Who could have imagined that the center of the NCAA Division I volleyball universe would start with and focus on teams from the Sun Belt and Southland conferences?
Believe it, because the season opens Friday morning in Nacogdoches, Texas, with Texas State of the SBC playing Central Arkansas at Stephen F. Austin of the SLC, where later that day SFA plays UCA and then Texas State plays SFA (there is no video because the SFA video person is unavailable, but find live stats on the sfajacks.com website).
Meanwhile, in Lafayette, Louisiana, the home-standing Ragin’ Cajuns of the SBC play host another SLC school, Houston Baptist. They face off at 6:30 p.m Central on Friday and then again at noon Saturday,
“It’s quite interesting that through all of this that we’re going to be the ones playing,” HBU coach Trent Herman said.
Unlike the Sun Belt, which is giving it a go this fall, especially with a mostly full slate in football, the Southland Conference postponed all fall sports to the spring. But the SLC left open the option of teams playing non-conference matches.
Louisiana is a member of the Sun Belt Conference, one of four conferences left playing its fall sports in the fall (the others are the ACC, Big 12, and SEC, which all open volleyball play down the line).
HBU finished 17-15 in 2019, 9-7 in the SLC, a league dominated by Stephen F. Austin.
“We thought we were going to have a pretty good team coming into this year,” said Herman, who is entering his eighth year at Houston Baptist. ”I had to replace a bunch of starters going into last year. So that group built itself through the course of last season. We were pretty excited about coming into this season, but then in March it all gets shut down.
“And we were like, yeah, this will last a couple of months.”
He had to laugh.
“Little did we know it’s still going on,” said Herman, who had a few players who had to quarantine when they got back together in July.
Of course, in addition to the coronavirus, Louisiana was hit last week by a hurricane. It’s about a three-hour drive from Houston to Lafayette, which didn’t get hit by the storm. HBU had a hotel reservation that is being honored, but there are no other rooms to be had in that area because of evacuees from Lake Charles, which was hit hard by Hurricane Laura.
Houston Baptist’s roster includes senior setter Morgan Dewyer, a product of Palm Desert, California, who transferred from Long Beach State after her freshman year; and the two leading attackers from 2019, seniors Mikayla Vivens and Kelly Colwell.
Dewyer led the team in aces with 53, averaged 9.3 assists per set, and 2.57 digs. Vivens, an outside from San Antonio, led with 394 kills (3.37/set), had 28 aces, and led in digs with 400 (3.76/set). Colwell, a redshirt-junior outside from Friendswood, Texas, had 308 kills (2.63/set) and was third in digs with 372.
“We’re always a good defensive team and it’s because my outsides are alway good defensive, six-rotation outsides,” Herman said.
Junior middle Ebonie Ballesteros, a middle from El Paso, was third in kills with 202 and led in blocks with 120, 11 solo. And senior Megan Patillo, a middle from Bixby, Oklahoma, had 194 kills and was second in blocks with 88, 10 solo.
The other senior is Makenna Davis, a DS from San Antonio.
“I feel so bad for our seniors. We don’t know exactly how many of those five can play in the spring if we do play our conference schedule in the spring,” Herman said. “I’ve got nursing students (including Colwell) who have their clinicals in the spring. I’ve got a fifth-year senior who’s finished up grad school (Patillo) in December. So what does she do?
“So if the conference is going to let us play our non-conference I wanted to get our seniors out on the court.”
Davis is scheduled to graduate in December.
“We’ll see. It’s a fluid situation,” Herman understated.
HBU is headed to SFA the following weekend to play to Louisiana-Monroe and SFA. Then the next weekend the Huskies got to Texas State to play Texas State and UTEP of Conference USA. Herman said HBU was scheduled to play all those teams had the 2020 schedule stayed intact.
“We’ll be playing our contracted out-of-conference schedule as best we can,” he said.