NORFOLK, Va. – Attempting to put a disappointing 2014 season in the rearview mirror, the Norfolk State volleyball team will head into 2015 looking to stay healthy and earn its way back into the MEAC tournament. With a strong set of upperclassmen in tow, NSU has the capability of returning to its previous pecking order in the Northern Division.
The Spartans were partially done in by injuries last season. At least seven players, including a good portion of the team’s significant contributors, missed time due to injuries. NSU dropped to sixth in the conference standings at 2-10 and went 2-22 overall on the season.
Unlike previous years, though, the Spartans will enter the upcoming campaign with plenty of seasoned experience. It starts with a senior class that began its career three years ago during NSU’s most successful Division I season ever. That experience has meant the coaching staff has approached things in a different manner this season.
“This year especially, there’s been a lot less of us having to introduce new things,” said interim head coach Brandon Duvall. “We don’t believe that we have to throw 50 million things at them. We’ve tried to keep it as simple as we possibly can.”
Pacing the way this year for NSU is setter Darcy Moore. She missed the last several matches of the year due to injury but averaged 8.78 assists and 2.24 digs per set prior to that setback, ranking in the top 5 in the MEAC in assists. Moore will enter her final season as the leader on the offensive side of the ball, both in terms of attitude and her play on the court.
“She’s one of the most competitive people on the floor,” said Duvall. “Once she steps out there, her demeanor changes, and the players respect that. Everybody gets more motivated when she gets into that competitive mode.”
After losing four seniors from last year’s team as well as defensive specialists/liberos Meghan Peji and Kayla Cason, NSU will rely on an active three-player senior class this season. The other two include outside hitter Janay Frazier and outside hitter and setter Angie Darcus.
Darcus took over for Moore at the end of last season, earning MEAC Player of the Week honors after the final weekend when she tallied two straight triple-doubles. Darcus posted 2.72 assists and 1.76 kills while playing in all but one match.
“Angie has shown some things that we’ve always talked about that we needed – that stud to get the job done,” added Duvall. “As far as we can tell, at least against each other and in practices, she’s been the stud we’ve needed.”
Frazier, meanwhile, was another player who spent time on the injured reserve. Posting 1.56 kills per set, Frazier was one of five players to average between 1.50 and 1.80 kills last year. Six of NSU’s top seven statistical leaders in kills from last year will compete in 2015.
A player who showed plenty of promise last year was outside hitter Hope Forsythe. She ranked second behind current senior Jessica Johnson – who will sit out the 2015 season due to injury – with 2.51 kills. Forsythe, though, missed the entire MEAC season following an injury in the last non-conference tournament of the year. A healthy Forsythe in her sophomore year will give NSU a solid hitter on the outside.
“Hope has mainly played right side during her career, but this year we needed to put her on the outside,” Duvall said. “She will be huge for us this year at that position.”
Two more offensive threats are juniors Dominique Parker and Tori Tulensru. Parker tallied 1.63 kills and finished second on the team with 0.53 blocks. After the loss of the team’s top blocker in Kylee Thiim, Parker will be expected to shoulder more of the load up front for a defense that averaged less than 1.20 blocks per set as a team.
“As a front row presence, blocking and getting the points that we need, Dominique has made huge strides since the spring,” Duvall stated.
Tulensru, a right side hitter with a strong arm, posted 1.58 kills and showed big potential with an 18-kill performance in a matchup against Coppin State. After starting eight matches in 2014, the left-hander will battle for a starting spot in the frontcourt this year.
The last of the team’s top returning hitters is sophomore Clarke Tyler. One of just three players to compete in every match last year, Tyler tallied 1.63 kills and was also one of the team’s few options up front on defense with 0.31 blocks. Like nearly every other returnee, Tyler is another current player whom the Spartans will need to step up in order to finish in the top 4 of the division.
For how much NSU returns on offense, its backcourt defense is another story. Along with Peji and Cason, the Spartans lost a pair of seniors in libero Noelle Eagles (3.16 digs) and defensive specialist Adriana Ramos (2.39 digs). Moore is the only returning player to average at least one dig per set last season.
Junior Alex Irizarry has the inside track to start at libero in 2015. She added 1.93 assists in splitting time with Darcus at setter late in the year while also playing at the defensive specialist position.
Freshman defensive specialist Hannah Castellano (Virginia Beach, Va./Cox HS) is the only newcomer to this year’s team. After joining the Spartans midway through fall camp, she will be relied on to provide immediate assistance in the backcourt to strengthen NSU’s defense.
“Libero is not always about technique. It’s not always about how great you look. It’s about getting the job done,” Duvall continued. “I have no doubt in my mind that Alex can get the job done. We also brought in Hannah this year, and she carries that same attitude.”
The Spartans also return junior Sydney Dailey and sophomore Uwem Etuk. Dailey, an outside hitter, averaged slightly less than one kill per set in a part-time role. A middle blocker, Etuk did not see any time on the court last season. Both will see their roles increase in 2015 with NSU down to 11 healthy players.
The Spartans will compete in four tournaments in late August and September, including trips to William & Mary this weekend to start the season and James Madison in week four. NSU will also take part in a tournament at Campbell and an invitational jointly hosted by North Carolina A&T and UNC Greensboro.
Seven home matches dot the 2015 campaign, including six in Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play. The home slate will begin with a mid-week match on Sept. 15 against Radford. The start of MEAC play will find NSU at home against Coppin State and Morgan State on Sept. 25 and 27, respectively.
The Spartans will host Hampton and Delaware State for a MEAC weekend on Oct. 16 and 18, respectively, in addition to Friday night matches against Howard (Oct. 30) and UMES (Nov. 6). The Spartans will also play road matches at each of those six Northern Division foes.
Originally posted on NSUSpartans.com | Used with permission