The start of the 2017 season was a strong one for the Rebels. Winning three of its four games, the Ole Miss volleyball team’s only opening weekend loss was surrendered in a five-set match against North Dakota, a team that made it to the NCAA tournament last season.
Its next tournament starts Friday against a tough Virginia Tech team that averages 6-foot-1-inch in the middle and 6-foot on the outside. Heading into this lengthy road trip to Arkansas State this weekend, the Hokies have not dropped a match, starting 3-0 on the young year.
SMU, who lost its first match of the season in five sets to Mississippi State, followed that with another loss to Rice University in four sets. Starting 0-2, it swept Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to leave opening weekend with a one in the win column. With more than half of their players being either freshmen or sophomores, the Mustangs are a very young team, and it shows. Despite having the size inside, this is a team that is getting out blocked on the year 16-26 and clearly lacks defensively. The Rebels need to capitalize on the inexperience and come out swinging.
Arkansas State also is big up front, making it difficult to hit past. However, this is another young team that lacks real experience. Failing to control errors, both season losses were quick 3-0 matches, against Kentucky and Utah. This Red Wolves team may prove to be its own worst enemy if it can’t keep its error tally at fewer than 15.
For the Rebels, outside hitter Kate Gibson ranks 32nd in the nation, with 55 total kills. Fellow senior Lexi Thompson is not far behind, at 50. Both players are averaging more than three kills a set, which helps immensely when it comes to alleviating exhaustion involved with long points.
Rebel middle hitter Nayo Warnell continues to be a nuisance for opponents at the net this season, already having recorded 15 blocks through the first four matches of the year. Warnell is on pace to meet or exceed her personal best 82 blocks last season, and this weekend will be a big opportunity to keep causing havoc.
This tournament is a quick road trip to Jonesboro, Arkansas, so the Rebels won’t be too far from home, but it’s always a different environment when you are playing away from Gillom. Gibson, Thompson, Warnell and company will need to come out and play technically against Virginia Tech in order to set the tone for the rest of the three-day bout.
When the red and blue roll into Jonesboro this weekend, they need to play fast and sharp. It has been a decent start to the season, and if they can do that, this coming tournament should be no different than the last. Tournaments early in the season are instrumental when it comes to setting successful conference play. At this point, the Rebels are still working through the kinks. With what could be three solid, definitive wins this weekend, Ole Miss volleyball will be that much closer to figuring out its identity for 2017.