Volleyball practice at Alabama State has been pretty smooth these days in Lockhart Gym, according to coach Penny Lucas-White.
“I can’t even remember how long ago it’s been since I’ve had a stress-free preseason,” she said. “The girls have come back stronger and are jumping higher. We have so many options on the floor and every scheme we run, we have four, sometimes five attacks.”
The Hornets return all six starters from a year ago and if you’ve got any doubts regarding the Hornets’ improvement, Lucas-White points out, “there’s not a player on my roster I can’t go to. We’re that deep.”
Alabama State’s volleyball team is in Orlando this weekend, facing Arkansas-Pine Bluff and North Florida on Friday and Valparaiso and host Central Florida on Saturday in a season opening tournament. For Lucas-White, the variables associated with her team’s growth and maturity from a year ago give her plenty of options and, therefore, more opportunities to win each match.
“We have Brooke (Beasley), who is coming back as (SWAC) Newcomer of the Year, attacking and setting, so you get to see all of the other attributes she brings to the team,” the ASU head coach said. “And those other (2012) freshmen, they were freshmen last year but they learned the game more and they’ve gotten better – Amber (Bennett), Chelsey (Scott), Myla (Marshall) and Khryss (Madison). Amber and Myla and Chelsey are as physical as a lot of the mid-majors. Amber doesn’t have a ceiling. We don’t even know yet what she’s going to be able to do for us.”
Then you can factor in two transfers that should provide immediate help to the Hornets – Dragana Cyoric, a native of Serbia, and Ellyn Jones, who transferred from IUPUI in Indiana.
“Ga-Ga (Cyoric) is as poised and mature and seasoned as it gets,” Lucas-White said. “She’s so calm on the court. She brings that experience. She does nothing but elevate the entire team as a whole.
“Our other transfer, Ellyn Jones, came from a program that ran a 6-2 (alignment and) she just stepped right in. That gives Brooke an option to hit. I think we’ll always have three attackers in the front row and that’s huge for us.”
Throw in Luiza Griz, Tiara Kelly, Rachel Smith, Latoya Ellington and true freshman Jamie Coleman and it’s no wonder she’s having trouble filling out a starting lineup, even with all six returning starters.
“We started this morning with a whole different six than what we finished with this afternoon,” she said after a recent practice. “We watch video and we look at movement and talk about things, but I don’t think they know who’s starting yet other than your two setters running a 6-2 and Luiza.
“We actually get to coach. We teach in some parts throughout the week, but mostly it’s been tactical and all strategy, not so much technique.”
A better, stronger Alabama State team with more depth should be a serious challenger for the Southwestern Athletic Conference crown this season.
“They have one mindset and that’s to win,” Lucas-White said. “You can see it by the way they compete in practices. They’re the most competitive group I’ve had in a while.”