NCAA volleyball: Duke nips NC State, Texas at OU highlights Thursday slate

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Sarah Sanders leads Oklahoma into the 2020 fall season/Ty Russell photo

Duke hit .158 but ultimately prevailed over visiting NC State in five Wednesday night in the ACC opener for both teams in this shortened NCAA Division I Volleyball fall season.

There is more on tap Thursday as the Big 12 opens fall play with Texas at Oklahoma and West Virginia at Texas Tech. Both can be seen on ESPNU.

And there are two more ACC matches, as Georgia Tech opens at Miami, and North Carolina goes to Virginia Tech, which won a non-conference match last week over The Citadel. Both of those matches are on the ACC Network and ESPN+.

Duke tops Wolfpack — Lily Cooper and Gracie Johnson had 11 kills each as the Blue Devils prevailed 25-19, 23-25, 25-8, 23-25, 15-12. Cooper had five blocks and Johnson three. Payton Schwartz added nine kills, three blocks and 16 digs. Ade Owokoniran had eight kills, three of her team’s nine aces, eight digs, and six blocks.

NC State, which hit .078, was led by Melissa Evans’ 14 kills. She had three blocks and 17 digs. Hartley Meyers had 12 kills, two blocks, and 11 digs, and Pam Chukwujekwu had 11 kills and five blocks.

Big 12 — Texas has an eye on winning it all. OU was an up-and-comer last year but sustained some big losses. Texas Tech is trying hard to get into the mix, while West Virginia continues to tread water.

These reports are from our Big 12 conference preview that posted earlier this week:

Oklahoma (19-9, 9-5) — Oklahoma’s roster includes two players named Paige and two named Sarah, but none named Ashlynn. Ashlynn Dunbar, who was a senior in 2019, led the Sooners in kills with over 100 more than her next closest teammate.
But a program that made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 is expecting to be in the postseason chase again.
Two Sooners, senior libero Keaton Kinley, and one of those Sarahs, 6-4 senior outside Sarah Sanders, made the Big 12 preseason team. Kinley was the Big 12 libero of the year who averaged 4.91 digs per set, while Sanders was second to Dunbar with 262 kills (2.52/set) and was second in block with 99.
OU told us that the setter would not be senior Kylee McLaughlin, who is likely to sit this season out, but Grace Talpash, a sophomore transfer from San Francisco. McLaughlin, who made the Big 12 first team, ran a 5-1 for OU and was also second in digs. A freshman, Kelsey Carrington, will likely be one of the middles, and another freshman, Frenchwoman Guewe Diouf, will compete for an outside spot.

The leading blocker, middle Briana Kadiku, was a senior, but the other middle, senior Paige Anderson, returns. She had 245 kills and 91 blocks.  By the way, the other  other Sarah is senior outside Sarah Maras (147 kills) and the other Paige is senior DS Paige Johnson, who played in almost every set last season.

Texas (23-4, 15-1) — Even with the loss of do-everything outside hitter Micaya White, the Longhorns are loaded. There are plenty of observers who think the is the best Texas team since it won the NCAA title in 2012. While White led in kills and was second in aces, and second in digs, just consider who returns:

All three — yes, three — middles in junior Brionne Butler (134 kills, team-high 95 blocks, 14 solo), sophomore Asjia O’Neal (125 kills, 93 blocks, seven solo), and sophomore Molly Phillips (74 kills, 70 blocks). The remarkably explosive right side in sophomore Skylar Fields (246 kills, 90 blocks). The other outside hitter, junior Logan Eggleston (347 kills, 56 blocks, 214 digs). Both setters in junior Jenna Gabriel and senior Ashley Shook. And the libero, sophomore Sydney Peterson.

And just look at who is new as coach Jerritt Elliott begins his 19th season as the head coach in Austin: Junior outside Capri Davis, a transfer from Nebraska; highly touted freshman setter Naomi Cabello; and three liberos, including Illinois graduate-transfer Morgan O’Brien.

Texas Tech (17-13, 7-9) — Emily Hill had almost one third of the Red Raiders’ kills in 2019, well over 200 more than any teammate, and led the team in aces. But the outside hitter was a senior, so obviously Texas Tech will have a different offensive look as coach Tony Greystone heads into his fourth season.

Junior outside Brooke Kanas (255 kills) is the only Red Raider on the Big 12 preseason team. Caitlin Dugan, a junior pin hitter, had 269 kills and was third on the team with 59 blocks. Also back are junior middle Karrington Jones (team-high 92 blocks, 164 kills) and both junior setters, Alex Kirby and Tatum Rhome.

A couple of transfers, Reagan Cooper, a sophomore outside who was at Washington State, and senior Samantha Sanders, came in from Texas A&M, should be in the mix, and so should freshman Mackenzie Morgan. Also returning is senior liberty Emerson Solano.

West Virginia (12-17, 3-13) — Coach Reed Sunahara enters his sixth season in Morgantown with eight letterwinners returning, including five starters. They include senior middle Briana Lynch and junior setter Lacey Zerwas. Lynch was third on the team in kills with 221 and second in blocks with 82. Zerwas averaged 10.33 assists and had 38 blocks and was second with 259 digs. Also back is senior libero Alexa Hasting, but the top two attackers, Katelyn Evans and Kristina Jordan, are gone. Evans was a senior and Jordan transferred to Cal Poly.

Two transfers come in — middle Emily Ogogor from Illinois State and Allison Thomas, a DS from Cleveland State who transferred there from Southern Illinois — and so do eight freshmen.

ACC — Georgia Tech made huge strides last season. Miami seems to be on the way up. North Carolina has rebounded from a tough stretch of injuries and defections. And Virginia Tech has a new coach and an uphill battle. These reports are from our ACC preview:

Georgia Tech (26-8, 14-4) — The Yellow Jackets surprised a lot of people in 2019, largely because of Brazilian freshman outside Julia Bergmann, who was second in the league in kills (427) and first in aces (64). The next two leading hitters return in junior outsides Mikaila Dowd and Mariana Brambilla, and so do junior setter Matti McKissock and junior libero Maddie Tippett.

Miami (10-16, 6-12) — The main focus for Miami will be on senior outside Elizaveta Lukianova, and sophomore outside Kennedy Prince, who were tied for second on the team last year with 302 kills each. Prince was third in digs, while Lukianova was second in blocks. Also back are sophomore setter Savannah Vach and sophomore libero Amanda Falck.

North Carolina (15-13, 12-6) — Sagula, the dean of ACC coaches, returns junior outside Destiny Cox, sophomore outside Carly Peck, and the team’s only senior, middle/right side Aristea Tontai, who led in blocks. Also back is junior setter Annabelle Archer, while the other setter, Hunter Atherton, who spent two seasons at Nebraska and came to UNC for two more, transferred to Minnesota. UNC will have five freshmen on a team that failed to get an NCAA bid in 2019 but won eight of nine — including five in a row — before ending the season with two losses, both in five sets, to the two last-place teams in the ACC.  

Virginia Tech (11-20, 4-14) — Byers, who played at Virginia Union, had a fabulous run at Radford, located just 24 miles from Blacksburg. But she takes over a program that has had four losing seasons in a row and hadn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2010. The Hokies have age and experience. The roster includes two grad students, three seniors and four juniors. The team includes the top four leading attackers in Marisa Cerchio, a senior middle; sophomore outside Cera Powell; Kaity Smith, a grad-student outside; and sophomore middle Anabel Zier, who led in blocks. Also returning are junior setter Talyn Jackson, and the two leaders in digs, sophomore Logan Mosley and senior Kylie Thomas.

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