By Andrew Smith | Advisor
When your team is as good as Jeff Huebner’s Mariners have been for the past two seasons, it’s hard to find challenges in the regular season. But on Oct. 10, the women’s volleyball team (23-3, 13-1 SSAC) found a challenge against University of Mobile and came out on the losing end.
Although the Mariners’ 36-match winning streak against Southern States Athletic Conference opponents was snapped, the team didn’t let the lone conference defeat sit idly in the loss column.
“That loss motivated us and challenged us a bit,” said Huebner, now in his fifth year at the helm of the volleyball program. “We look as good as we’ve looked all year, right now.”
According to senior outside hitter Kara Neisen, the loss forced the team to make some schematic changes and ratchet up the intensity in practice. The Mariners have won their last five matches and are currently the 19th-ranked team in the nation according to the Tachikara-NAIA Volleyball Coaches’ Poll.
“In Mobile, we faced some adversity and crumbled – we didn’t know how to handle the pressure,” Neisen said. “Since then we’ve worked on those types of situations in practice and we’re learning to work out of it ourselves. Without that loss we may have struggled later in the season, but now we can fix it and improve as we move toward the SSAC tournament.”
Before the Mariners can return to Mobile later this month to defend their 2014 SSAC title, they’re focused on Friday, Nov. 6 and Saturday, Nov. 7 for their final matches of the regular season. Friday’s match against Bethel University begins at 7 p.m. and Saturday’s match against Martin Methodist begins at 2 p.m. with Senior Day festivities just before first serve. Neisen, along with seniors Jessica Fujimoto and Emma Anderson will be honored.
“This group of seniors is the epitome of involvement,” Huebner said of the trio. “To be able to accomplish all that they have – on and off the court – these three student-athletes represent the best of Coastal Georgia. They’ve maximized their collegiate experience.”
While the three seniors are excited to be honored before Saturday’s match, she said the group isn’t losing focus on the task at hand. The Mariners must win at least one of the two weekend matches to secure the top spot heading into the SSAC tournament.
“It doesn’t seem real to me; it seems like yesterday I was a freshman,” Neisen said. “Obviously the activities honoring the seniors will be emotional, but you have to put that in back pocket and treat it like every other game.”
If the Mariners can secure the top spot in the SSAC tournament, they’ll have their work cut out for them during the intense three day event set for Nov. 12-14. According to Huebner, the team will have to rely on its depth to repeat as champions and automatically qualify for the NAIA national championship tournament.
“We’re back to being as deep as we thought we were going to be,” Huebner said, noting that several key players have recovered from mid-season injuries. “If our starters can play less than everyone else’s starters in a tournament that is five matches over three days, we’ll be more rested for the semi-finals and finals, which are on the same day.”
If the women’s team can win the SSAC title or end the season with a top 24 national ranking, it is likely Coastal Georgia will host an opening round game of NAIA national tournament in late November. Neisen said a good turnout on Nov. 6 and 7 will give the team the push it needs to finish strong. Saturday is being promoted as a “Blue Out” and will be the first-ever triple-header in Coffin Gymnasium. The women’s and men’s basketball teams have their respective home opener games at 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. respectively on Nov. 7.
“We’re trying hard to advertise this weekend and have a great turnout,” Neisen said. “We want to have a good impact at our last home weekend so people can get excited for when we possibly host an opening round match in the NAIA tournament.”