabama, Coastal won the first set of the SBC tournament final against Texas State, but was losing 20-15 in the second. Nemeth came flying out of the back row, got the kill — her 12th of the match — but then landed awkwardly.
She had to be helped off the court and then could only sit and watch the rest of the way. The Chanticleers battled admirably — even won the third set without Nemeth — but then Texas State dominated to win in five.
Nemeth, a 6-foot-2 right side, blew out her left knee, an injury that will certainly put her out until, at best, the middle of the 2021 fall season.
She’s one of the best players you might not have seen in NCAA Division I volleyball.
Here’s what the left-hander did this fall season:
— Nemeth had a Sun Belt-leading 280 kills in 19 matches, 4.44/set, 103 more kills than teammate Ani Bozdeva;
— She hit .334, fourth in the league;
— She was second in the SBC with 24 aces;
— She had 33 blocks, two solo.
“She’s a beast,” sophomore libero Lina Perugini said simply.
Losing her, obviously, was no small thing.
“I was sorry for my team, and Anett,” Coastal Carolina coach Jozsef Forman said. “She is like my own daughter. It was hard to see that my captain and best scorer is out.
“We fought and I am proud of my team.”
Forman was named the SBC coach of the year. Nemeth was also the offensive POY, while the defensive honor went to Texas-Arlington libero Alli Wells. Emily DeWalt of Texas State was the top setter, South Alabama’s Rebecca Walk was the freshman of the year, and Little Rock’s Leigh Maher was the top newcomer.
Coastal’s Bozeva, a senior outside hitter from Bulgaria, and sophomore setter Brigitta Petrenko from Hungary joined Nemeth on the All-SBC first team.
The ties that bind Forman and Nemeth — two Hungarians — run deep. Nemeth said had it not been Forman she would not have considered playing collegiately in America.
“I was either coming to Coastal or staying in Hungary,” she said. “I wasn’t looking at any other schools. I knew if I came to the U.S. I would be in a good place with Jozef.”
Forman, who is from Budapest, was a setter for the Hungarian junior national team and played at Semmelwies University in Budapest. He coached the Hungarian junior national team and the Hungarian women’s national team.
He started coaching in America in 2003 when he became an assistant at Baylor. After a stint as an assistant coach at Mississippi State, he was the coach at the University of New Orleans from 2008 to 2010. He went to Auburn as an assistant and served as interim head coach before taking over at Coastal Carolina in 2012 where his record is 152-42. He’s taken the Chanticleers to the NCAA Tournament four times.
Will there be a fifth NCAA berth in the spring of 2021?
Had Nemeth not gotten hurt, certainly Coastal would have been in the discussion for an at-large bid after going 18-0 (16-0 in the fall season) before losing to Texas State, which claimed the SBC automatic bid.
“I love this team,” Nemeth said Saturday after the Chanticleers swept Little Rock in the SBC semifinals as she had 13 kills with no errors in 31 swings, four blocks, and nine digs.
“The energy. We all want the same thing. We are all great together on and off the court. We hold each other accountable every single day and we just enjoy playing together.”
To say that Coastal’s roster is an interesting mix would be an understatement. Nemeth is from Pecel, Hungary, near Budapest. Bozdeva is Bulgarian. There are teammates from Serbia, The Netherlands, California, Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Colorado, and then there’s Perugini, whose name would make you think she’s from Italy, but her hometown is Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Perugini was spectacular in Coastal’s two matches in Foley. She had 23 digs in the win over Little Rock and 25 more against Texas State.
“It’s awesome,” Perugini said. “I live with Ilse (Sinnige, a 6-4 middle) who’s from The Netherlands, Brigitta, she’s from Hungary, and then Jelena (Prolic), she’s from Serbia. On the court I’m always with them and off the court I’m always with internationals. And I just think it’s the coolest thing I could ever experience. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. They’re ballers, they play great volleyball, and it’s super awesome to be able to experience it.”
Forman appreciates that and pointed out that the players from different backgrounds learn from each other.
The on-court leader, of course, was Nemeth, whom Perugini joked is simply no fun to play against in practice because she hits the ball so hard.
“She’s able to work with any out-of-system set and put the ball away,” Perugini said. “It’s a confidence booster and lets me play more freely knowing we have a beast on the right side.”
Nemeth hits with authority, but also has shots, tools the block, hits a variety of shots coming out of the back row, blocks and passes well, and serves tough.
“She’s mentally prepared and wants to be great,” Forman said.
“She’s a great captain. She leads by example,” Perugini said. “She’s not the most talkative person, but that’s not 100 percent of what we need out of her. She shows up all the time, puts the ball away, shows up with her skills, shows up with her leadership.”
“She’s humble,” Perugini said. “She doesn’t brag about all of her accolades. She knows she’s good and uses it on the court. But off the court she’s humble about it and pushes us all to get better.”
Nemeth, who was a basketball player from a young age and didn’t start playing volleyball exclusively, she said, until she was 12 or 13, has thoroughly enjoyed her time in Conway, South Carolina, where she had no idea beforehand of what a Chanticleer is (it’s a fierce rooster).
She’s majoring in entrepreneurial management and will graduate this May, getting undergraduate degree, incredibly, in three years. By the way, her English is superb.
“It’s been an amazing experience,” Nemeth said. “The school, living in the U.S. Playing in the U.S. is different, but it’s been a really cool experience. I’ve gotten what I wanted from being here.”
Now, of course, her future is even more in limbo that before. Because of the NCAA waiver, no one will be charged a year of eligibility this school year. Certainly Nemeth is lost to Coastal for the spring but she had every intention of playing next fall.
After that? She certainly hopes to play professionally.
“I’m still deciding on what to do, if I want to stay here or try to go pro,” she said after the semifinals, a day before everything changed with that ill-fated back-row attack.
“I’m still debating on that.”