Coming off of a disappointing season in 2018, Ole Miss volleyball launches their new campaign with NCAA Tournament aspirations.
Nine players from last year’s squad are returning for the Rebels, including seven who were in the regular rotation. They also bolstered the lineup with junior transfer Izzy Guzik looking to contribute immediately. The Rebels have added depth with four new freshmen who can step in if needed. This year’s crop of freshmen includes Lauren Delo, Maggie Miller, Ava Wampler and Anna Bair.
Delo is a 6’2” outside hitter from St. Joseph’s Catholic in Williamstown, South Carolina. She said other schools couldn’t compare to Ole Miss and that the tight-knit community was a big draw.
“Ole Miss was my first visit in eighth grade for volleyball, and every other school I visited after Ole Miss I found myself comparing back to Ole Miss,” she said. “Not only is it a beautiful campus, but it had such a warm and welcoming atmosphere.”
Delo says it’s been difficult making the transition to NCAA volleyball because of the rigorous demands, but she’s made the most of her time to adapt.
“Coming in the summer… having to take summer classes and start volleyball 24/7, I’ve never had this much demand in my schedule,” Delo added. “Getting used to that and being away from family and friends (has been an adjustment).”
Maggie Miller is a 5’5” defensive specialist. The Houston native says she was attracted to Ole Miss because of the welcoming atmosphere and genuine people.
“I really like the small-town feel… I really like how nice everyone is. I feel like I could walk up to anyone and ask a question and feel very welcomed and at home.”
Along with new players, the Rebels also added fresh faces to the coaching staff this offseason after the departure of longtime assistant coach Ronaldo Pacheco. The team brought in former Louisiana-Monroe head coach Russ Friedland as an assistant coach, and also welcomed former Ole Miss player Alexis Lee to the squad as a volunteer assistant this week.
Friedland became a popular up-and-coming assistant coach when he helped turn around a struggling East Carolina program. Prior to that, he worked on the staff at UNLV and Tennessee and now hopes to use that experience to energize an Ole Miss team coming off a lackluster season.
“It was a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I had a chance to coach in the SEC a couple years ago and loved it. The opportunity to come back and be a part of a program like this was just too good of an opportunity for me to pass up.
“The coaching staff, the makeup of the team, the fact that we have this facility here that’s unreal… It’s a lot of fun to be around. Just the excitement, the energy around the program… I just want to help as much as I can.”
Friedland added that he cannot wait to get into SEC play and expects big things from this year’s squad.
“(I’m looking forward to) the competition of the SEC,” he said. “It’s been a blast to be in the gym with (the team) in the preseason. I think we’re in for some redemption.”
Alexis Lee’s career was cut short due to injury after two seasons with the Rebels in 2015 and 2016. She graduated in May of 2019 and decided to volunteer as an assistant for the team this season.
“It means a lot to me (to join this squad),” she said. “I really missed volleyball and knew that I wanted to get back into it, so I just reached out to (head coach Steven McRoberts) on a whim, and he said ‘Yes we’d love to. We need extra help,’ and that was that.”
Lee says she hopes to provide any help she can to this year’s squad and says the biggest driver for her is the love of the game.
“I think it’s so important to make sure you still love the game at this age and this level because it’s so easy to feel defeated and confused sometimes.”
The Rebels now look to bounce back and make a run at the NCAA Tournament with a more experienced squad.
“We’re talented, it’s just going to come down to execution and consistency,” said McRoberts. “That was our biggest thing last year was we weren’t really consistent. We could do some amazing things at times, we could play with a lot of teams, but when it came down to being mentally tough and consistent at times we struggled.”
Ole Miss volleyball kicks off their season today at 6 p.m. against Rice in the Gillom Center.