By C. Garrett Dutton | Sports Editor
For the past several years the College of Coastal Georgia has continued to grow, bringing in more and more students every new semester. Everyone has noticed the university sprouting up all around them; with construction of the new dorms and other facilities, but there has been something else going on here maybe not just anyone has recognized.
During the five years head coach Jeff Huebner has spent with the Mariners’ volleyball team, he has quietly begun to build a powerhouse program. The 2015 Mariners continue to obliterate their opponents.
The Mariners are coming off an impressive 2014 season. They rolled through the regular season going on to win the Southern States Athletics Conference championship and reached the first NAIA national tournament for the College of Coastal Georgia volleyball program. The Mariners finished a program best 35-4, claiming the 23rd spot in the final NAIA rankings.
The now 5-1 Mariners started off the season with a three-team tournament in AugustThey swept Florida National University (3-0) and Ave Maria University (3-0), grabbing their first two wins of the season.
But how have they done it?
Senior and serving specialist Jessica Fujimoto says it is in the vision of coach Huebner.
“Coach Huebner has been able to get us to this level because he has the same vision of being a National Championship every year,” says Fujimoto.
After only losing three seniors from 2014, Huebner brought in eight true freshmen and one sophomore transfer, outside hitter Shelby Sullivan of Minden, Iowa.
Sullivan is one more recruit from the Midwest on Huebner’s 17-player roster. Ten of the 17 players Huebner has ssigned, 10 are from Illinois. It would appear Huebner has found his gold mine, but he continues to recruit from other areas as well.
“Volleyball is huge in the Midwest and being from Illinois I am sure I will always look to recruit in my home state.” Huebner says, “This year we really branched out and added athletes from Washington, Arizona, South Carolina and Georgia, giving us depth, experience and diversity.”
Huebner’s offseason recruiting is paying off big. After six games, two freshmen have made huge impacts in these early season victories. Freshman and outside hitter Kyra White leads the team with 50 kills. She is followed closely by the freshman middleback Regan Couglin who has 44.
Huebner expect this performance to continue.
“I think newcomers Regan Coughlin and Kyra White will be competing with each other for the SSAC 2015 Freshman of the Year,” says Huebner.
However, it is early in the season and the upperclassmen will rise to their veteran roles. Emma Anderson is one of these veterans. She comes off an impressive 2014 campaign in which she led the team with 386 kills. Anderson was named an NAIA Third Team All-American and won the SSAC tournament’s most valuable player award.
Also, back for their final seasons are Fujimoto and Kara Neisen. Fijimoto led the entire SSAC serving up 57 aces in 2014. Neisen, a Daktronics-NAIA Scholar-Athlete and SSAC first-team selection in 2014, will continue to play all over the court. She led the team in receptions last year with 527 and added 46 blocks.
“The seniors must led by example and play like seniors,” says Fujimoto. “Playing like senior is helping the younger members of our program and stepping up to help the team in whatever fashion that may be.”
For now, the Mariner’s focus on one game at a time in hopes of dominating the SSAC once again.
The Mariners make their next appearance on home court in the Howard Coffin Gym Sept. 4 and 5 when they host their Mariner Invitational. Coastal Georgia games are set for 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sept. 4 and 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. on Sept. 5.