Truman State University’s volleyball team has been practicing on the court for almost three weeks to get ready for the first Bulldog game of the school year, featuring a nationally ranked opponent and one new Bulldog signee.
Almost all of last year’s crew is back to fight for Truman’s third GLVC title in five years. The team fell in the GLVC quarterfinals last year after placing 7th in the regular season. Based on that performance, this year’s GLVC volleyball preseason poll predicts Truman will finish 6th in the conference.
Head coach Ben Briney said that prediction might be accurate based on how they finished last season, but the team takes polls with a grain of salt.
“You never know until you start playing other teams,” Briney said. “There are a lot of factors in [how well we’ll perform] that you just don’t know until you start getting into the season.”
For now, the Bulldogs are focusing on what they can control. Briney said the team has had solid preseason practice with room to grow. In particular, he said the players are working on performing consistently at the high level they strive for.
The Bulldogs are also introducing their new outside hitter, freshman Morgan Smith. Briney said Smith has been working diligently to learn her assignments for each practice.
“Every day, she is getting better at another skill, learning how we want things to be done,” Briney said. “I couldn’t be happier with her performance right now.”
The team’s three captains — senior setter Savvy Hughes, redshirt senior middle hitter Holly Hildebrand and senior middle hitter Natalie Brimeyer — all said they think Smith is performing well on the court.
“She’s a great asset,” Hildebrand said. “Honestly, she doesn’t play like a freshman at all.”
Smith is filling an outside hitter position vacated by the team’s lone 2018 graduate, Jasmine Brown. Despite that, Smith said she didn’t feel like she was taking Brown’s place on the team. Instead, Smith said she’s bringing her own skills and talents to the court while other players are stepping up as leaders.
Briney said Smith has her own playstyle, so he doesn’t think Smith is necessarily filling Brown’s shoes.
“She’s filling into her own shoes,” Briney said.
Smith and the rest of the Bulldogs will get to put their practice to the test this weekend at the Peggy Martin Challenge in Warrensburg, Missouri. Truman faces tough competition in their opening weekend, including Florida Southern University, ranked as the No. 4 Div. II team in the nation by the American Volleyball Coaches Association, and Arkansas Tech University, a team that went undefeated in last year’s regular season.
In the face of such statistics, the captains said their team is ready to put their best foot forward. Hughes and Hildebrand said the best thing everyone on the team can do is focus on their own side of the court.
“Whether [the other team is] number one or 101, we still want to play our best game, and that’s just to honor our opponents,” Hildebrand said.
Brimeyer said it will be nice to face another team after two weeks of practicing with each other. She said all their hard work will pay off one way or another, so she’s eager to play a game and see what her team is capable of.
Smith said she’s excited to play her first collegiate games this weekend.
“We’ve worked really hard, and we’ve just continued to get better and better since our first practice,” Smith said. “I’m just really excited to see how it all translates on the court.”
The Bulldogs kick off their season against Florida Southern at 11 a.m. Friday.