After a 1-7 start to perhaps one of the toughest opening schedules in the nation, Truman State University volleyball returned to the familiar grounds of the GLVC.
The Bulldogs opened the 2016 season against four nationally ranked teams, playing at least three matches each weekend and struggling to put results in the win column. Friday night, the ‘Dogs picked up their second win of the season during yet another road match versus GLVC opponent, the University of Illinois-Springfield.
Head Coach Ben Briney says his team was able to bounce back from the early losses by holding confidence in the fact that players are improving daily during practice and buying into the mentality that they have time to make the changes they need to be playing their best by November.
Briney says UIS is a building program that is making strides to the top third of the conference, and it was a good win for the ‘Dogs.
“When our offense is going and we’re playing consistent, it’s very very tough to beat us,” Briney says. “It’s a lot of fun to watch this team go whenever we’re really feeling it and doing what we need to do. We’re playing faster even than we did last year, and people are putting up some big numbers.”
Among those putting up big numbers on the offensive side are Truman’s outside hitters, senior Kayla Bastian and junior Jasmine Brown. Bastian led the offense with 12 kills and a notable six aces from the serving line. Brown posted 11 kills on the outside, followed by six kills from senior Lacey Hill and five from redshirt sophomore Holly Hildebrand.
The hitters were supported by 23 assists from sophomore Savvy Hughes and 19 from freshman Meghan Gasper. Another freshman contributed to the victory, with 26 digs coming from Lauren Wacker in the back row.
The weekend did not end with a win, however, as Truman faced rival Mckendree University with a similar playing style.
Truman dropped the GLVC rivalry match Saturday, losing 3-1.
Bastian led the ‘Dogs in the front row once again with 13 kills, followed by 10 kills from freshman Jocelynn Livingston.
Truman’s record fell to 2-8 overall and 1-1 in conference after the weekend. Briney says the team has maintained a positive attitude despite taking early losses and still has a lot to look forward to.
“I can’t wait for next weekend to be in front of a home crowd and let them see this team,” Briney says. “We’re not as big as we have been in the past, but we’re really athletic, and our offense can put up some big numbers when we’re dialed in.”
Briney also says he has seen positive changes in his freshmen who have done a good job of adjusting to the game and he says he applauds his setters — both of whom are new to the program this year — for stepping in and working to run an efficient offense. Briney says it has been fun watching Hughes and Gasper work hard to make technical changes and fit the game tempo. He says the setter/hitter relationships are starting to form and he is excited to watch them further improve.
Hughes says she and Gasper have been working together from the start to help each other with the transition into the program.
“Transferring and coming in freshman year are both very stressful things to do,” Hughes says. “We definitely help each other out physically in practice and emotionally as well … we definitely push each other so we can be the best we can be for the team.”
Other areas of the Bulldog offense search for growth in experience at the beginning of this season. Truman graduated regular starters in opposite hitter Abby Heise and middle hitter Emilee Walters. The Bulldogs also graduated an instrumental part of the front row in 6’2 All-American middle hitter Ali Patterson.
The height and experience of Patterson might be unmatched on Truman’s team this season, but as a true testament to the ‘small but mighty’ mantra of the 2016 Bulldog offense is 5’9 sophomore middle Natalie Brimeyer. Under-sized for a typical middle, Brimeyer recorded 10 blocks in a three set match against North Alabama last week, putting her atop the entire nation in this category. Brimeyer also ranks third in NCAA Div. II averaging 1.6 blocks per set.
“I think all of the training this spring helped me improve my blocking movements,” Brimeyer says. “Working on staying disciplined and then going fast is a key part of blocking success.”
To achieve overall team success, Brimeyer says she hopes to see her team be more consistent and terminal. She says the team thrives when every person focuses on doing their job for the sake of the team, and says she thinks that will be a major point to stress for the remainder of the year.
After 11 road matches to start the season, Truman now looks forward to its home debut. The ‘Dogs will host the University of Southern Indiana at 7 p.m. Friday and Bellarmine University at 1 p.m. Saturday in Pershing Arena.