MCGILL: Volleyball team needs to be '18 strong' this season
The Word on the Herd -- Aug. 25, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Mitch Jacobs, entering his 15th season at the helm of Marshall University’s volleyball program, knows he has two seniors on whom he can lean.
“Allie Kellerman and Ally Kiekover, those two are just solid,” he said prior to Friday’s season opener in Bloomington, Indiana. “We know they are going to be there. After those two spots, it’s wide open.”
Jacobs means that. He has an 18-member squad for the 2016 season … and he needs every single person.
“We want to claim 18 strong,” Jacobs said. “We have 18 players on this team and it’s impossible to keep 18 players happy, so a big motto is we want to be 18 strong. If you are a player who knows you’re not going to play during matches, you have to play hard during practices to make those players better so you know when we’re winning on the court you know you’ve had something to do with it.”
Kellerman, a 5-foot-8 senior from Louisville, Kentucky, and Kiekover, a 6-0 senior from Grand Rapids, Michigan, and preseason All-Conference USA selection, are invading Marshall’s record books. Kellerman is eighth all-time in digs (1,174) and Kiekover is ninth all-time in kills (907).
Jacobs has more than those two pillars returning for 2016. Cassie Weaver, a 5-9 senior from Huntington, is back after leading the team in kills (387) last season. Junior Kayla Simmons (Gainesville, Florida) is a key piece after a team-best 1,112 assists in 2015.
Jacobs also pointed toward Shelby Conley, a 5-11 sophomore who had a standout performance in the annual Green-White Scrimmage on Sunday; Justice Craft, a 5-10 junior who is working through a shoulder issue; and Tayler Pelton, a 5-10 junior who is coming back from an ankle injury.
“Shelby had two kills and three blocks in the last five or six points (of the scrimmage),” Jacobs said. “It was insane. She’s taken a big step up.”
He said he’ll also need newcomers to make an impact.
“There are four freshmen who have stepped up and shown they are capable of getting the job done already,” Jacobs said, “so we know they’re going to be in the mix.”
This weekend’s Indiana Invitational will also feature Evansville, Northern Kentucky and Indiana. Evansville was predicted to finish last in the 10-team Missouri Valley Conference. The Horizon League preseason poll placed Northern Kentucky fourth among nine teams. Indiana, the host, was voted 13th in the 14-team Big Ten Conference.
MU plays Evansville on Friday at 5 p.m., and Northern Kentucky (10 a.m.) and Indiana (7 p.m.) follow on Saturday.
The opening weekend trip and the competition will be a good test, Jacobs said.
“We have to keep working through and stay healthy,” Jacobs said. “I do think we have the talent, top to bottom. We’re going to learn about who is going to compete. Indiana should have a nice crowd, so we’ll see how our young players handle an away crowd that’s going to be all over them.”
Marshall finished 16-14 overall last season and 7-9 in Conference USA play. The C-USA preseason poll has the Herd eighth among 13 league teams.
“I don’t know what we’re going to see yet,” he said. “I’ve seen some unbelievable play in our gym during the preseason. We do have great leadership in the senior class, but that leaves 15 other players who need to follow through with the leadership.”