Ole Miss Volleyball earns two wins in first spring action

Posted on Apr 1 2019 - 5:50am by Jake Davis

The Ole Miss volleyball team played its first two spring matchups on Saturday, winning both exhibition matches convincingly. The Rebels are looking to gain experience and develop their young talent for a tournament run next fall.

In the first match of the day, Ole Miss dominated in-state rival Southern Miss in straight sets and was never truly challenged at any point in the match.

In their first action in over four months, the Rebels looked a bit sloppy, committing errors on the defensive end and struggling with accuracy at times. This was to be expected, especially with star outside hitter Emily Stroup limited due to injury.

Nicole Purcell digs the ball during the Rebel Invitational in 2018. Ole Miss won their game versus Ohio State 3-2. File photo by Christian Johnson

Stroup was not jumping much in either of the two matches and was relegated to a defensive role on the back line for both of Saturday’s matches. Junior transfer Izzy Guzik, who is expected to play a large role in the Rebels’ system next fall, was also battling injury-related issues and did not see any action on Saturday.

“Because of some injuries, we’re trying a couple of different lineups, which is good for us,” head coach Steven McRoberts said. “The time for it is now in the spring, and being forced to do it sometimes is a blessing.”

This allowed some of the younger players to play a larger role, and helped coaches identify which players are ready to take a step forward next year.

One young player who caught coaches’ eyes was rising sophomore outside hitter Lauren Thompson. Thompson did not see much playing time as a freshman this past fall, but she made her presence known on the court on Saturday. She was aggressive with her hitting, calling for the ball and looking confident in her attacks while playing solid defense on the front line.

“(Thompson) works hard every single time, and I think that the transition from high school to college was a big hindrance,” associate head coach Ronaldo Pacheco said. “This is where she’s adjusting and growing. Today, she had a really good day.”

Another player who stood out on Saturday was rising junior outside hitter Leah Mulkey. Mulkey was also strong offensively and provided most of the Rebels’ firepower against Southern Miss. While not as strong as Thompson or Stroup, Mulkey showed an ability to place the ball in ideal spots between defenders and identify weak spots on the floor to attack. This led to a high number of kills in both matches for a player ready to play a larger role in the offense.

“(Mulkey) did a lot of things well. She attacked the ball, (and that would) probably be her

strength for the day,” McRoberts said.

The second match on Saturday came against Division II Mississippi College and provided more fireworks than the first match. While the Rebels won in straight sets again, all three sets were close, as the Choctaws pushed Ole Miss at every turn.

After the Rebels established an early 12-6 lead in the first set, it appeared that Mississippi College would go down quietly. But a 9-5 run by the Choctaws brought the score within two, and Ole Miss struggled to pull away. After battling back and forth for multiple points, the Rebels finally closed out the set on a 3-1 run to win 25-22.

In the second set, Ole Miss struggled defensively, and the Choctaws led 9-6 early. However, back-to-back kills by setter Lauren Bars energized the Rebel offense, and a dominating 14-3 run gave the team a 20-12 advantage. The two teams battled back and forth for the rest of the set, but Ole Miss’s lead proved too daunting for the visitors, and the Rebels managed to win the set 25-17.

The third set saw a much improved Rebel defense that won big battles at the net and cleaned up many of the defensive mistakes that had plagued them in the previous sets. While they could never fully pull away, the Rebels controlled the third set from the outset and won 25-18.

“When we were staying low-error, we looked pretty good, I think the bright spot of the whole weekend was our blocking,” McRoberts said. “We looked like we improved in that area, and that has been something we’ve been working on, so it’s nice to see that with different teams on the other side of the net.”

The Rebels will play their final spring match on Tuesday, April 9 against Alabama-Huntsville.