Volleyball lives up to preseason hype

UNA volleyball celebrates a kill against Shorter in their Oct. 22 showdown in Flowers Hall. The Lions have lived up to their lofty expectations set in the preseason. They were projected as second in the Gulf South Conference preseason poll, which is where they currently sit.

by Managing Editor Mike Ezekiel

The UNA volleyball team had high expectations heading into the 2016 season and appears to be right on par.

The Lions (21-4, 11-3 Gulf South Conference) were the second ranked team in the GSC preseason poll, and currently sit in second place with six regular season games remaining.

If UNA continues to win and can find its way to first place, the team will host the GSC tournament in November.

“I think we’re playing well right now,” said UNA head coach Stephanie Radecki. “It’s been really nice to see different players stand out, step up and lead in different categories every night.”

UNA has won four straight conference games, with the last win coming against Shorter (15-6, 10-3 GSC) in Flowers Hall Oct. 22. The Hawks gave the Lions their first loss of the season Sept. 16 in a 3-2 defeat, but UNA found revenge to the tune of a 3-1 win.

Adding to the team’s success, junior outside hitter Lexie Bradley earned her first career GSC Offensive Player of the Week accolade Oct. 25 after totaling 38 kills last week, including 17 kills against Shorter.

“That win was really huge because it could pretty much determine the top couple of seeds for the tournament,” Bradley said. “Us beating them in four (sets) gives us a bit of an advantage in the head-to-head, which helps us out a lot.”

The Lions will begin a four-game road trip before closing the regular season at home, starting with Christian Brothers (12-11, 7-6- GSC) Oct. 28. Union, Alabama-Huntsville and Mississippi College each await UNA after the Bucs.

“Christian Brothers is quite known for their middles,” Radecki said. “Their middles are really strong, they get up fast and they always get available. If our middles aren’t ready to block and slow them down, then that can be a huge factor. They run a really fast offense, and it’s hard to slow down their system.”

Radecki said the Lions have more time to find their rhythm with six days to rest before CBU.

“The best part of (having off time) is that we get to practice more,” she said. “Even at this time of year, there are still some things we need to work on and get better. There are always things we can add.”

West Florida (18-6, 11-1), the preseason conference favorite, sits at the top of the standings and holds a head-to-head victory over the Lions. UNA will rematch the Argonauts in Flowers Hall Nov. 11.

The following day, the Lions will close the regular season against Valdosta State ( in another revenge game Oct. 12. The Blazers stopped the Lions just two points short in three straight sets for the 3-0 win Sept. 7.

Bradley said although the final two games are marquee matchups, the next four road games will not be easy wins.

“Those games are vey important because we need to not lose any more from here on out,” she said. “We tend to play better at home. We tend to not play as fired up away, so these next couple of games away are important that we don’t look ahead.”

The Lions appear to be the favorites in all four games, but will need to remain locked on the task at hand, said sophomore setter Jayden Davila-McClary.

“The road games are what’s going to keep our mindset on for the next games,” she said. “If we’re messing around and are not prepared for the games we are playing now, then we are definitely going to be out of control when we play the last two games at home.”

Radecki said UNA hopes to break its volleyball attendance record at the Nov. 11 game against West Florida. The team plays at 6 p.m.