West Virginia volleyball is set to embark on another season when it travels to Norfolk, Virginia on Friday to compete in the three-game ODU Invitational. The season gets served that day at 10 a.m. against Loyola, followed by a game against ODU that evening and another against Hampton on Saturday at 1 p.m.
From its scheduling to its successes, West Virginia volleyball reached new heights in the wild 2020-21 pandemic season. The Mountaineers competed week-in and week-out playing back-to-back games in the fall — a foreign concept in college volleyball and a first for coach Reed Sunahara. Still, they persevered, finishing a program-best 8-8 in the Big 12 and earning its first national ranking in history.
They did end up falling out of the rankings after a 2-3 mark in the spring’s non-conference schedule, but still, the Mountaineers put together arguably the best campaign of Sunahara’s six-year tenure. After losing just two players from that run, the Mountaineers are poised for another run in year seven for the coach.
Unlike last season, WVU opens with a non-conference slate of 11 matches before returning to the round robin conference format from 2020. In the middle of the league slate, they squeeze one more non-conference clash against Howard on Nov. 12.
Headlining the roster is Briana Lynch, the two-time preseason All-Big 12 selection who led the Mountaineers in hitting percentage. The fifth-year middle blocker appeared in all 86 sets last season, and with one more year in the Old Gold and Blue, Sunahara sees her last year as a real opportunity to step forward.
“We had a conversation after last season and she decided that she was coming back, which I was really pleased with. I told her, I said, you haven’t even scratched the surface yet, you haven’t really reached your potential and the sky’s the limit,” Sunahara said. “She had a later start when she was younger, and she’s finally growing into her body and figuring things out.”
Along with Lynch, Sunahara has the advantage of experienced captains Lacey Zerwas and Alexa Hasting on the court. The duo was a key piece of last year’s team as they were the only other Mountaineers to compete in every set a season ago — the setter Zerwas led the team with 837 assists, while the defensive specialist Hasting was a defensive force with 328 digs.
In fact, this will be Zerwas’s third season as captain — so at this point, she’s quite comfortable in her role.
“She understands the role that she’s in and Lex is a good wingman for her,” Sunahara said. They work well together, and during the pandemic, they really, really worked hard to keep this team intact and doing the right thing so I really like what they’re doing.”
Sunahara welcomed some reinforcements in the offseason — both freshmen and transfers. Athena Ardila, a fifth-year addition from Northeastern, and Adrian Ell, a senior from Florida State, are both poised to get some playing time in 2021 as their coach hopes they compliment the returning core.
Additionally, the Mountaineers added six freshmen, including setter Kamiah Gibson, middle blocker Madison Page and defensive specialist Shea Hefner, all of whom saw significant minutes during WVU’s scrimmage against Kent State.
“We have a lot of new faces and everyone’s working hard, and everyone’s finding out their roles and figuring out how they can contribute to this team,” Sunahara said.