Written by: Neil Frawley
Sometimes hard work goes unrecognized.
But for three members of VSU’s volleyball squad, hard work paid off in a way one hopes it would.
The Blazers finished the regular season with a 19-13 record (winning eight of ten at home) and secured the second seed in the Gulf South Conference tournament after being selected to finish fifth in the conference in preseason polls.
The Blazers have already seen early payoff, three players were selected to represent the all-GSC team, including head coach Mike Swan being named GSC Coach of the Year and setter Jessica Codato and outside hitter Jenna Kirkwood being named to the first team all-GSC.
“It wasn’t anything I was expecting at all, and I’m happy for the girls that we got to go,” Swan said. “Recognition for the program is always great, so I was really proud of Jess and Jenna for making first team all conference. I thought we had other players that could have gotten first or second team. And then my award is just, I think, a team award. So from that end of it, I think it recognizes that our team is making progress and that people feel like we’re a force to be reckoned with.”
Recipients humbly accepted their awards as team awards while remaining appreciative about being chosen to represent the team.
“I mean it’s a team effort,” Codato said. “I wouldn’t have won if I didn’t have a good team. I’m happy because I’m coming from another country, and I just transferred, so I’m really, really happy.”
A boost of confidence may be just what VSU needs as the volleyball team sets to prepare for the GSC tournament, a three day win-or-go-home event that will decide if VSU’s season will go on past this weekend.
“We lost our last home game, so it was kind of rough, and having me and Jess represent the team for the award and coach getting Coach of the Year just kind of maybe gave the team a boost of confidence,” Kirkwood said.
The weekend will begin on Friday with a match against North Alabama, a team that VSU beat 3-1 at home but then lost 2-3 when they played the Lions on the road.
“I think that we match up well with (North Alabama), (and) if we play to our potential we’ll be fine,” Swan said.
“There isn’t anyone that we couldn’t beat if we’re playing our game, and our girls just have to realize that it’s a one-and-done situation, and if we really want it badly and go and perform like we’re capable good things are going to happen,” he said.
To win the tournament, VSU will likely have to go up against tournament host West Florida University, a team that has been ranked in the top 25 for most of the season and has lost only twice in the conference.
The Argonauts had four players named first team all-GSC, but VSU’s 2-3 loss to WFU in which both teams were tied at 12 in the fifth game supports coach Swan’s statement that VSU has the potential to beat anybody in the tournament if they play to their full potential.
“I think that all season teams have seen us as the underdog, like ‘Oh, when did Valdosta State get this good? When did they start winning a lot?’ I mean the conference is so even I think that anybody can beat anybody, so I think it will be a really good tournament, so we just have to bring our best game and stay focused and know that we can do it,” Kirkwood said.
This article was written by Neil Frawley.