Before embarking on a two-game road trip over the weekend, Florida Southern volleyball coach Jill Stephens knew the difficult task that awaited the Moccasins. Life in the Sunshine State Conference is rugged.
After all, Tampa, the defending NCAA Division II national champions, resides in the 11-team conference. Tampa is currently ranked No. 2 in the AVCA top 25.
Through the first month of the season the Moccasins are showing they are ready for the challenge. They entered road games at Eckerd on Friday and at Saint Leon on Saturday, 12-0 and ranked No. 6 in the country. In addition, in each of the previous three weeks, Florida Southern had players earning conference honors.
“I think part of it started last spring,” Stephens said. “We had a core group of young ladies who worked hard all spring. We trained at a high level and developed our volleyball IQ. We added five new players. They have come in and been a real cohesive unit. We are just excited about the start we have had.”
Last week senior right outside hitter Kendall Marotti was selected offensive player of the week.
“It is a really competitive conference, really tough and some really good players so to be selected was an honor,” Marotti said.
Two weeks ago, sophomore outside hitter Anna Tovo was defensive player of the week and three weeks ago, senior middle blocker Kayshia Brady was offensive player of the week.
“That is pretty fortunate,” Stephens said Thursday afternoon. “Our league is so competitive. I think we have had some great matches. Our players have stepped up in some big situations. We feel blessed we have received those awards.”
Eckerd and Saint Leo were ready for Florida Southern. The Moccasins dropped their first two matches of the season over the weekend.
“We know we are going to have a dogfight on our hands,” Stephens said. “The league is really competitive, especially on the road. You have to have the mindset to be great on every point.”
Win or lose, matches like the ones the Moccasins had over the weekend will help them down the road, especially if they are able to reach postseason.
“Every chance I get to play it is always amazing,” Marotti said. “Getting to put into play what we have been working on all week is pretty exciting.”
Over the next seven weeks, the Moccasins will have five more occasions where they play matches Friday and Saturday. And then, if their record is good enough, they will advance to the South Regional Tournament.
“I think our team has done a great job of staying focused,” Stephens said. “The exciting part is we are still getting better. Every time we step on the court, we have an opportunity to improve. We are preparing to hopefully be in the regional tournament.”
Seniors like Marotti and Brady definitely want to get back to the regional tournament. Last year the Moccasins made it to regional and lost 3-2 in the regional semifinal, falling 15-13 in the fifth set.
“That is the nice thing about playing back-to-back is it kind of prepares us for our regional because if we were to get to the regional final, we would play three days in a row to get to the Elite Eight,” Stephens said.
Upper Iowa men’s soccer moves into rankings
Before playing a home game on Saturday, Upper Iowa soccer coach Jason Carlson knew his team faced a stern test.
Yes, the Peacocks were thrilled to move into the NSCAA men’s soccer top 25 for only the second time in the program’s history at No. 12.
“I think it is some great recognition for our guys for the hard work they have been putting in the last couple of years,” Carlson said. “You are a younger program like we are, anytime you can get recognition on the national level, you are excited for the players and the program as a whole.
“It definitely means a lot for our guys. Every player likes to be in the rankings. It was pretty exciting for our guys. They are kind of going through a lot of first.”
On Saturday, Upper Iowa faced Lindenwood, which has been one of the strongest teams in the MIAA. Lindenwood handed Upper Iowa its first loss of the season. The Peacocks lost 1-0 and dropped to 7-1-1.
Despite the setback, Upper Iowa is off to a great start. The Peacocks are coming off a 10-7-2 season and in 2013, they were 8-7-2.
“The guys came in a fit and that allowed us to start the season well,” Carlson said. “They came in fit and ready to go. We have really been able to pick up where we left off in the spring, which was a new concept we were able to do. Credit the guys for the hard work they put in over the summer time.
“They had some success. Like anything, when you start having success, you get more and more hungry and setting your goals higher and higher. We have had good momentum the last couple of years.”
Another shutout for North Georgia goalie Mallory Sayre
For the second time in three weeks, North Georgia senior Mallory Sayre was selected Peach Conference AstroTurf goalkeeper of the week. She recorded her fifth shutout of the season in a 1-0 win against Georgia College on Sept. 26.
Sayre and the rest of her teammates followed that up with a 3-2 victory against Lenoir-Rhyne on Tuesday and then garnered their sixth shutout of the season in a 0-0 draw against Armstrong State.Pages
Sayre credits the defenders in front of her for all the shutouts.
“They have made my job so incredibly easy,” Sayre said. “We work so hard on team defending and shifting as one unit and communicating. As long as we keep defending, we can go far.”
North Georgia is 7-0-1 overall and 2-0-1 in conference and that has earned them a No. 2 ranking in the NSCAA women’s soccer top 25.
“It is unbelievable for our program,” Sayre said. “It is the highest we have been ranked. It shows how hard we have been working. I think it is well deserved.”
Last year North Georgia finished 17-4-2 and reached the second round of the NCAA Division II tournament before falling to Lenoir-Rhyne 4-3 in penalty kicks.
“The experience we have from last year will play a huge role,” Sayre said. “We return nine players. We all know the feeling. We can’t let down.”
Outcomes of Week 5 Games to Watch
No. 12 Harding at No. 24 Ouachita Baptist: Ouachita senior tight end Johnathan Powell picked the perfect time to catch his first career touchdown. With 1:40 left in the game, Powell’s touchdown reception gave Ouachita Baptist a 24-21 lead. Twenty-three seconds later, the Tigers added a safety to seal the 26-21 victory. Ouachita improved to 4-1 and Harding dropped to 4-1.
No. 21 Concord at University of Charleston: Charleston quarterback Jeremy Johnston rushed for 184 yards and three touchdowns and three for another one in the Golden Eagles 29-21 victory over Concord. Charleston improved to 4-1 and Concord dropped to 3-2.
No. 8 North Alabama at No. 9 Valdosta State: North Alabama went on the road and came away with an impressive 34-12 victory over a top 10 opponent. The win was the 110th for North Alabama coach Bobby Wallace, giving him the most victories in the football program’s history. He moved one ahead of Hal Self. North Alabama improved to 4-0 and Valdosta dropped to 3-1.
No. 20 Midwestern State at No. 6 Angelo State: The Mustangs went on the road and beat Angelo State 29-20. It is the first time since 2011 that Midwestern State has started the season 5-0. Angelo State dropped to 4-1.
Washburn at Fort Hays State: Fort Hays State bounced back from its first loss of the season with a 35-30 victory, making it a nice Homecoming for the Tigers. Fort Hays quarterback Treveon Albert rushed for 207 yards and passed for 154 yards. Fort Hays improved to 4-1. Washburn fell to 3-2.