Written By: Neil Frawley
Just two losses separate the current VSU volleyball team from the best start of any Valdosta State volleyball squad dating back to 1995.
The 1999 Lady Blazer squad which jumped out to an unimpeded 16-0 start, went on to finish the season with a final record of 28-6.
The current Lady Blazer team, at 12-2, compares better with the 2000 team, which began its season with a 10-2 start just like this year’s team before then dropping their thirteenth game of the season to North Alabama, a team that was responsible for eleven of VSU’s losses from 1997 to 2000. Alabama Huntsville also accounted for an additional seven losses during the same span, making VSU’s total record in a four year period against Alabama-Huntsville and North Alabama an abysmal 1-18.
Despite having winning records in each of those four seasons, which included records of 21-15, 33-9, 28-6, and 22-8, VSU was never able to get through their conference tournament and make an appearance in the NCAA division II volleyball tournament at the end of the year because of the dominance of the two Alabama schools.
Following the run of success during the late 90s, Valdosta State saw only intermittent winning seasons, hovering most years around .500, but never really finding what VSU athletic director Herb Reinhardt calls “sustained success.”
“If you look back at the history of Valdosta State University volleyball there have been periods of significant success, we’ve not done as good of a job sustaining that success, as we would have liked to, but there’s a lot of factors that go into that,” Herb Reinhardt said.
Among the many challenges that go into creating a winning environment, Reinhardt believes that the path to more consistent success is to increase people’s knowledge and awareness for volleyball, talking specifically about volleyball in South Georgia and that in order to improve the level of the game at the college level, there must a better following at the youth levels as well.
“There’s only like three or four high school programs south of Macon. So, when we talk about the fact that we’re trying to build a volleyball program in an area that has no volleyball.. Valwood just started a volleyball program this season. I think a couple of the other very, very small local Christian high schools have volleyball programs…but Lowndes doesn’t have volleyball, Valdosta doesn’t have volleyball, and I think you can count on one hand the number of programs.”
One way to increase a following is to do exactly what the current volleyball team is doing very well, and that is winning. The more success that Valdosta can achieve, the more interest they will build, and the 12-2 start to this season is certainly a major step in the right direction.
“Certainly my hat’s off to Mike, my hat’s off to Jordana, our graduate assistant, I think that she and Mike have formed a really good partnership which I think is extremely important. And I’m really impressed… I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of teams in my tenure, not just in volleyball, and most people don’t realize how much team chemistry comes into play with team success.”
Redshirt junior middle blocker and outside hitter Lelalelei Nomura added her player’s perspective on what it’s been like playing for coach Swan
“I think that coming from a player’s perspective that a lot of the girls have that drive to win. I won’t say that we didn’t before have it, but these girls they work hard in practice, and they want to win and they want to have that winning record and we want to be national champions.”
Nomura, who has experience playing for both previous coach Poyer and current coach Swan, believes the difference has been the rise in expectations in practice, mentioning how much harder coach Swan has been pushing the team much harder, but also citing that it has been a good thing.
“He’s a lot harder on us, which is a good thing because his expectations are really high for us,” Nomura said.
“Since we haven’t won in, we haven’t won a championship ever, and we haven’t had this winning record in a while, which gives us more momentum and more to fight for.”
Conference play picks back up this Friday as the 12-2 Lady Blazers travel to Carrolton, Georgia to take on GSC rival West Georgia. Keep updated with VSU volleyball as they blaze their way towards the postseason.