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The University Star




The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

The Student News Site of Texas State University

The University Star

Volleyball reflects on season, looks forward to NCAA Tournament

Texas+State+volleyball+celebrates+after+defeating+Troy+University+3-1+%2825-17%2C+25-13%2C+22-25%2C+25-13%29+to+advance+to+the+Sun+Belt+Conference+Championship.

Texas State volleyball celebrates after defeating Troy University 3-1 (25-17, 25-13, 22-25, 25-13) to advance to the Sun Belt Conference Championship.

After finishing its season with an overall record of 24-2 (15-1 Sun Belt) and securing its third straight Sun Belt Conference Tournament title, Texas State volleyball is using its experiences from the COVID-19-struck season to prepare for the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
Head Coach Sean Huiet faced several challenges in his first year at the helm. He was tasked with taking over for former coach Karen Chisum, who led the Bobcats to eight regular-season titles and 10 conference tournament championships. Huiet says filling Chisum’s shoes was what he was most nervous about transitioning into the head coach role.
“[I] wanted to do some things that were a little more ‘next level,’” Huiet said. “Texas State is right there. To make the big jump in the athletics world we need to treat our kids like we know other athletes at other [successful programs].”
Huiet wants his players to feel relaxed and valued. He prioritized giving them the necessary space they needed to focus on the game and hone in on their individual skills.
Even though Chisum is no longer an official coach of the team, she stayed in contact with and showed her support for Huiet and her former players throughout the season. Chisum was frequently in Strahan Arena cheering on the Bobcats. When the team returned from the conference tournament, Chisum was waiting at 4:30 a.m. with a bottle of champagne prepared to celebrate.
Huiet’s second challenge was preparing his team for another run at the title. After winning the two years prior, Huiet knew every other team in the Sun Belt would vie to take Texas State’s spot at the top of the conference.
“Everyone wants to beat us when you’re at the top,” Huiet said. “They’re gunning for you every week. It’s really hard to win [a] championship—then when you repeat and now you’re trying to go for three… It was really, really hard, but it was very rewarding there at the end when we did win.”
The third and perhaps most difficult challenge was the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. There was a point during the summer when Huiet and his staff thought they would not get to play this season. As the summer came to a conclusion, the team realized it would get an opportunity to play and prepare for what Huiet calls the “new normal.”
“We said from the very beginning this season is going to be different, [and] it’s not going to be fair. There’s going to be things that happen that we can’t control,” Huiet said. “We want to just control what we can and that’s everyone being ready to play, everyone ready to contribute.”
Junior setter Emily DeWalt says COVID-19 and the unknowns made the team more grateful to play the game it loves.
“I felt like [COVID-19] made us not take every rep for granted,” DeWalt said. “We had to come into the gym knowing tomorrow is not guaranteed. We didn’t know what was going to happen in 24 hours; we didn’t know what was going to happen in 48 hours. We came in every day and worked hard and gave it our all.”
Huiet says the first weekend of play was the most impacted by COVID-19. Going into the Stephen F. Austin Tournament, the Bobcats only had 10 players available due to COVID-19 protocols.
Senior middle blocker Tyeranee Scott says players did a great job of adjusting and stepping up for their teammates who were unable to play.
“If a teammate couldn’t be there, we knew that somebody else would be able to fill in,” Scott said. “That comes from the depth of our team. Someone was always ready to go, and there was never a time where we were scared. If somebody else couldn’t do their job we knew someone could step up and do it for them.”
Huiet and his players say as the season progressed, they had fewer COVID-19 related issues. The players and staff learned to stay in their “bubble” and do what they needed to stay healthy and play at a high level.
Scott led the team with 82 total blocks (19 solos, 63 assisted) and .99 blocks per set. Offensively, Scott’s hitting percentage (.352) was the best on the team and second-best in the Sun Belt. She finished the season with 265.5 total points and 213 kills (2.57 per set).
“It’s been really fun to watch [Scott] mature and be more of a leader by example,” Huiet said. “She kind of got a little bit of a swagger this year, and she knew that she could play at [a high] level and that she could lead this team.”
Huiet kept Scott out of the lineup the last couple of games leading into the tournament due to a minor injury. Huiet knew the team needed her at 100% to have a chance at the tournament title. 
The move paid off, as Scott was named to the All-Sun Belt Tournament Team and selected as the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament. Scott was also named to the All-Sun Belt First Team at the conclusion of the season.
Joining Scott on the All-Sun Belt First Team was DeWalt, who also received her third straight Sun Belt Conference Setter of the Year award. DeWalt was named Setter of the Week five times over the course of the season as she totaled 1028 assists (11.30 per set), 3.35 digs per set, 72 kills and 41 blocks.
“[DeWalt’s} number one attribute is she makes people better,” Huiet said. “You could put the top four kids in the gym on a team and bring in three kids who are just average and put them on Emily’s team, and Emily is going to get those kids to compete… She just makes people around her better, and that is a skill set you can’t teach.”
Junior outside hitter Janell Fitzgerald was also selected to the All-Sun Belt First Team. Fitzgerald was fifth in the conference in hitting percentage at .350 while leading the team in total points with 390.5 (4.29 per set) and kills with 341 (3.75 per set). She was second on the team in blocks with 80 (19 solos, 61 assisted).
One of Fitzgerald’s strengths is her ability to get kills. This season, Huiet wanted her to round out other aspects of her game.
“The thing that makes [Fitzgerald] so great is people know she is getting the ball, and they know exactly what she’s going to do, and she still scores,” Huiet said. “She’s a dynamic athlete; she is very fun to play with, and she just has a personality that people are attracted to.”
While players like Scott, DeWalt and Fitzgerald have earned the most attention, the coaches and players believe everyone has a reason to be proud. 
“Getting a ring is hard, but getting three in a row is a big deal,” Scott said. “I feel like we’ve worked hard even with all the chaos and COVID. We pulled it out, and I think we did a good job, and I’m proud of my team.”
The Sun Belt Tournament is over, but the volleyball season is not. The NCAA Volleyball Tournament is typically held in December but, like all things, was adjusted due to COVID-19. The tournament will take place on April 22 and April 24 in the new year. 
Selections will take place on Easter Sunday and, in preparation for that, Huiet is preparing to play about 15 matches before then. The schedule is not yet finalized, but the team is expected to play other successful programs like Baylor University, the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Oklahoma.
While the time off before the tournament is a bit offputting to the team, the Bobcats are preparing with expectations of making a deep run. 
“We are going to take this Christmas break and relax and recharge our minds,” DeWalt said. “When we come back in January, [we will] be ready to go full force. Whatever gets thrown at us, [we will] accept the challenge and just know that it’s going to make us better and hopefully we can make a run to the Sweet 16 this year.”

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